Steve Sharpe test drives Citroen’s face-lifted city car
A whole new procession of cars including VW’s up!, the Skoda Citigo and SEAT’s Mii, have rolled up and revolutionised the sector.
Smart and stylish, comfortable and nippy, now a city car doesn’t have to be a sensible but boring choice of car for those looking for urban driving at low costs.
So it’s been left for the old stagers to watch on as these new kids on the block get all the attention and plaudits.
So now the little guys fight back.
Citroen’s C1 range was restyled last year and the range includes a unique new special edition, unashamedly aimed at the Facebook generation.
In fact, designers even used the social network site – 24,000 people submitted their ideal configuration for a C1 on a special application on Citroen’s UK Facebook page – and the result was the C1 Connexion.
But it’s not just the special edition model that I drove which has been updated.
Citroen have also retuned the three-cyclinder, one-litre engine, lowering CO2 emissions to just 98g/km for the manual transmission models, making them exempt from road tax.
The C1 manual’s fuel economy figures are also improved to an impressive 65.7mpg.
Things haven’t been too drastically altered on the C1’s exterior,
The latest C1 gets a new bonnet and grille complete with Citroen’s new chevron design, plus a new front bumper which incorporates LED running lights, while higher-spec models also have a black grill design complete with chrome inserts and body-coloured door mirrors and door handles. In addition the Connexion and VTR+ models have dark tinted windows.
Inside there is improved dash and door trim and better quality materials, while the Connexion models get a smart black and red colour scheme and other stylish extras.
The C1 is a pretty safe place in which to travel – all models have a four-star Euro NCAP rating, variable power assisted steering, ABS with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), Cornering Stability Control (CSC) and twin air bags.
So Citroen really have taken steps to keep up with the new breed of city car appearing on our urban streets.
And this little city car is well on its way because of it.
It’s a funky-looking little motor and more than holds its own against its rivals in the style stakes. Stubby and compact, it has a futuristic, pod-like appearance without going too mad on the bits and bobs.
The special edition Connexion looks even better in its striking black and colour scheme inside and out.
The interior is minimalistic – the speedometer is a retro, circular dial directly in front of the driver and the rev counter a Mickey Mouse type ear on the side.
You adjust the heating power and directions with moveable toggles and there’s little else to worry about after that.
There’s a small rectangular screen in the centre of the console with some digital readouts but this can be tricky to read when the lights are low.
One stylish point is the lighting scheme – it’s a pale orange, and even the white plastic housing the heating controls shines with an eerie glow
Out on the road the C1 is a handy all-rounder.
Its lively one-litre engine is great for nipping around town.
The Citroen’s diminutive size and wheel-at-each-corner design means parking is simple, and good all-round visibility and light steering means that you can tackle those spots many others have to wistfully drive by.
It’s by no means quick but it’s a decent drive around city streets. But you have to keep on top of things.
The one-litre engine works at its best if the revs are kept high, and the way the gears are set means that if you miss a gear change you’ll soon find yourself chugging along sullenly.
But the C1 is surprisingly competent at motorway driving. Once it’s up to speed – and it takes a while – it will happily tootle along.
Once again, though, you have to work the gears to make sure you don’t run out of steam when the revs drop.
It’s a car built for the city, though, and when you venture out onto winding lanes the little car seems in strange territory.
There’s good grip around corners but take one too fast and you can feel yourself losing traction.
Comfort and refinement are areas where the new city cars have really upped the ante but the C1 still has a way to go to catch up
There’s a lot of road and wind noise coming through, which increases as speeds rise, and over rough surfaces you can feel judders coming through the tyres.
But although it may lack a degree of comfort on the road you’re fine for room in the front seats. Adult rear seat passengers won’t be as happy to travel long distances but with the front seats set well forward there is adequate legroom for a normal sized passenger.
The boot, however, is very small and you’ll only get a few shopping bags in there before things get crowded. A high lip also means you’ll have to hoist things up and over, too.
The rear seats do split to provide more room, though, and Citroen has thoughtfully provided lots of useful storage areas throughout the cabin.
City cars are often used as a second car for the family, or as an ideal first car for the new driver, and the C1 has been priced accordingly, with the range starting at just under £8,000 for the entry level model, topping £10,000 for the top-of-the-range VTR five-door model.
The entry-level VT model has a CD player and an MP3 socket, but you’ll have to move up to VTR to get air-con, electric front windows and remote central locking, while the VTR+ comes with alloys, split/folding rear seats, front fog-lights and rear head restraints.
The special edition Connexion models offers something different in the way of styling, too.
It’s surprising to see no removable satnav on the dash, though, a feature of many of the other city cars
The C1 has a lot going for it – cheap to buy, cheap to run and all except the range-topping model exempt from road tax.
It looks smart and has a funky interior but it really is up against it with the style, performance and economy of cars like the up! and the Citigo
Citroen C1 Connexion
Engine: 1litre petrol
Transmission: Five-speed manual
0-60mph: 12.3 seconds
Top speed: 98mph
Economy: 65.7mpg (combined)
Price: From £9,495