AS cars get larger with every incarnation, heavier with every additional safety feature and more expensive with rising fuel and insurance prices, it might seem that the days of affordable, fun motoring are drawing to a close.
Not if Citroen has anything to do with it. The French firm has been the king of supplying low cost, fun cars at affordable prices over the last few years, thanks mainly to the Saxo VTR and VTS, which sold 65,000 over the course of its life in the UK. In fact, the UK bought more of the sporty Saxo than the rest of the world combined.
Now the C2, the Saxo’s much funkier replacement, has a range-topping VTS hot hatch, which with the success of the Saxo VTS was a really necessary model – 40% of C2s registered this year have been at the ‘sporty’ end of the range and this will bolster this profitable business further.
While many are no doubt retail sales, a company car driver who is allowed to spend about £250 a month on a contract-hired car – and who wants something with some shove – should find the VTS worth a look.
It has a 1.6i 16-valve engine which produces 125bhp and revs to 7,200rpm. It looks pretty similar to the VTR version – which has 110bhp – and has 16-inch alloy wheels, front foglights, chrome tailpipe and rear spoiler.
Citroen reckons that the C2 VTS costs £1,000 less than the Saxo VTS did at launch, yet has more kit, including bolstered sports seats, aluminium gearknob and drilled pedals, air conditioning, electric windows and a CD player, as well as four airbags, ABS with EBD and Electronic Brake Assist as standard. ESP is also a standard fitment.
Thankfully, the VTS comes with a manual gearbox and not the Sensodrive device that invades most C2s. Sensodrive is bearable – just – on a car used for tootling about town in, but for a hot hatch the changes would be too slow and jerky, and any pretence that ‘it’s like an F1 gearbox’ would be well and truly junked after a few slow shifts with that interminable lull.
So a good old five-speed manual it is – and it’s pretty good as well. Although the throw is long, the shift action is extremely smooth.
The VTS has had a number of changes to the chassis set-up, which means beefier anti-roll bars, stiffer springs and dampers, more direct steering and grippier Michelin Exalto 2 tyres, the same as used on Renault’s excellent Clio 182.
The exhaust note has also been tuned, giving off a cheery parp, and the overall feel of the car is spot-on, enthusiastic without being aggravating although the driving position could be better: you sit too high and there’s not enough adjustment on the wheel.
It’s quick – 60mph comes from standstill in just over eight seconds, and through the gears it keeps charging forward like some manic fly banging its head against the window pane, while grip is excellent thanks to the wide tyres.
A few of the interior materials leave something to be desired and the alarm on our test model kept going off in the middle of the night for no reason whatsoever. But a week in the C2 VTS, despite running up the garden path in my underpants trying to switch the alarm off, proved that fizzy little cars can be an affordable and fun way to do company mileage.
Citroen C2 VTS
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £11,832
CO2 emissions (g/km): 163
BIK % of P11D in 2004: 18%
Graduated VED rate: £125
Insurance group: 8
Combined mpg: 40.9
CAP Monitor residual value: £3,725/32%
Depreciation (12.56 pence per mile x 60,000): £7,536
Maintenance (2.16 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,296
Fuel (9.78 pence per mile x 60,000): £5,868
Wholelife cost (24.50 pence per mile x 60,000): £14,700
Typical contract hire rate: £257 per month
Three rivals to consider
Three of these cars are decently-specified with everything the young company car driver could want from a hot hatch. One is almost down to the bare bones and it’s no surprise that it’s the MINI Cooper.
It doesn’t even come with a CD player, which costs £70.
Air conditioning is a hefty £850, while the other three have those as standard and plenty more besides.
The Corsa even comes with cruise control, which isn’t very sporty but is handy to keep those speeding urges in check.
It’s a surprise to see the Vauxhall coming second from last when it comes to service, maintenance and repair, but there’s not much between any of them. The C2 VTS is the cheapest, at £1,296 over three years/60,000 miles, while the Punto comes in at £1,650. As reliability goes, the Punto’s is pretty good for a Fiat, while the Corsa is well proven, as is the MINI now. Citroens don’t have the greatest record, like many French cars.
There are two different engine sizes here and not surprisingly it shows when it comes to fuel costs. The two 1.6-litre powered cars are the best on 9.78ppm, while the Corsa and the Punto, both 1.8-litres, fare worse at 10.89 and 11.76 pence per mile respectively. That means a difference between the first two and the last of about £1,200 over three years/60,000 miles – quite an amount for a young driver.
The MINI absolutely trounces the other three cars when it comes to depreciation. It’s no real surprise and amounts to a huge £1,000 less lost than the next best, the Corsa.
When you consider the low front-end price, that’s even more impressive.
However, a word of caution: the chances of getting much of a discount off the MINI are negligible, while Fiat, Citroen and Vauxhall are likely to be much more amenable, which could wipe out its advantage at a stroke.
Due to staggering residual value predictions of nearly 50% and good fuel consumption, the MINI Cooper romps home in the wholelife costs stakes. The Citroen does a good job of running with well-contained costs, as does the Corsa, but the Punto is just a little more expensive in most areas to warrant serious fleet consideration.
Emissions and BIK tax rates
Again, this time in benefit-in-kind tax, the split is between the smaller-engined cars and the larger ones and the difference is fairly marked. The Fiat is just too expensive thanks to high emissions and P11d price, while the Corsa claws back some of its disadvantage by having the lowest P11d. But the C2 wins with a low front end price and emissions and would cost a 22% taxpayer £469 a year in tax, which sounds like bargain thrills to us.
We really, really wanted to give the win to the C2. It’s a cracking little car with bags of personality. But the MINI just strides across this sector like a colossus. It might not have the equipment of the others, but its running costs are so predictable and solid – and its image second to none – that there’s nothing to beat it.
WINNER: MINI Cooper
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