However, as small cars get bigger, drivers demand more and it is not unreasonable to expect a modern supermini to take a motorway run in its stride. Step forward the latest version of the Citroen C3. It uses a 16-valve version of the existing 1.4-litre common rail diesel to return 65.7mpg on the combined cycle, and with carbon dioxide emissions of 112g/km will be in the lowest company car tax band for diesels for years to come.
The eight-valve version of this engine is also used by Peugeot in the 206 and 307, and Ford in the Fiesta. But in a remarkable coup for Citroen, it has obtained sole use of the 16v engine for the time being – there is no word yet on when Ford or Peugeot will use it.
In the C3, the 16-valver will be in the SX and Exclusive models which formerly used the eight-valve version of the engine, leaving the entry-level 1.4 HDi LX as the only model with the less powerful variant.
The move stacks the C3 up against the Peugeot 206 2.0 HDi 90 LX, while for similar money you could also choose a fully-loaded Fiat Punto or Renault Clio, both using 80bhp common rail diesels.
Meanwhile, Volkswagen's Polo 1.4 TDI could also enter the equation, although it has a higher list price and while almost as economical as the C3, cannot match it on power.
A committed fan of the C3's styling, I think it has the freshest shape and arguably the neatest detailing of any car in this sector, although two of my colleagues feel the styling is 'pram-like'.
I also like the unique design features inside, too, with the LCD speedometer surrounded by a semi-circular rev counter.
The real issue here is whether the new engine can make the C3 double as an accomplished motorway cruiser as well as a nippy urban street machine. The first thing I noticed about the way the C3 drives is the abnormally long gearing. Normally, when driving a diesel car on a flat road with a 30mph limit, it is possible to comfortably chug along in fourth gear. The C3 does not feel so comfortable in fourth, and it really needs to be in third gear.
The only other cars I've driven like this are the Audi A2 1.4 TDI, the Vauxhall Astra 1.7 DTi Eco4 and the Peugeot 206 2.0 HDi Eco. All these cars achieve more than 60mpg on the combined cycle.
It seems that this strategy has been used to ensure the ample power output does not have an adverse effect on fuel consumption and emissions.
It feels a little peculiar at first but you soon get used to it, and as long as you are in the right gear and at 2,000rpm or over it's easy to summon up the pulling power to accelerate briskly. On the motorway, the C3 reaches 70mph with barely a sound from the engine, although you do become more aware of road noise through the tyres and wind noise around the curved A-pillar. And as long as the revs are right, the C3 will take off with gusto to reach the legal limit.
Minor gripes would be about the goose-pimple effect plastics and subjectively, I don't think the driving position is comfortable enough to do really long journeys on a regular basis.
Also, despite having vast headroom, rear legroom is not as good as the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo with the front seat in my driving position.
Citroen C3 1.4 HDi 16v SX fact file
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £11,190
CO2 emissions (g/km): 112
BIK % of P11D in 2002: 18%
Graduated VED rate: £80
Insurance group: 3
Combined mpg: 65.7
CAP Monitor residual value: £4,100/37%
Depreciation (10.79 pence per mile x 60,000): £6,474
Maintenance (2.20 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,320
Fuel (5.89 pence per mile x 60,000): £3,534
Wholelife cost (18.88 pence per mile x 60,000): £11,328
Typical contract hire rate: £264 per month
Three rivals to consider
SELECT a price bracket and it is surprising the different levels of specification you get from cars to compare with our C3. By far the cheapest is the Fiat Punto which comes in range-topping Eleganza trim, while the most expensive, the Polo, is available in S trim – a step up from entry-level. However, the Polo now has air conditioning as standard. Although certain models have been discontinued, the C3 HDi 16-valve works out approximately £330 more expensive than the eight-valve.
The C3 has the second best rating for servicing, maintenance and repair costs, although it cannot match the 206 from its sister company, Peugeot, which costs an impressive two pence per mile. The Polo is close behind, with a negligible supplement to the C3, while the Punto brings up the rear. There isn't a great deal of difference between all three, but over 60,000 miles, the difference between the Punto and the 206 works out at £348 – worth bearing in mind.
WE have four very frugal cars sipping their diesel parsimoniously and staying away from the filling stations for weeks on end with light use. The largest engine is the least economical – the 90bhp 2.0-litre HDi unit in the Peugeot 206, although it can hardly be criticised for delivering 56.5mpg on the combined cycle. The Fiat comes next, but only the Polo and the C3 break the 60mpg barrier, with the C3 comfortably achieving more than 65mpg combined.
THE Citroen C3 comes close to knocking the Polo off its residual value perch, with CAP predicting the C3 will retain 37% of its price new after three-years/60,000-miles compared to the Polo's 42%. However, the Polo's higher list price works against the Citroen with the result that the C3 depreciates faster by 0.03 pence per mile – a difference of £18 over 60,000 miles. The others fare a little worse, mainly because they are older cars, but the Fiat might also lose out through its traditional role as a rental car.
THE C3 scores a convincing victory on wholelife costs through consistently good scores. It might not win in every category, but the extent of its advantage in fuel costs is too great to be ignored, resulting in a figure of 18.88ppm over three-years/60,000-miles. However, the Polo comes close enough to make it a sensible choice over the Peugeot and the Fiat, despite the performance advantage of the 206 and the length of the standard equipment list on the Punto.
Emissions and BIK tax rates
The difference between the highest and lowest tax bills for our chosen quartet amounts to just 45 pence per week. However, the C3 is the only car here to qualify for the £80 vehicle excise duty rate – only available to cars with CO2 emissions below 120g/km. With CO2 emissions of 112g/km, the C3 beats the Toyota Prius hybrid on emissions, although the Toyota qualifies for a series of benefit-in-kind tax breaks, while the C3 incurs the 3% diesel supplement.
THIS is the best version of the C3 yet, with incredible fuel consumption for the performance, and in SX trim contains all the comforts you need – air conditioning, electric windows and mirrors and a CD player – as well as ABS. The running cost figures