“Fabulous darling,” I responded in the gayest, most flamboyant voice I could muster. That’s how I responded when a co-worker asked me how I was finding the new Citroën C1 I had parked in my driveway for the week. I couldn’t help myself – I’m as straight as they come but the C1 is the kind of car that makes you involuntarily want to sing along to Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Want To Have Fun at the top of your lungs whilst dancing along and merrily wringing out the tiny 3-cylinder engine to achieve no speed at all. It is, quite simply, fabulous.
But the all-new C1 isn’t exactly ‘all new’. It’s a heftily revised version of the old one, in partnership with Peugeot and Toyota, brought into the new decade with some technical tweaks, new finishes, and some new equipment for the tech savvy fashionista this car is aimed at. Amongst the tech added, a highly responsive 7-inch touch screen entertainment system with Bluetooth connectivity and audio streaming and USB and auxiliary inputs doubles up as a display for the rear view camera. A speed limiter, automatic headlights, steering mounted audio controls, front electric windows, automatic air conditioning, and – in the Airscape model – a retractable soft-top cabriolet roof, also feature. As is the usual trend with manufacturers these days, there is no CD player.
But despite the host of features, the C1 lacks some of the most basic ones – electronically adjustable side mirrors being the most noticeable for the driver, whilst the rear windows don’t wind down mechanically. Instead they’re latch-type pop-open windows like those found in the rear of the original Volkswagen Beetle. I’d have happily forgone the speed limiter in favour of electronically adjustable mirrors; and due to the tiny nature of the C1, the reverse camera is a tad unnecessary and proper rear windows would have been appreciated by rear passengers.
But nevertheless, the features equipped appeal hugely to the modern youth – pairing quality tech where it’s expected with a quirky design that proves the designers knew who their target audience was and never forgot it throughout the design process. The cutesy design, both inside and out, features many a cartoonish detail – from the ‘eyebrows’ over the headlamps to the media screen that would look at home in an instalment of Disney’s Lilo & Stitch. My test unit, liveried in Lipizan White with a Sunrise Red rag-top roof with blacked out A-pillars and Light ‘Red Zebra’ vinyl B-pillars looked positively fruity – as far from masculine as possible – but fashionably designed to appeal to the young lady (or feminine man) looking to express their individuality and youthful flair.
The interior, a juxtaposition of colour, mates gloss black cladding around the large speedometer with gloss Sunrise Red cladding around the entertainment interface that visually pops out strikingly against the grey hard plastic dash. Clever design and construction sees the door panels feature gloss white panels exposed from the door moulding in a stylish manner that fuses function and form – and adds yet another colour to the fray. Dark grey cloth seats are trimmed in the same ‘Red Zebra’ pattern located on the B-pillars of the exterior. To an older audience, it’s a cluttered design; but it caters to a youthful audience who feel the need to be bombarded with an overload of stimuli in short bursts, much like modern social media.
But first and foremost, a car must be a car before an accessory – the latter of which the C1 does an exemplary job of – and this task is a far tougher one to accomplish.
Citroën have resorted to endowing the C1 with unashamedly small car characteristics in a bid to enthuse the cutesy appeal of it. The small front-wheel drive hatch is powered by a 1.2-litre 3-cylinder engine with a growly soundtrack and outputs of 60kW and 116Nm, mated to a 5-speed manual transmission – a fair pairing more than ample to shunt the 956Kg mass of the C1 about.
The engine, whilst providing ample outputs and a pleasant soundtrack, does a fair job of popping the C1 about. It’s not particularly inspiring though in its power delivery though; flat throughout the rev range – feeling the same at 2000rpm as it does at 5000rpm, and failing to build to a crescendo of any sort. I don’t expect it to be a rip-roaring hot hatch, but the most endearing quality of small naturally aspirated engines is the thrill or wringing them out with a climactic peak at the top of the rev range, and the C1’s 1.2-litre mill lacks that quality. But despite this, it still manages to get up to speed relatively quickly, and it even allows for decent overtaking thanks to impressive gear ratios.
The gearbox responsible for this is one that’s light and easy to use. The light clutch has a short take with an even, predictable bite – easy enough to use in crawling traffic, and even easier to make use of on the open road. But the gearshift itself lacks substance – the long throws of the shifter met by a spongy feel on the other side. In tandem with the uneventful engine, gearshifts feel purposeless and vague. But it is easy, and the workload light, and whilst it doesn’t sit well with me there are a multitude of young women who will simply adore how effortless shifts are in the C1.
They’ll also love how light the engine and gearbox combo is on fuel. My test unit managed to cover some serious ground on a full tank, whilst burning 6.5l/100km – impressive stuff considering most of my time driving was spent with the roof wide open in defiance of aerodynamics. Despite this, fuel consumed was minimal, and noise intrusion, even at highway speeds, was surprisingly little – a conversation could be held at a regular volume even with the roof open. Impressive stuff, that.
The C1’s suspension caters well to the light, friendly feel of the car – but it is decidedly ‘small car’ in its feel. It rides over bumps and into dips, as opposed to more sophisticated competitors like the Opel ADAM which absorb these changes in the surface into the car. As such the Citroën has a tendency to feel like it’s bouncing along the roadway, despite maintaining a relatively good grip on the tar. It hurtles along like a pinball off a paddle, bobbing along the road with a springy nature that does two things – makes the car feel carefree, and makes you realise that more money was spent on making it look good than drive as solidly as other cars in its segment.
But despite this, the pinball nature of the car did make for a good laugh. The narrow 165/60 tyres on their 15-inch ‘Planet’ alloy wheels maintain high levels of grip while still making the car easy to toss about like a toy. The steering is playful and light – not particularly communicative – but responding well enough to inputs and delivering the results desired of a small city car.
Light on its feet, light on fuel, and as quirky as they come, the Citroën C1 makes a striking first impression on all that cast their eyes on it. It’s full of flash and pizzazz, colourful stimuli and so many colours it almost borders on being too much – but it does so in a successful bid to be a fashion accessory to the young twenty-something year old college student. At times though, all the flare makes it feel like it’s attempting to distract you from something else – the art of illusion drawing your attention away from the hard plastic dash and primitive rear windows in favour of shiny plastic and a nifty open-roof experience.
But as I said earlier, a car needs to be a good car first before a great fashion accessory, and the C1 feels under endowed in this department. Competitors such as the Opel ADAM have moved the game forward in the refinement and ride quality stakes, and have forgone the harsh dashboard materials in favour of soft touch ones, where the C1 is still stuck in the early noughties. It also lacks a bit on the engine department where the characterful appearance deserved an equally characterful drivetrain. It’s fabulous, it’s flamboyant, it’s a hoot to toss about like a little toy, but at R194 900 I can’t help but feel I’d rather be getting more car for my money – in which case Opel offer the best alternative, albeit without that charming soft-top roof.
That all being said, I know of a few thousand college girls in the Cape that will love driving along the coast with the roof open, their music on loud with their friends all singing along, whilst absolutely adoring the personality of the C1 and how it matches them too a tee. Proof that every car has its target market, and Citroën understand theirs for the C1 perfectly.
|No. of Cylinders:||
60kW @ 5750RPM
116Nm @ 3500RPM
5 Speed Manual
|Fuel Tank Capacity:||
|Fuel Consumption (Regular driving, combined cycle):||
Front Wheel Drive
|Price (as tested):||