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VEHICLE ANALYSIS: Citroën C1

By Glenn Brooks | 4 July 2014

C1 on sale in UK this month, priced from £8,245-£11,935

C1 on sale in UK this month, priced from £8,245-£11,935

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We first saw the second generation C1 alongside the Peugeot 108 and Toyota Aygo at the Geneva motor show in March. Production is now ramping up, and UK deliveries are about to commence.

Having ceased its self-harming cashback offers some years back, Citroën UK is now pushing its new philosophy of being a good value brand. Until the DS3 becomes the DS 3 later in the year, this premium priced hatchback remains a Citroën. It also remains one of the double-chevron brand's two best sellers in Britain, the other being the C1, so a good sales start is vital for this new city car.

Worldwide, over 760,000 units of the old C1 were sold between 2005 and the first half of 2014, so PSA hasn't strayed too far from the formula which brought that level of success. You'll find the same Toyota platform, albeit in updated form, and the car is still built at the Kolin plant in the Czech Republic alongside the new Aygo and the 107-replacing 108.

Measuring 4.64m from end to end, the C1 is 24mm longer than the old model, and slightly narrower, as well as 150mm lower. Production began in May and continental European market sales from the following month. 

As well as the two body styles, there is also the option of 'Airscape', which means a roll-back soft-top, which, incidentally, Toyota will not offer to British buyers of the Aygo. The open top can be ordered as a two-door or a four-door: like the old C1, the latest one has a glass panel to access the boot so is not technically speaking, a hatchback.

The Citroën, as well as the 108 and Aygo have a standard Toyota-developed 68PS 1.0-litre engine, but the PSA twins are also available with another three-cylinder petrol choice: an 82PS 1.2-litre. Unlike the previous models, none is available with a diesel. Executives attending the media launch in Amsterdam this week said there is no reason why the Toyota cannot have the larger engine; TME chooses not to offer it, for now at least.

One of the biggest criticisms of the old models was how similar they looked. As Graeme's review of the Aygo underlines, there's no way you could say that about the new cars. The C1 is more restrained than the Toyota but it's still distinctive. Perhaps combining the worldwide media preview of the C1 with the striking C4 Cactus was to blame for me thinking the little guy looked good, but was rather in the shadows. 

At the front end, there's what corporate-speak terms a two-part lighting signature. The first part is vertical LED daytime lights "to convey a cheerful and modern character, reflective of the car's personality", the media pack reckons. Above these sit larger circular headlights, with turn signals atop them.

Wheels are either 14- or 15-inchers (plastic covers on base trim, alloys for others), exterior paint choice extends to eight shades with chrome-effect details an option, and Airscape cars may be ordered with a roof in a contrasting shade - black, grey or red.

The little car, is like the old one, not the fastest car in its class, but it's one of the best to throw around the corners. The main reason is how well engineered it is; how light it is (855-865kg); and narrow, low rolling resistance tyres. There are new springs, a rear axle that's lost 4kg, better shock absorbers and a larger diameter for the anti-roll bar. There wasn't the opportunity to push it too hard around the busy streets of Amsterdam and its suburbs but you could tell the handling has been tuned by car enthusiasts. There's also a new electric steering system but I would have loved a C1 that has no assistance - like the base version of the old-shape Ford Ka and the Alfa 4C.

The VTi 68 Stop&Start (S&S) five-speed manual is up there with the best in its class when it comes to emissions and fuel consumption, with up to 74.3mpg its official average, along with CO2 of 88g/km. If you want more pace and power, the 82PS engine gets you to 62mpg in 11 seconds, but you don't suffer too much on costs as CO2 is 99g/km and average economy is 65.7mpg.

The smaller engine can be specified with the ETG (Efficient Tronic Gearbox) but I wouldn't recommend it. Yes, it's better than it used to be and nowhere near as bad as the diabolical transmission in the smart fortwo, but the awful becalmed-then-pitched-forward effect is still there as you accelerate, even gently, and wait for the next ratio to be selected. The same applies to the C4 Cactus with ETG. Why not just fit a torque converter automatic? Weight, and cost.

So who's going to be choosing to own a Say-Un? The official line is "buyers of this type of city car span all generations, with the highest representation amongst younger buyers". The importer anticipates two demographics: sub 30 year olds, mostly female, plus older couples. In Britain, trim levels are called Touch, Feel and Flair, with Airspace available for the two pricier ones. Sales split? That's expected to be 63% retail and 37% fleet/business.

As the imminently available Vauxhall and Opel Adam Rocks demonstrates, GM Europe suspects there might be money in A segment crossovers. PSA wants to be 'back in the race' so don't be surprised if it too launches something in this segment. It was probably previewed by the C1 Swiss & Me, a concept which premiered alongside the C1 at the 2014 Geneva motor show.

The Swiss & Me featured big wheels, extended wheelarches and a centrally-exiting exhaust. For the same reason, I also directed this question at several marketing bosses, engineers and PR people - "when might we see a DS 1 based on this car?" and there was just a smile and a very French shrug in each case. Next year, we'll see some facelifts but no new Citroën models launched in European markets - yes, really, it's what I was told when I asked. So a high-margin rival for the Lancia Ypsilon and pricey editions of the Fiat 500 such as the Gucci would be just the ticket for Citroën dealers. Will it happen? Those I interviewed on the C1/C4 Cactus launch admitted there are plans for an official celebration of the 50th anniversary of the DS 19 in 2015. Other than "we will not keep DS limited to the current models", no-one was saying what is already in the future product pipeline.