Sunday, October 23, 2011

Guest review: Citroen C3

I had the opportunity to rent a Citroen C3 for two weeks while on vacation in Sardegna, Italy. Due to differences in driving culture and habits, road design, and most importantly emissions restrictions, this is not a car that you are going to see in the U.S. anytime soon.

I have to start by apologizing for not getting some critical information, such as the precise model year (the vehicle we had is from at least 2009, probably newer) and the exact engine configuration. My rental vehicle was a naturally-aspirated turbocharged diesel with a 5-speed manual transmission. This car had front disc brakes a rear drum brakes.

So that you know where we are coming from, my garage currently consists of a 2007 Honda Civic LX with a 5-speed manual and a 2004 Nissan Frontier XE in a 2wd and automatic transmission configuration. I previously owned a 1995 Subaru Legacy with an automatic and my wife had a 1997 VW Jetta with a 5-speed manual.

In keeping with apparent Italian tastes, this car is a compact 4-door hatch back. In general I saw very few sedans either in Tuscany or on Sardegna. The vast majority of passenger cars we saw were compact hatchbacks or larger station wagons, including BMWs, Audis, and Mercedes, along with the other European nameplates.

Driving position was nice and very adjustable. I like to be relatively upright and close the steering wheel, while not having my legs cramped. I was perfectly happy driving for up to 2 hours on twisty roads with lots of gear changes. Rachel really liked the front passenger leg room. Back seat leg room was non-existent (something like them1997 VW Jetta), but luckily we didn't need that seating space.

Similar to the Peugot 206 (which we spent a lot of time riding in but did not drive), the C3 has no cupholders and power windows in front, but crank windows in back. My sense is that cupholders are not considered to be important because when you are driving in Europe, you are driving, not drinking your coffee (although talking on your cellphone while driving is apparently legal in Italy and France).

Sardegna is a very rural and mountainous island in the Mediterranean with few divided highways. Except for a few developed tourist areas (such as the very chiche Costa Smeralda) the island is generally quite poor relative to the U.S., Britain, France, Germany and most of mainland Italy. The primary roads, however, are generally in very good condition (particularly by U.S. standards). This may be why the Italian debt situation is particularly bad.

This allowed for some fun (and at times scary) driving. The Citroen C3 was quite adequate for handling hills, cornering, and passing on straightaways (although the natives don't feel that need to wait until straightaways with adequate sight distance to pass). Body roll was minimal and steering was quick and precise. The C3 has a short wheel base and can get around corners quickly with minimal deceleration. The little diesel was more than adequate to bring this seemingly lightweight car back up to speed even on inclines.

The gearbox was fine. Generally I think that noticing characteristics of the transmission is not good and this one was easy to use with no oddities, similar to my Civic (the same cannot be said for the 1997 Jetta). Likewise braking was fairly unmemorable.

Italians have a reputation for being crazy drivers (but perhaps not as crazy as the reputation of Mumbai drivers). Superficially this may be true, but I found that they generally take driving very seriously while not taking the actions of other drivers personally. It seems that there is an expectation that drivers are fully alert and focused on the road, which does not generally seem evident on the roads here in the U.S.

Sardegna is mostly popular with German motorcyclists but is otherwise off the beaten path. Only once did we see a fleet of sports cars and that was a line of Ferraris that came pass in the opposite direction on a particularly narrow and twisty road. I would have thought that with cars such as Testarossas, F40s (I think) and 308s, among others, they would have had the cornering ability to stay in their own lane on blind curves. To be clear, this was near the Costa Smeralda and the drivers may have been some nouveau riche from who knows where in the world that decided to rent some Ferraris, rather than Italian or even European drivers. I was glad to have C3s abilities and small size to avoid a very expensive accident.

On the last day we had the car the service engine light came on with a message about the motor oil.

Maybe European motor oil is supposed to be black and thick?

I returned the car the next day and it became not my problem.

All in all, the Citroen C3 is a no frills, budget car that has nothing particularly special about it, however, the engineers did remember that a living person would be driving it, unlike some of the offerings that come out of some companies. Toyota and Chrysler come to mind.

While I would still choose a Honda Civic over this, I was perfectly happy to drive a car designed for driving while not violating Oliver's instructions from his dad never to ride in anything made in France that goes over 200 mph.

Happy motoring,


  1. That silver thing at the front of the engine is a turbo.

  2. Oh. It didn't feel like it had a turbo.