Citroen created an icon for the Max Power generation when it launched the Saxo. It offered cheap, reliable motoring that was a useful first car for fans of modifying to cut their teeth on.
And it is a very profitable market in which to win fans. Britain's biggest motoring magazine is Max Power, owned by Fleet News' parent Emap Automotive, and has a circulation of more than 230,000 a month.
Citroen has even spoken to car modifying-types to ensure the new cars fit the bill. The cars are winning a place at the heart of hundreds of thousands of homes in Britain. Current predictions put the annual sales for superminis at about 900,000 (up 6%), accounting for a huge proportion of the new car market.
Not surprisingly, Citroen is ensuring they are key players in the sector, and in little over a year has launched three superminis in the UK.
It started with the C3, followed by the innovative Pluriel and is now complete with the new C2.
Considering that 56% of small car sales are three-door variants, the C2's small frame is a heavyweight in terms of its potential sales performance. The C2 is smaller than the Saxo it helps replaces, at 3.66 metres long, but what it loses in size, it gains in style.
Through clever packaging inside, there is room for four adults and it can make some pretty large claims in terms of performance and fuel economy.
As part of Citroen's clever platform-sharing strategy, which gets the most out of investments in new plants and technology, the C2 shares 60% of its components with the C3 and Pluriel.
However, each car has its own unique style, with the C2 aimed at enticing younger buyers who want a sporting look with low running costs.
The car is offered with four engines – a 61bhp 1.1-litre, a 1.4 with 75bhp, a 110bhp 1.6 and a 70bhp 1.4 HDi diesel.
Recommended retail prices start at £7,495 for base 1.1-litre model and rise to £10,995 for the top-of-the-range 100bhp version.
There are five trim levels – L, LX, SX, Furio and VTR. Both Furio, powered by the 1.4-litre engine, and the VTR, powered by the 1.6-litre engine, are mated to a manual gearbox with automatic shifts, either through paddles on the steering wheel or a fully- automatic mode, called Sensodrive.
The other models have a standard five-speed manual gearbox.
Specification on the L includes four airbags, automatic door and boot locking when on the move, variable power-assisted steering, height and reach adjustable steering, on-board computer, remote central locking and deadlocks.
All models also feature an innovative split rear tailgate, with two-thirds of the door opening up and the bottom folding down to create a platform that can hold about 100kg or 15 stone.
It also incorporates a storage bin, one of many to be found in the C2. The car also automatically activates its hazard warning lights if you brake heavily – a useful, if slightly over-sensitive, feature.
The LX adds electric windows, a CD player, driver's seat height adjustment and rear head restraints – a must for most adult passengers, as the rear seat backs are quite short.
SX models add air conditioning (with climate control on the Furio), electric mirrors, front fog lights and nice-looking colour-keyed gear knob and door grab handles. VTR and Furio versions bring body-coloured bumpers, skirts and rear spoiler and two-tone sports seats.
Furio adds ABS, Electronic Brake Assist, Emergency Brake Assistance, cruise control and 16-inch alloy wheels.
In LX and SX models, the rear seats are on runners, so passengers can get more leg room, or the seats can be tipped forward, aided by gas struts, to give more boot space, ranging from a minimum of 224 litres to a maximum of 879 litres.
Running costs have been kept low, with a group 1 insurance rating for the base model and service intervals ranging from 20,000 miles or two years for petrol models to 12,500 miles or two years for diesels. All C2s come with a three-year/60,000 mile warranty.
Considering the Pluriel is currently one of the safest superminis around, according to the European New Car Assessment Programme crash test programme, the C2 should perform very well too.
Behind the wheel
DURING the UK launch of the C2, there was a 10-minute delay before any test drives commenced as drivers hovered around the back of the new car. The split rear tailgate is a clever feature for a small car that allows access to the boot in tight spaces, but also offers a pretty handy seat.
The delay also gave me time to play with the rear seats, which adjust backwards and forwards, depending on whether you want luggage space or legroom.
Set up for a 'normal' driver, I found my feet fitted snugly under the driver's seat and I could get comfortable, but my head was touching the roof. Larger passengers might find travelling in the rear a bit more of a struggle.
On the road, the 1.1-litre engine is quiet and free-revving, although progress from the 61bhp engine is sedate, with 62mph arriving in 14.4 seconds, making motorway driving hard work and overtaking a daunting prospect. The upside is 58mpg fuel economy if you treat it nicely. The dilemma is whether to pay out £1,000 extra for the 1.4 HDi, which offers 70bhp, but is a much noiser proposition. Although it has more power and 111lb-ft or torque at 1,750rpm, this still equates to a 0-62mph time of 13.5 seconds.
While the brakes stop the car with confidence on the petrol models, they struggled to scrub off speed coming to roundabouts in the HDi. However, you get 70mph cruising at about 2,500rpm, at which point wind noise drowns out the sound of the engine.
These are the only two manual gearboxes in the range. If you move to the 1.4 Furio or SX and the 1.6 VTR then you get the Sensodrive gearbox, in which electronics change the manual gears for you. Drivers either choose fully automatic mode, or take over changes with the paddle shift. The 1.4 engine is more lively than the HDi, but the time spent by the gearbox changing up takes its toll, with 62mph coming up in 14.1 seconds.
You have to adapt to driving with Sensodrive. If you keep your foot planted to the floor, there is a momentary lunge of deceleration before the next cog comes into play. But you learn to give a slight lift of the accelerator on the upchange which smoothes things out.
f The sporting look of the C2 is reflected in a firmer ride, but the steering doesn't give the go-kart feel that you want. However, larger tyres and alloy wheels on the 1.6-litre version seem to suit the steering set-up better, in addition to providing a welcome shove in the back when you hit the paddle to change up. In this model 0-62mph comes up in 10.9 seconds.
To get the best out of the VTR, you need to use the paddles to make sure gear changes suit your driving style, as I felt the Sensodrive was too keen to hold on to gears when the engine was screaming for a higher ratio. Interestingly, ABS is only standard on this model.
The C2 offers a stylish and cost-effective package, covering a wide range of buyers, from new drivers to those after a budget sporting package. Equipment levels are generous, apart from the ABS omission, but drivers will have to be sure they can get on with the Sensodrive gearbox before opting for top-of-the-range models.
|C2 fact file|
|Engine (cc):||1,124||1,360||1,587/td>||1,398||Max power (bhp/rpm):||61/5,500||75/5,400||110/5,750||70/4,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||69/3,200||87/3,300||108/4,000||110/1,750|
|Top speed (mph):||99||105||121||103|
|Comb economy (mpg):||47.9||47.9||44.8||68.9|
|CO2 emissions (g/km)::||141||146||151||108|
|Fuel tank capacity (l/gal):||41/9|
|Transmission:||5-sp man||or 5-sp Sensodrive||auto manual|
|Prices (OTR):||from £7,495||(incuding £500 cashback)||to £10,995|