Superminis – compact three and five-door hatchbacks – are the hottest-selling vehicles in Europe and the signs are that 2002 will see a major battle as new versions of Volkswagen‘s Polo and Ford’s Fiesta and the all-new Citroën C3 take on the recently reworked Fiat Punto and Opel Corsa plus the well-established Peugeot 206.

Citroen is adamant that its C3, to be unveiled at next month’s Frankfurt Motor Show, doesn’t replace the current Saxo, which is essentially a re-badged Peugeot 106.

The C3, a toned-down version of the 1998 Paris Show Lumiere concept car, will come only as a five-door and there won’t be any sporty versions so the hot VTS and VTR versions of the Saxo get a reprieve while the rest of the still strong-selling range is rationalised as the entry-level line-up until a new C2 three-door arrives in 2003.

In the meantime, the new C3, with its rounded 2CV-like roofline and plunging waistline signals a refreshing return to the individualistic styling and ingenuity for which Citroen was once known.

Example: the Moduboard boot, designed to separate the boot into compartments and offer many different layout possibilities. When not required, the divider stores against the back of the rear seats.

Ingenious Moduboard system
partitions boot to suit
Emphasising how many superminis are sole family transport in Europe, Citroen will offer an optional child pack which includes activation of the rear door child locks from the dashboard, a 12 volt socket at the rear and aircraft-style trays on the back of the front seats. This pack also includes a ‘child mirror’, which is located below the rear view mirror and allows the driver to keep an eye on the little darlings misbehaving in the rear seats.

Around 1.67m wide and 3.85m long on a 2.45m wheelbase, the C3 is the tallest in its class at 1.52m, crossing the boundary into MINI-MPV (minivan) territory. It matches the new Fiesta, itself just made taller, in most respects but is another 102mm higher and also has a bigger 305-litre boot.

The C3 will share its new 70hp 1.4-litre eight-valve HDi direct injection turbodiesel engine with the Fiesta but gets to keep the 92hp 16-valve version to itself for the moment.

There will also be three petrol engines – a 61bhp 1.1, 75hp 1.4i and a 110hp 1.6i 16-valve unit. Five-speed manual gearboxes will be standard while the few European wimps (and, eventually, Australians and Japanese) that dare request the French provide an automatic shifter will be offered a six-speed adaptive ‘box with driver-selectable sequential shift mode.

What promises to be a spacious cabin will feel even more so under the optional large, electrically-operated glass sunroof whose twin panels cover almost the entire roof. Like the new Mini’s sunroof, the front panel slides back over the fixed rear pane and a sunshade can be drawn over both.

C3 based on 1998 Paris show
Lumiere concept
Automatic air conditioning with glovebox cooler is also offered along with a rear parking sensor, automatic rain-sensitive windscreen wipers, ‘black panel’ night-time instrument lighting and automatic activation of the hazard warning lights under heavy braking.

Safety equipment runs to six airbags including two side window airbags, three tri-point rear seatbelts and anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and Emergency Braking Assistance.

A new-generation coded engine immobiliser, automatic relocking of the vehicle if it is accidentally unlocked and automatic locking of the boot as soon as the vehicle starts to move are part of the security package.