Citroën C1 Airscape Feel 82, motoring review: Can this car separate itself from its clan?

 

Price: £10,495 (range from £8,245 to £11,935)
Engine: 1199cc, three cylinders, 12 valves, 82bhp
Transmission: five-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive
Performance: 106mph, 0-62 in 11.0sec, 65.7mpg, CO2 99g/km

This is not so much three cars in one as one car in three. Citroën's new C1 is one of a family of three new small, inexpensive cars all based on the same mechanical and structural building blocks and built in the same factory.

We've seen the idea before, in 2005, with the launch of the previous C1, the Peugeot 107, and the Toyota Aygo, all identical apart from their nose and tail styling and their badges, all powered by a one-litre Toyota engine, all made in a Toyota-run factory supplied with parts (engine apart) by Peugeot-Citroën. Which version you bought depended on which brand you were drawn to or, more likely, which dealer offered the best deal.

Nine years and many happy owners on, the trio is reborn. This time they look more distinct, especially the Toyota, which gets a front end that seems to have driven hard into something solid and cross-shaped. Of the three, the Peugeot 108 – the only one to get a new name – looks the most conventional; the Aygo is the wackiest; and the Citroën, like the 108, has the option of a powered, slide-open fabric roof. The tiny one-litre engine continues, but for the new cars this 68bhp option is joined by an 82bhp edition of Peugeot's new 1.2-litre unit.

The previous trio always looked as if they would be nippy and fun to drive, and that promise was mostly kept. They ran out of puff on motorways and tended to bounce and lollop on B-roads, but as essentially urban runabouts they could perhaps be forgiven. However, a Ford Ka or a Fiat Panda, similarly junior in the auto-hierarchy and easy on the pocket, were always a more pleasing drive.

Here is a chance for the new cars to push on, then, especially as newer, similarly priced rivals such as the Volkswagen Up, Kia Picanto and Hyundai i10 have been raising standards in the meantime.

Under the new skin, again offered with three or five doors, the C1/108/Aygo have changed little. They are a bit tougher, to make them safer and feel more solid, so they weigh slightly more while remaining svelte. The suspension has been recalibrated, the steering is now electrically assisted and my test C1 Airscape Feel (other C1 levels are Touch below and Flair above) has the new, bigger engine.

It also has a highly colourful interior with bright red dashboard inserts and seat-edge stripes like a coloured barcode, repeated outside on the centre pillars. The dashboard has a round speedometer on a pod which moves with the steering column's vertical adjustment, while a touch-screen display in a larger pod occupies the dashboard's middle. Among its abilities is the "mirroring" of your mobile-phone screen, so you can use your phone's satnav as long as there's a signal.

So far, so on trend, but this is a cheap car and feels it. The plastic mouldings don't have the quality to carry off the busy design they form, and there's none of the "premiumness" that makes Fiats and VWs so appealing. Nor does the C1 feel as sophisticated as an Up clone to drive, taking a sudden corner less keenly and suffering some surges and vibrations from its otherwise willing engine. It's capable, roomy and comfortable enough for a mini-car, and the roof is fun, but apart from the new electronics it does feel like the skin-deep update of an old design that it mostly is.

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