Citroen C1 VTR+ Five-Door review
by David Finlay (23 October 2012)
I am simply too exhausted to check, my dears, but I would not be at all surprised to discover that most of the media coverage dedicated to city cars over the past year has been inspired by the Volkswagen up! (World Car of the Year, let's not forget) and its rebadged and restyled but otherwise almost identical siblings, the SEAT Mii and the Skoda Citigo.
This, however, is not the only triumvirate of tiddlers on the market. The Citroen C1, Peugeot 107 and Toyota Aygo - as closely related to each other as the three in the last paragraph - were launched in 2005, and they're still here. Not only that, but they've been reworked so that they officially emit CO2 at the rate of 99g/km, thereby saving you all that fuss and bother about Vehicle Excise Duty and the London congestion charge.
That at least applies to all versions with manual transmission, of which the VTR+ five-door tested here is, at just over £10,000, the most expensive. Its £700 premium over the mid-range VTR buys you 14" alloy wheels, front foglights, rear privacy glass, a USB port, Bluetooth connectivity, some shiny blackness for the interior and leather trim for the steering wheel and gearknob.
All that is in addition to air-conditioning, electric front windows, LED daytime running lights, front side airbags, rear headrests, a revcounter and split-folding rear seats, which the VTR also has but the entry-level VT doesn't.
No C1 of any description has electric mirror adjusters or a reach-adjustable steering wheel - rather niggardly, wouldn't you say? - and there's a general feeling of cheapness caused partly by a lack of soundproofing. Out of town, there's a lot of engine and road noise, and only someone with major hearing loss could fail to hear the rear wiper motor when it's in action.
There's also a rattle from the parcel shelf which I'm sure could have been avoided if Citroen had arranged to hold it in place with two pieces of string instead of just one.
The little one-litre three-cylinder petrol engine is powerful enough to let you keep up with other traffic on the open road, where the ride is good but the handling is limited by the short wheelbase. In town, the steering is nice and smooth but not especially light, while manoeuvring - which should be as easy as pie - is rendered vastly more difficult by awful visibility at the rear.
An odd styling quirk which has been part of the C1 and its fellows from the very beginning is that there's no tailgate. Instead, you gain access to the luggage compartment by opening the rear window, which feels as if it could be wrenched free from the rest of the car without much difficulty. It's not a particularly deep window, either, so you have to lift your shopping a long way off the ground to get it in.
Luggage capacity is 139 litres with the rear seats in place and 751 when they're folded down. That's not a lot, but it seemed okay for a city car until the only slightly longer up!/Mii/Citigo came along with their 251 and 951 litres and effectively redefined how much interior space a vehicle of this type should offer.
This is not the only problem the German/Spanish/Czech car poses for the French/Japanese one. The former looks fresher and less quirky, and feels far more grown-up. It's also competitive on price - there's quite a choice of Citigos and Miis and up!s, including sub-100g/km ones, for under £10,000, and even if they're not all as well-equipped as the VTR+ they all suggest much higher quality than the Citroen does.
I have no doubt that people will buy a C1 (or an Aygo or a 107) and be perfectly happy with it. Fine. I hope their happiness continues for many years. But those car's are yesterday's news, and if Citroen (or Toyota or Peugeot) wants a class-leading city car it's going to have to abandon the C1 and start again.