Latest cut-price Citroen C3 may not possess market clarity
As if to prove that Iain Robertson may have miscalculated on the Stellantis value-for-money/rip-off front, one of the Group’s core brands, Citroen, has just slipped a potentially inexpensive version of the compact C3 into the UK new car scene, both as niche-filler and also to appeal to bargain hunters, whom are feeling hard done by automotively.
Before celebrating too raucously about the Citroen C3 YOU!, draw your horns in and stash the plastic trumpet, because it may be the new entry-level model to the entire French manufacturer’s range, at present, but it is also powered by an 83bhp version of the 1.2-litre, three-cylinder engine that will struggle to remove the skin off a rice pudding. More on the new model in a few moments, as you need to comprehend its necessity to Citroen, as well as the Gallic firm’s more impecunious customers.
Buying a new car bargain has seldom been more challenging than it is today. At the turn of the Millennium, several brands, including Seat, MG-Rover, Renault, Skoda, Daewoo, Proton, Perodua and Citroen welcomed the budgetary demands of those that might struggle to acquire a new car. Earlier Dacia, Lada and Polski-Fiat models were tagged traditionally at significantly lower prices but were also markedly less desirable. Naturally, the used car scene has always been a moderate fall-back zone, just do not look at used car prices today, as they have gone ever so slightly mental, in an environment of new car unavailability and the wider changes being wrought on the industry by electrification. Those cheaper price-tagged models also had a tendency to highlight a degree or two of manufacturer disdain, the cars themselves feeling a little slapped together and perhaps neither as refined, nor as competent as the versions higher up the tree.
It is sort of ironic but I do recall when Saab, a Swedish quality brand that some of us may recall fondly, introduced a base version of its 900 model in the late-1980s, apart from performing sluggishly, because it remained quite a hefty chunk of real estate for a carburettor-fed non-turbo petrol engine to propel, its manual gearstick felt like it was not connected to the transmission, the brakes tugged and pulled and the steering lacked precision. I am not kidding, when I state that the base car felt like Lada had produced it. Potential buyers may have been drawn to its promoted price tag but, following a test drive, they would opt for the couple of grand costlier 900GL instead, which felt like a more complete car.
To be frank, I would like to believe that it would not happen now, because all that Citroen has done to arrive at the C3 YOU! is strip out some of the goodies and slot in a gutless motor. In fact, I shall call it an expedient car. Citroen has dropped the C1 tiddler from its line-up and does not have a C2 at present, which creates a sizeable gap in its market presence. At a fiver below £13,000, the C3 YOU! is only marginally more expensive than a C1, making the dimensional jump less of a challenge into the Fiesta-sized rival. Only a few days ago, I railed against Stellantis, the international group that now owns Citroen and a huge raft of other Gallic, Germanic, Italian and American brands, for profiteering out of the entry-level Vauxhall Corsa that is currently touted at not far off £17,500. Steep and also annoyingly the same base as the C3.
Avoiding the soft soap and any back-pedalling, Citroen is a brand in peril, suffering from sinking new car sales and fears of a loss of image. In truth, the C3 YOU! should be price-tagged at around £11,500 (or less, were it not ‘market-priced’) and I feel certain that most Citroen dealers will be only too happy to talk turkey around that level, just to obtain a sale. What appears like a bargain up front is not so clear once delving deeper. Yet, the base C3 is not a horror story. At least the bumpers and door handles are body coloured, Bluetooth, DAB radio, hill-start assist, cruise contrlol and LED headlamps are all standard, only because it wlould be more expensive to remove them. It needs to be remembered that as specifications have increased on all new models, the actual costs of specific fitments has reduced somewhat. However, be very aware that the red paint job of the pictured car weighs in at £695 extra.
Considering that the C3 is a five-door compact hatchback, providing good cabin space and a big boot, its appeal is going to be strong, but its engine will clock the 0-60mph sprint in around 16.3s, before running out of steam at just shy of 100mph, which is sure to be zesty enough for some people, just not me. It can return in excess of 50mpg, while not gassing small roadside creatures to death. Citroen suggests that the C3 YOU! is wrapped up in its ‘Fair Pricing’ policy and, when you reflect on the next C3 up the ladder in Sense trim listed at £16,260, it does look like a conspicuous bargain but do not be gulled. Citroen needs every registration that it can claim. Of course, the entry-level to Citroen’s range will soon be filled by the new Ami BEV model, a ‘push-me-pull-you’ if ever one existed, as long as the French player keeps its pricing realistic and does not try to profiteer from what is a not particularly substantial ‘quadricycle’…I can perceive its reputation disappearing as speedily down the sluice as that of the Suzuki SJ410, or even the original Merc A-Class, so roly-poly is its handling.
Motor manufacturers’ belief in ‘market pricing’ lies at fault here. The truth of the Citroen C3 YOU! is not its purported value-for-money price tag but how it relates to immediate rivals. Citroen can believe all it likes about ‘Fair Pricing’ but it does not comprehend the meaning of the expression and is perpetrating another rip-off under a cloak of carmaker sincerity. Work that list price downwards and the bargain starts to appear.