It seems that manufacturers like Ford, Volkswagen and Honda with their latest models in the 'supermini' sector are taking things very seriously indeed with sober-looking, practical hatchbacks.
However, the C3, which falls between the Saxo and Xsara in the model range, with its cartoon-like styling will win many fans just through its appearance.
In some ways it looks like the original Saxo which has been inflated almost to the point of bursting - all curves and a huge glass area.
The C3 will lead Citroen's challenge against cars like the Volkswagen Polo, Ford Fiesta and Honda Jazz and the company hopes a significant share of sales will go to fleets - about 20% - thanks to its interior space and the new 1.4- litre HDi common rail diesel which for now has class-leading fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions.
Citroen is keen to point out that the C3 will not mean the end of the Saxo - both cars will be built alongside each other for the short term, although it is only a matter of time before the Saxo is replaced by a new model.
The C3 is built on a unique platform, which is hoped will form the basis of future models in the Citroen and Peugeot ranges. In the UK, there will initially be a choice of 1.4 and 1.6-litre petrol engines, along with a 69bhp 1.4-litre HDi unit. Other countries will also have a 1.1- litre petrol engine.
Later this year all markets will receive a 16-valve version of the 1.4 HDi developing 91bhp and 147lb-ft of torque.
All models receive speed-sensitive power steering while some models will be available with automatic climate control, cruise control, parking sensors and a panoramic sunroof.
One feature unique to the C3 is the 'Moduboard', which sits behind the rear seats. When not in use the C3 has a deep boot, but the Moduboard can be used to keep certain items separate and protected, or to ensure the load floor is completely flat with the rear seatbacks folded.
Citroen points to the expansion in size and dimensions of the 'supermini' or B-segment and how smaller models have been introduced to fill a gap in the market.
Where the Volkswagen Lupo was launched below the Polo, and the Ford Ka became the entry point to the Ford range below the Fiesta, the Citroen Saxo will now perform the role of 'city car' full time.
Citroen expects to sell 160,000 C3s in total this year, rising to 334,000 in the first full year of production in 2003. The company aims to sell 15,700 in the UK in 2002, more than doubling the total next year to 36,000.
Behind the wheel
THE C3's tall appearance translates into generous headroom for front and rear passengers, but although occupants in the front will be impressed by the airiness of the cabin, those in the rear might find legroom at a premium behind tall people.
The child-resistant interior plastics seem to have been designed and fashioned at the School of Hard Knocks, and the goosepimple texture on some of them is certainly unusual.
The doors feel light - almost flimsy - and do not close in the same reassuring way as those on a Polo or Fiesta.
However, I really liked the simple design of the air vents and how those above the centre console, along with the door-locking button and CD player, formed a 'face' resembling Nibbler from the cartoon series Futurama. Kids will love it.
On the subject of children, there will also be an additional mirror - located below the rear-view mirror, to give the driver a clear view of children sitting in the back, and outer rear seats are equipped with ISOFIX child seat fittings. The tall driving position offers a good all-round view, and rear passengers sit even higher, making the most of the available headroom.
Instruments are also a departure from the norm with a digital speed readout, LED fuel and temperature gauges, and a semi-circular rev counter surrounding the main readouts. A 'night' function is also available, cutting glare with only the most important information illuminated. The indicator arrows are accompanied by a musical 'tick-tock' sound, similar to the Vauxhall Corsa, and there is a sense of fun about the interior.
Our first foray on to French roads in the C3 was in the range-topping 1.6 Exclusive, which was kitted out with leather seats and contained climate control, cruise control and dashboard mounted CD autochanger.
The 1.6-litre engine develops 108bhp and 108lb-ft of torque, and pulls swiftly and smoothly, making it feel quicker than its 0-62mph time suggests. The engine remains muted at higher revs, but there does seem to be excessive wind noise around the base of the A-pillars and door mirrors at motorway speeds, which could make long-haul trips a little wearing.
Its tall body means there is a degree of body roll caused through fast cornering or sudden changes of direction. But the front tyres grip gamely and the steering is also up to the job, weighting up nicely in quicker turns and needing little correction as the car maintains its line through the corner.
The 1.4 HDi in 69bhp tune seems to make a fine job of keeping up with the flow of traffic, but it is no sprinter, nor did we expect it to be. Once warmed up it remains quiet and refined, although its torque band seems a little narrow, with significantly less urgency above 3,000rpm.
THE C3 stands out in a sector increasingly populated by roomy and competent cars through its pleasantly unusual styling and character.
Although a limited range of engines is on offer at launch, the more powerful diesel variant looks promising, while the 1.6 is strong, smooth and refined. Interior quality might not be up there with the new Polo and new Fiesta, but it is more than adequate and puts a sense of fun back into the supermini sector.