Tested: 2023 Citroën C3 1.2 Feel

French brands have struggled to regain market share ever since their mass exodus a few decades ago. Citroën is no exception but this C3 Feel model is attempting to replicate Renault’s recent recipe… of affordability.

Before the likes of Renault’s Indian-made Kwid, Kiger and Triber came along, you had to pay Hyundai money to own any French passenger car in southern Africa. And then there’s the Eastern European Duster, a cheap ‘n cheerful SUV which has become quite a darling of the Namibian tourism industry.

Further up the ladder, C5 Aircross and Koleos sales numbers trickle alongside the gushing fountain of German or Japanese SUV’s. Nope. It seems that we don’t want fancy or expensive Frenchies, but we are hungry for affordable and hardy ones. Which is where this Citroën C3 comes in…

Joining the above-mentioned Renaults and a horde of Suzuki’s or pretend-Toyotas, Citroën manufactures this entry-level C3 in the industrious nation of India. As far as we could gather, the “regular” C3 is still made elsewhere, looks a bit different and offers better quality and goodies at the usual elevated price tags.

This wasn’t immediately obvious to me when I first clapped eyes on this white press vehicle, although the black plastic bumpers, missing fog lights and grey hubcaps tipped me off to the fact that this may be the budget version. Then there’s the basic bearded key with remote lock and unlock buttons; which are impossible to decipher in the dark.

Most of this, plus the shape of its bizarre nose, made me suspect that this may be a rebadged Renault Kwid. Or Suzuki S-presso. There’s been a lot of badge swapies and sharies in India lately, don’t you know. The high stance, that rough-sounding 3-pot petrol motor and a stubborn reverse gear, it all seems so familiar…

But, it turns out to be unrelated to any of those aforementioned budget beaters. Citroën and/or their Indian workforce probably just copied someone else’s frugality homework with an AWOL rear wiper, those comparably thin 195/65R15 wheels and other cost-saving exercises which bring this vehicle’s asking price down to about R230,000 (July 2023).

Before I delve any deeper into the cheapness of this car, let me lay it out for you on an imaginary table. Almost 80,000 bucks. 800 crisp R100 notes. That’s how much you’re saving over the previous C3 and/or decidedly more elegant Shine derivative. And, using the latest over-taxed fuel prices, that’s a few years worth of 95 Unleaded.

The savings continue inside this chunky little Citroën, although not overwhelmingly. It’s got two airbags, air-conditioning, rear park sensors, plenty of charging and storage solutions, an adjustable multi-function steering wheel, plus a simply excellent wide-screen infotainment system with everything a young urbanite may desire; including Bluetooth, smartphone integration and even voice control.

Yes, the seats are covered in budget fabric, the bonnet pull is ancient, there’s no central armrest (but bizarrely-placed rear window switches), and the teeny-tiny instrument cluster is as limited in information as it is in design. No rev counter, just speed, coolant temperature, fuel level and a bit of trip info.

It also shows the gear position of the slightly crude 5-speed manual gearbox, which often torments its 1.2L 3-cylinder host with overly long ratios. Those were probably designed to aid flexibility and fuel economy, which the maker claims at just 5.6L/100km average from the itsy-bitsy 30L tank.

That last bit is certainly true, for at some stage I threw in R250 and got almost half a tank out of the transaction! We also went performance-testing with this 61kW / 115Nm and 1.4-ton machine, which resulted in a fair bit of wheel-spin, some initial rev-limiter guesswork and a best 0-100km/h time of 13.46 seconds.

Citroën has no official sprint time or top speed claim, which is why we kept out foot in the affordable carpet and recorded a v-max of 139.25km/h; at an indicated 147km/h in fourth gear. The Indian-made tyres (most new cars use rubber from their origin) performed well during a single emergency stop from 100kmh, in just 2.88 seconds and 40.66 metres. Thanks to ABS with EBD.

Other numbers worth mentioning are the 405L boot, 180mm of ground clearance, 10m turning radius, 5-year/100,000km warranty and 2-year/30,000km service plan. It’s only the last item – that laughable service plan – which seems rather silly in a budget car with fairly robust mechanicals.

In summary, the entry-level Citroën C3 1.2 Feel does have a definite budget “feel” about it but performs admirably as a relatively peppy, frugal, spacious, modern and safe city car. If you stay close to a dealer, and stay away from high loads or altitude, this little critter should serve you well.

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