I went to Paris last week. Not my first visit but it was the first time I have taken note of the pet shops. When it comes to livestock our pet shops are content with a kaleidoscope of budgies, a gang of rabbits and a varied selection of guinea pigs, hamsters and gerbils. Parisian pet shops are filled with puppies, all of them cute, all of them expert at working an audience, and all perfectly proportioned for life in the broom cupboards that pass for a typical Parisian flat or for transporting in their very own Gucci carrier – monogrammed of course. Small dogs appear to be de rigueur – that’s French – in Paris.
This week a little bit of Paris came to me in the updated shape of the Citroen C1 and allowed me to create this entirely frivolous tangent of an opening. This is a car that is suited to life in Paris, where negotiating the Arc de Triomphe is a challenge to be savoured and a parking space is defined as any random piece of ground that your car will fit on. This is the vehicular equivalent of those puppies in the pet shop. It’s often said that some dog owners bear a passing resemblance to their chosen canine companion and the same is true of the Citroen C1. No, I’m not saying anyone who drives one looks like a dog, or a car for that matter. In this case it’s the car that resembles the dog and it’s a serious contender for the best little dog in the world.
In my fevered imagination this analogy works in two ways. Firstly, the looks of the C1 with its twin headlamp configuration, led daytime running lights and deep grille look like the bunched eyebrows and pointy nose of a growly little terrier with a big attitude: Yes, it’s smaller than the other dogs but it’s not backing down under any circumstances. Second, it’s got an advantage over the bigger dogs and it’s not afraid to use it: The C1 is light and agile with lightening quick reflexes, it scampers along the road like an overexcited puppy chasing a wasp. In the interests of making an actual point I think it is now time to drop the analogy and move on.
Before the little Citroen arrived I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it. I was convinced it would be too small and be supplied with a food mixer under the bonnet. That preconception lasted about 5 minutes once it arrived. The C1 is a very good car. It’s comfortable, well equipped – although the reason why Citroen chose to fit a speed limiter but not cruise control escapes me – and surprisingly spacious up front. I’m well over 6 feet tall and had no issues with headroom or the driving position. On the down side, trying to fit a couple of adults in the back is an exercise best suited to an experienced contortionist. With the driver’s seat back to accommodate a taller driver there’s really only legroom for children and in the Airscape model I tested with its’ neat little folding fabric roof the rear headroom was about 4 inches less than required for me to sit back in the seat. Having said that, my children loved it back there because they could demand the roof remain open at all times so they could look up at the sky. The fact that it was cold and damp out there didn’t phase them in the slightest. Rear space aside, access is easy in the 5 door version I tested and the boot is ample enough for a weekly shopping trip. The split back seats fold down quickly and easily to increase the space although they don’t fold flat – they don’t fold down at all if the front seats are too far back – so getting more cumbersome items over the base of the back seat may take the negotiating skills of a Greek Finance Minister.
From the driver’s seat the C1 is an entirely different prospect. The seats are supportive and the driving position feels natural and comfortable. The instruments are well placed and easy to read, the controls are exactly where you want them, and the 7″ colour touchscreen is simple and intuitive to operate. The gloss black trim gives the interior a touch of elegance but if you want to brighten everything up you can specify colour coded trim for the centre console, gear surround and air vents to match the exterior paint. Visibility is good and somehow, despite its’ diminutive stature, the C1 doesn’t feel like a small car when you’re surrounded by rush hour traffic, it just feels nimble. In fact the only time it feels small is when you are parking, and that’s exactly what you want when you’re squeezing into a space larger cars can only dream about. I had the luxury of the optional rear camera that does make reversing into tight spots simpler but to be perfectly honest, the C1 is so easy to manoeuvre you could manage just as well without.
Manoeuvrability is definitely the C1’s party piece. In town it thrives on darting through the traffic and its’ gutsy 3 cylinder, 1.2L PureTech engine is more than capable of nipping into the smallest of gaps. It may only have 82bhp but the whole car weighs about the same as a wet towel so it is much more than sufficient. The official figures say the C1 will reach 60mph in 11 seconds, I promise you it feels – and possibly is – much quicker than that. And the noise it makes as the revs rise is brilliant. Imagine a 5 year old boy making car noises, all growl and howl and crackly exhaust, that is exactly what it sounds like. This little Citroen wants to be a racing car when it grows up and in the meantime it is quite content to put a smile on your face. While the C1 is perfectly happy on the motorway it really perks up when the bends get a bit tighter. The suspension manages to be firm without being uncomfortable, you will feel the bigger bumps but the C1 seems to skip over rather than crash into them. The benefit is the solid feel you get when you go around a corner, you don’t even need to drive fast to appreciate the manner in which the C1 handles bends. The ride feels good, the steering feels good, it is good.
This is the point where I highlight what I consider to be the flaws in the C1. There are flaws but I can’t help wondering if I’m just being picky for the sake of it. We know about the lack of room in the back and the decision to offer a speed limiter but not cruise control and there are others. The C1 is well built but the materials seem a little thin, not cheap just built to a price. The fuel filler cap release feels flimsy; the courtesy lights only come on when you open the door; the gearbox is nice and smooth but with the driver’s seat back it’s a long reach for 1st gear; the indicator tick is far too loud; it gave me an easy 45mpg around town and you can get much more if you possess a right boot smaller than mine, but the 35 litre fuel tank is very small so it feels like you are using a lot more fuel than you actually are; the engine is a little rumbly at low revs, not a lot but it’s a symptom of having 3 cylinders rather then the usual 4 and you can feel it through the seat. As I said, I’m very conscious of being overly picky because nothing on this list is a big enough reason to dislike the C1. They may be things that would drive you mad but overall they add something to the Gallic charm and are more than outweighed by the positives. No, the C1 is not perfect, not by any stretch of the imagination. What it is, is a great little car that is fun to drive, economical, and with prices starting from a touch over £7,600, great value for money. Even the open top Airscape with the bigger engine and added extras I drove comes in at just £12,035.
If you’re young and want an affordable city car that’s fun to drive and cheap to run then the C1 is worth a look. If you’re a young family looking for a second car that is perfect for the school run and that the children will love then the C1 is worth a look. If you want a small car that your teenager will want to borrow then the C1 is worth a look and it’s sufficiently cool that they will love you for it. If your children have moved out and you just want a small car that’s economical, easy to drive and easy to park then the C1 is worth a look.
Regardless of your personal situation, if you’re in the market for a city car then the Citroen C1 is well worth a look.