FRENCH brand Citroen has brought some much needed flair to the city-car class but being fashionable comes at a price.
The new generation Citroen C3 costs from $26,990 drive-away, making it one of the dearest models in the segment - even though it is not as well equipped as cheaper rivals.
Citroen describes it as a "style statement", a "niche model" and an "extension of the owner's personality".
There are 33 unique colour combinations to stand out from the crowd, although that too comes at an additional cost: $590.
The maker says it has "no plans to compete on price", which is why it's happy to sit outside the $14,990 to $23,990 bracket.
"When we did have a pricepoint car in the market … it was 4 per cent of sales," says Citroen Australia spokesman Tyson Bowen.
Customers are "sensitive to fashion and value European brands", Citroen says, and they choose the vehicle "because it says something about their personality".
Citroen claims the C3 is loaded with equipment. There is no doubt it has a fresh style, though it lacks some substance - for example, built-in navigation (standard on a $17,990 Suzuki Swift) is not available at any price.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard but these features are available on most rivals.
The C3 does not yet come with autonomous emergency braking - standard on most new models from the $14,390 Kia Picanto up - which means it does not earn a five-star safety rating.
Despite the C3 being pitched as a premium proposition, radar cruise control - available on the Suzuki and Volkswagen city cars, among others - is not an option.
It comes standard with blind-zone warning and lane wander alert. These are available on the Mazda2 and Swift respectively.
Uniquely, the C3 has speed sign recognition but the warning is hidden in the dash menu and displayed in the same small font as the odometer. Peugeots with this technology display a large speed sign symbol that's impossible to miss.
The seven-inch central touchscreen is fussy and distracting to use; you need to take your eyes off the road to press the tabs to adjust air temperature or fan speed. The same goes for radio functions.
Cruise control is fiddly to operate as the steering wheel obscures the chunky stalk with its tiny graphics. The glovebox and centre console are small; at least the door pockets are massive.
The boot is bigger than before but not quite a match for the new VW Polo. And there's only a space-saver spare stashed under the boot, whereas the Polo packs a full-size job.
In the cabin, the C3 is noticeably smaller than the Polo and closer to the Swift and Mazda2.
For now, the ace up its sleeve is being the first car with a built-in dash cam as a factory-fitted option - at $600.
ON THE ROAD
This latest C3 is a new body riding on the heavily revised underpinnings of its predecessor, which means it drives well but it's not a generational leap forward.
On bumpy back roads the suspension feels too bouncy and the steering too sensitive and sharp. It's more at home on smooth roads and roundabouts in the city and suburbs, its more likely habitat.
The 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo packs a decent punch despite its small capacity. A one-time international engine of the year, it's starting to show its age.
Compared to newer triples, it shudders and vibrates more noticeably and may not be to everyone's liking.
The engine is perky enough and, matched to a conventional six-speed auto, gets up and boogies when you're in a hurry.
However, while the French have fitted a quality Japanese auto transmission, the C3 still needs some further refinement in its gear changes.
First impressions suggest the C3 is unlikely to challenge the top of the class. It feels nervy on back roads, is short on standard equipment and the price is astronomical.
CITROEN C3 SHINE
PRICE $26,990 drive-away (expensive)
WARRANTY/SERVICE 5 years/unlimited km warranty, 12 months/15,000km service intervals (good), $1498 over 3 years (expensive)
ENGINE 1.2-litre 3-cyl turbo, 81kW/205Nm (perky)
SAFETY 5 stars, 6 airbags, AEB, rear camera and sensors, speed sign recognition, lane departure warning (good)
THIRST 4.9L/100km (95 RON) (frugal)
SPARE Space-saver (not ideal)
BOOT 300L (good)