Apparently I missed the memo about 80s Friday, but here’s a review that I wrote of a 2017 Citroen C3. Originally posted June 22nd, 2017. And for the record, I still haven’t discovered a car worse than this one.
My first car in the UK was a three-cylinder. My second UK rental was French. I have had the pleasure of riding in a very used Citroen C1 less than a year ago. But none of these experiences could have prepared me for this French masterpiece.
Let me start by saying that I have owned some properly terrible vehicles. For a period of my life I daily drove through Indiana winters (and still own to this day) a rusted out Miata with no interior and less than half of the expected engine output. I picked up an equally rusty vehicle in Iowa and drove it sixteen hours back home through a severe snowstorm knowing full well that it had no working interior electronics, would randomly shut off on the highway, and was riding on bald summer tires. From long-dead clutches and only running on two cylinders to salvage titled Chryslers whose turning radius is tighter in one direction than the other, I am used to terrible vehicles and as a result have very low expectation. But this Citroen takes the crown for worst vehicle that I’ve ever driven by such a wide margin that I can’t even name a second place vehicle. By comparison everything else seems just fine.
I have now had the car for a full 24 hours. I would like to start off with what I like about the car because that will be pretty quick. First, I love the shifter. It is by far the best cable shifter that I have ever used. It is incredibly smooth and effortless. And that compliment is the best thing that I have to say. The styling of the car is...unique. Not likely to win fans among those blessed with the gift of sight, to borrow a quote from Top Gear, but it does stand out in a sea of bland competitors and I appreciate that. It’s eye-catching without being over-styled or gaudy, although it is designed to look bigger than it is and has fallen into the trap of thinking that plastic cladding makes things look rugged. I guess outward visibility is sort of okay, but any benefit from this is counteracted by the horrible mirror position, meaning that I find myself turning to look out the side and rear windows frequently because I can’t intuitively locate the mirror to perform the same task, a problem that I haven’t had in any other vehicle, RHD or not. Also the base price is £11,135 which is a pretty low sticker in the UK, but I’ll come back to this later.
To understand where this car fits in the Citroen lineup, I will compare it to its most well-known competitor, the Ford Fiesta. On paper, the comparison favors the Citroen which provides more rear passenger room and a taller cargo area from dimensions that are one inch wider but otherwise identical to the Fiesta. The interior of the French supermini feels more open and spacious than the Ford, and the C3 is 150lbs lighter than its “American” counterpart.
The third generation C3 consolidated many of the options of the previous generation and therefore comes with a 1.2L inline three as the only available petrol engine. It makes 50hp as standard and can be upgraded to 60hp for an additional £500. There is an available 55hp diesel engine for £2300. If you’re curious, I was able to get the price up to £18,800 for this rolling dumpster fire after selecting an automatic transmission, fog lights, something called “Coffee Break Alert,” and black wheels. Yes, that’s £900 more expensive than a Fiesta ST, although I can’t imagine that there are too many people cross-shopping that hot hatch with this bucket of industrial waste. My pile of feces is equipped with the 50hp engine, a traditional 5-speed manual, and what some might call a clutch.
For those that aren’t intimately familiar with the inner workings of a clutch, it has three components: a pressure plate which provides a spring-loaded clamping surface, a flywheel which provides a fixed clamping surface, and the clutch disk which is coated in friction material and gets clamped. This Citroen’s clutch feels as though someone forgot to rivet the friction material to the clutch disk and instead filled the transmission bellhousing with gravel. There is a strong grinding vibration that shakes the car during all first gear starts. Between that and the incredibly vague and lifeless slipping region of the clutch pedal, this car makes me feel like I am just learning to drive stick all over again. My coworkers laugh at my rough or overly aggressive starts.
Making starting from a stop worse is the incredibly poor idle of this engine. It constantly sounds and feels as though the engine is about to die despite the rock solid engine speed. I did once get a bizarre oscillation upon first starting the car that made me consider taking the train instead.
The transmission has popped out of gear twice already, only 36 hours into this rental. There is no clutch safety switch so the car will start without the clutch pedal depressed, even while in gear. The lack of torque anywhere in the rev range and the incredibly low redline of 5500 RPM for a petrol engine have caused problems on the motorway on more than one occasion, forcing me to abort a pass and slam on the brakes because I couldn’t get up to speed quickly enough.
Today was interesting. More coworkers arrived and I played chauffeur with a full car. The extra weight of five people does odd things to the vehicle dynamics. The first effect should be obvious; a slight uphill exit from a roundabout found me decelerating in second with the throttle buried in the carpet. With a bus in the left lane preventing me from yielding to faster traffic, I could only continue decelerating until either the road leveled out and I could eventually pass the bus or I died of shame. Either solution would have been acceptable but fortunately for my passengers the former occurred first.
The second effect should also not shock anyone. When I got the car with 514 miles, it was keeping a tally of the average fuel economy for the life of the vehicle. It indicated 47.2 mpg. My driving for the previous two days had not changed that figure. By the time that I returned to the hotel parking lot to retire for the night on this third day, however, my cluster read 635 miles and 45.2mpg. For the entirety of my 21 miles of driving today, I averaged 20.2 mpg uk or 16.8 mpg us. Taking the same route that I have been for the past two days. That’s right. 16.8 mpg from a 1.2L three cylinder. So efficient!
The third effect of four extra passengers is by far the most alarming. No matter the conditions, the front of the vehicle became very light and the steering turned into an over sensitive mess. The typical process upon exiting a roundabout is to rev the car out and shift with my left hand while following the contour of the road with my right, but steering the car with only one hand under this condition was very treacherous. No matter how much I concentrated on holding the wheel steady, the car would dart across the narrow lanes seemingly with a mind of its own. This behavior was new and startling enough that I stopped to check the tire pressures just in case. My only thought is how fortunate we all are that it hasn’t rained yet during our stay because this vehicle in the wet would likely become incredibly dangerous.
The fourth and final effect of the extra weight of the vehicle was a surprising but welcome one. Inexplicably, my starts from a stop became much smoother and more consistent. One of my passengers quipped from the backseat that the clutch seemed to be cooperating today, a thought that I shared. Even hill starts had become unremarkable, which was surprising because the clutch pedal is too close to the center console and would catch my shoe if I ever tried to go for the dead pedal and caused innumerable misshifts.
I saw a kei car with extended wheel arches and wide rubber on all four corners being trailered around Birmingham today. Because of the complete lack of acceleration I was not able to catch up to it for identification, but in retrospect it definitely started life as a Daihatsu Mira X4R. Also the vehicles trapped behind me while leaving that roundabout was a line of three identical blue BMW M135is, all angry at having been inconvenienced by a black French garbage can.
I’d like to talk about electronics because this vehicle has some. I had previously assumed that, as a rental car, this C3 would have been a base model with no options, but this model has power windows and that identifies it as at least the middle trim of a three tier catalog, making the car a Citroen C3 Feel. Instead of being an £11k disaster (C3 Touch) this is actually a £14k nightmare! The lack of fog lights confirms that this is not a top-tier C3 Flair.
All four window switches on the driver’s door are supposed to be auto-up and auto-down, but reliability of this system is quite poor. At times they do not automatically roll up or down and they will even stop halfway. I have left my headlights in DRL mode for the entirety of this trip and only this morning I heard a buzzer warning me that the lights are still on. Sometimes, if it’s really dark, I can see some splotches on the road in front of me that have been illuminated by my headlights. Under most conditions these headlights are only useful to help others see me.
This C3 comes with a 7” touchscreen that embodies the “tablet glued to the dashboard” aesthetic that has become so popular with car manufacturers whose designers hate their jobs. However, I am convinced that they were actually using the centimeter side of their ruler or they thought that seven comes after four when coming up with that number. Or maybe they meant that the tablet is seven inches diagonally if you count the one inch bezel that exists on all four sides of the screen. The important part is that this screen feels small to the point of being useless. The screen is so small that there isn’t room for on screen controls and displayed information, so Citroen employed a pop up window scheme for everything. It runs Android Auto, but you don’t get to see it much because it is covered up by a door open notification. Or a completely illegible you just changed the volume window. Or a you just plugged in your phone and I don’t know if you want to run Android Auto or MirrorLink box. I find that the majority of the times that I glance at the screen to see which turn to use in this roundabout the map is covered with some unimportant notification and I either have to go around the roundabout several times or I end up making a wrong turn.
The steering wheel contains media controls, as you would expect from any car made this side of 2005, but they are the worst that I have ever used. Skipping tracks or seeking to the next radio station requires a downward turn of the right scroll wheel and going back is commanded by an upward push. Volume, however, uses discrete buttons on the left side and the scroll wheel next to them instead seems to serve no purpose. It has a multi-window icon and I have never found any change in the vehicle to correspond with its movement. There is a voice command button but the radio is not sure if it wants to trigger Android Auto or Citroen’s own software, so it makes a decision via random number generator. Only twice so far has it chosen to parse my speech with Google’s software.
I hate backup cameras. I think that they are an expensive and complicated excuse for auto manufacturers to continue covering important windows with opaque sheet metal. I have owned and driven numerous cars with them and have found that they cause more problems than they solve. I didn’t think that I’d ever say this, but this Citroen absolutely requires a backup camera. The rearview mirror is low and forward on the windshield and therefore, in addition to blocking the driver’s view of the vehicle one lane to the left and one car length in front of the car, actually points upward when aimed at the rear window. Since I can’t get the side mirrors to show the ground AND behind me, I either park with my head out the window or I find out that I’m not in the spot after I’ve gotten out of the car.
My other big complaint today is with the infotainment system again. Citroen’s OS insisted that I listen to British politics and no amount of restarting Android Auto could get it to switch focus to Phil Collins or even Dave Grohl. My passengers took turns unplugging my phone and pressing all of the buttons on the dashboard to no avail.
Also my overall fuel economy has dropped to 42.0 mpg. I think that this Citroen might be broken after only 650 miles.
My last day in this miserable vehicle. I drove two hours to London for a departure from LHR and saw three things.
- While plugged in and running Android Auto my phone’s battery dropped from 51% to 26%
- The average fuel economy indicator appears to update once every 50 miles or some other comparable timeframe. It only updated once during the drive to the airport.
- This car likely needs an alignment. A coworker pointed out that it was difficult to keep in the lanes on the highway, requiring lots of steering input even on smooth, flat motorways.
This pinnacle of French engineering is not deserving of a conclusion, so I will leave you with this thought: the Citroen C3 received an award from Top Gear Magazine for being one of the thirteen worst vehicles from 1993 through 2013 alongside such vehicles as the PT Criuser Cabrio and Nissan Micra C+C, saying that the car was “as useful as a chocolate teapot.” And that just about sums it up.
Congratulations, Citroen. There was an effort. Maybe.