TEST DRIVE: Citroen C1 Airscape

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Steve Sharpe drives Citroen’s new version of its C1

The C1 is Citroen’s entry into the city car category, a section of the car marker which is becoming more and more crowded.

First making its appearance in 2005, it’s gone on to become a popular little car for the French manufacturer, notching up worldwide sales of more than three quarters of a million.

This latest generation was launched in the UK in July, and has been given a substantial makeover, with a complete new body style.

What you get with the new C1 is a chunky, solid-looking and stylish little city car.

The front headlights have been split into two sections, separated by a thin strip of body metal, with the front end appearing to be stubbier than the outgoing model.

Vertical daytime running lights have been inserted into a hollow just ahead of the front wheels, while at the back the rear light clusters have an unusual shape and the tailgate glass is blacked out.

The changes make the C1 appear more chunky and less dinky than before.

Inside the cabin things are also considerably different and given a funky makeover.

There are scores of ways to personalise your C1, with body-coloured metal sections available for the centre console, air vent trims, door panel inserts and the gearlever surround.

It looks smart enough but the plastics are hard to the touch and scratchy, with sections like the door panels making a knocking sound when you tap them.

The layout is going to appeal to the younger driver, with a simple, colourful media screen that’s simple to operate in the centre of the dashboard.

It’s aimed at the technically-savvy youngster, with sockets to plug in your iPhone and an aux one for your mp3 player. No CD slot here – CDs are so last century.

It’s all very youthful, bright and cheerful, and also quite airy for a small car.

There’s a new body style available for both the three and five-door versions of the C1. Called the Airscape, it features a large canvas section which runs practically the entire length of the roof, opening fully by the flick of a switch.

This electrically-operated roof can be opened or closed when the car is stationary or on the move, and gives the occupants a bit of an open-air experience

The seats have been redesigned and for a small city car it’s pretty roomy and comfortable in the front .

Headroom is fine and so is kneeroom, although the pedal area is narrow.

In the back, however, things are undeniably tighter for space, and taller people are going to struggle for both headroom and legroom.

There are storage areas dotted around the cabin for bits and bobs, but the boot is very small.

The rears seats will fold in a single piece or 50-50 sections, depending on the model, for more space though.

From the driver’s perspective the C1 is easy to spend long periods of travelling in, but ideally it would suit a family with small children rather than older ones.

The Citroen comes with one of two engines, the 1-litre engine from the previous model and the new 1.2 three-cylinder powerplant that I drove.

This 1.2 version certainly gives the little city car a bit of zip.

Most of the acceleration is found at lower speeds and the little Citroen positively flies off the mark, which is perfect for a city car that will spend much of its working life darting in and out of traffic. It does require a fair bit of gear-changing as the speeds increase and hills and gradients are tackled.

However, a combination of the free-revving engine and a sensitive clutch makes it easy to subject yourself and your passengers to a jerky time while stop-starting in slow-moving traffic, which really takes some getting used to and still catches you out occasionally even then.

It can also be noisy inside. The canvas roof lets quite a bit of the outside world into the cabin and that free-revving engine is raspy at higher revs.

But the C1 handles the roads of the North East well and although primarily built for urban use it will tackle longer journeys enthusiastically. It’s actually surprisingly adept on motorway runs, and it’s easily capable of long jaunts.

A wheel-at-each-corner layout means there is a good degree of fun to be had around winding corners, as body lean has been well controlled and the steering is light and precise. The little city car grips the road well, too.

But around town is where the car feels at home.

A tight turning circle, compact dimensions and good all -round visibility mean that the C1 is great for manoeuvring in and out of parking spaces, between traffic or accelerating away from junctions.

City cars like the C1 are aimed at certain sections of the car-buying public, and the company itself say they expect the bulk of buyers to under 30, the majority women, or older people downsizing.

For both sections one of the primary attractions is going to be economy, and it’s an area where the C1 scores highly.

It’s under the emissions level that requires road tax, and the 1.2 version I drove should return 65mpg on average. You can add another 10mpg for the smaller engine.

The range is priced competitively too, ranging from £8,425 through to £11,935, with the five door version costing around £400 more than the three-door.

That price depends partly on what trim level you opt for.

There are three on offer – entry-level Touch, Feel and Flair – with the Airscape sunroof models available in only the two top trims.

Citroen have made sure that the C1 can compete with the rest in this segment.

Even entry-level cars get hill start assist and six airbags, electric front windows, remote central locking, LED daytime running lights and a USB socket.

Move up to Feel trim and you add the seven-inch touch-screen, air-con, steering wheel controls, body-coloured door mirrors and a DAB radio.

A £300 pack will add automatic air-con, automatic lights and heated, electrically adjustable wing mirrors, while going for the top trim will get you a reversing camera, leather-covered steering wheel and bigger alloys

The C1 has some quality rivals in the city car class, like the Volkswagen Up, the Hyundai i10, SEAT Mii, Skoda Citigo and the Hyundai i10 – not to mention the Toyota Aygo and Peugeot 108, two stablemates which share the much of the same basic build

But it’s a funky-looking, lively little city car which many people will instantly fall for. It will appeal to younger drivers who are willing to overlook its faults.

It comes in some vibrant colours and there are a multitude of ways to personalise it. The huge Airscape retractable canvas roof will also make it popular for summer driving too.

Well-priced and well-equipped, it’s a stylish little city car and, with the 1.2 engine on board, is nippy and enthusiastic when it’s at home in the city.

Fact file

Citroen C1 Airscape
Engine: 1.2 litre petrol

Transmission: Five-speed manual.

0-62: 11 seconds.

Top Speed: 106mph.

Economy: Avg 65.7mpg

Price: £11,785