The engine – in this case the top-rung, three Puretech 110 petrol with 108bhp and 151lb ft – is strong from launch and rev-happy on the move, but can feel strained on steep hills and when you’re overtaking. Our test car’s gearbox, happily, was the six-speed manual, rather than the often-languid six-speed auto. However this can feel vague and unsatisfying to operate in a hurry and is operated using a cube-like shifter, which is a shame – not least because a slick transmission would really enhance the car’s urban appeal.
But the real problem with the C3 stems from one of Citroën’s historic strengths: ride quality. The Progressive Hydraulic Cushions of the C5 Aircross and new C4 – and more rudimentary but similarly conceived systems in their CX, BX and DS forebears – have lent the French firm a degree of untouchability when it comes to rolling refinement, ironing out all but the most gaping of chasms in the road and absorbing with minimal complaint the harshest bumps. The little C3 isn’t equipped with such complicated chassis trickery, but you do sense that its makers have attempted to imbue it with the same sort of floaty gait.
There’s an unwelcome bounciness to the ride over undulating asphalt, which can make the suspension feel rather underdamped, and take a corner at speed and you will feel body roll far more dramatic than anything else in this segment.
Couple that with an unexpectedly quick-reacting steering rack and you arrive at the conclusion that, curiously, the C3’s turn-in response is rather better than it should be. You can throw it into a bend as furiously as you like with little fear that you will veer off course, but the ensuing wobble will be enough to put you off trying it a second time. It’s no modern-day reincarnation of the hilarious 2CV, of course, but a car this small should lend itself quite readily to dynamic finesse.
Citroën’s trademark ‘magic carpet’ ride works well in a big saloon – the likes of which we sadly don’t see these days – but doesn’t quite translate to a vehicle that won’t be often pressed into service for long motorway jaunts.
Not that the C3 is a city-slicking one-trick pony. The 1.2-litre engine pulls nicely up to 70mph and, once there, fades unobtrusively into the background, returning a pleasing – if not awe-inspiring – mid-40s MPG read-out if you’re sensible.
There’s a little bit of wind noise and tyre roar to contend with, but these are small flies in the ointment when considered alongside the supremely comfortable seats, competent sound system and airy greenhouse, which are among the C3’s more appreciable ‘big Citroën’-inspired characteristics.