“Basic, but cheap to run; fun to drive and capable of carrying four people in comfort. Not bad for a car that's not much bigger than a Mercedes Smart!”
The Citroen C1 is a true, back-to-basics city car that offers little in the way of luxury. Despite a light refresh in 2012, the baby Citroen feels somewhat off the pace in terms of quality, equipment and performance when compared to the like of the VW up! and Skoda Citigo. Cars like the Kia Picanto and Hyundai i10 are better value for money and are more refined on the road, too. Entry-level cars miss out on equipment that really should be standard, while inside the hard plastics and metal pillars really show the C1's age. However, it shares it's engine and platform with the reliable Toyota Aygo and comes with a comprehensive three-year warranty, which when matched to great economy and rock-bottom running costs, make it an ideal first car for young drivers.
There's only one engine to choose from in the tiny Citroen C1, and while you’d expect the 67bhp 1.0-litre unit to be sufficient given the car's tiny dimensions, it struggles out of town and feels gutless under acceleration. However, the raspy exhaust note encourages you to push the car and it actually feels quite agile around town thanks to the light steering and snappy gearshift. It's easy to manoeuvre and parking is a doddle due to great visibility and a large glass area. Like bigger Citroens, the C1 has well-cushioned and supple suspension making it more comfortable over bumps and potholes than many of its city car rivals. However, if you intend to do longer journeys or spend a lot of time on the motorway you’d be better of with a VW up! or Skoda Citigo due to the intrusive wind and tyre roar.
Thanks to the C1's supple suspension, the tiny city car actually rides surprisingly well. Around town the steering is usefully light, making manoeuvres a doddle, while the gearbox is a joy to use. The driving position is cramped, though, and some may find the pedals sit too close together. Take a seat in the back and you’ll find head and legroom and issue, while access to the rear on the three-door model should be reserved for small children. Wind and road noise is an issue at higher speed and due to a lack of sound insulation the three-cylinder engine can be quite intrusive above 50mph.
While the Citroen C1 doesn’t feature in the Auto Express Driver Power survey, the Toyota Aygo with which it shares its underpinnings, placed a respectable 73rd – that's not bad for a car that is now more than eight years old. As a manufacturer, Citroen is climbing the table, finishing well ahead of its French counterparts Renault and Peugeot. All cars come with ABS brakes and traction control as standard but side airbags are an extra on base-spec models. In 2012, the Citroen C1, Peugeot 107 and Toyota Aygo were all reclassified by Euro NCAP from four to three stars for crash protection, due to a host of new city cars like the VW up! raising the bar in terms of safety.
City cars like the C1 aren’t always designed with practicality in mind. They’re designed to be handy around town, rather than long-distance motorway cruisers – and the baby Citroen is no different. It is noisy at speed, and space in the back is reserved almost exclusively for small children. That said, all models get a folding rear bench, expanding the boot from a measly 139 litres to a respectable 751 litres. Higher-spec VTR+ cars are more practical still, with a useful 50/50 split, allowing longer items to be carried alongside a single rear-seat passenger. The steering is light and visibility is good so town driving and tight parking is a doddle. Up front there is a decent amount of storage with various cubbyholes and large side door bins.
Value for money
The low list price, combined with Citroen's appetite for discounting, means you should aim to make a cracking saving on a new C1. That said, it costs more to buy than the Hyundai i10 and Kia Picanto – and both those offer extensive warranties of five and seven years respectively. What's more, they benefit with a longer list of standard equipment and are more fun to drive both in and out of town. There are some good value option packages, like the ‘Plus Pack’ which adds equipment like daytime running lights, remote central locking and electric windows to the basic VT model, but kit like this really should be standard nowadays – even on entry-level city cars.
There's only one engine choice since the diesel was removed from the line-up in 2012. This shouldn't put you off, though, as it was noisy and unrefined and didn’t offer much in the way of economy gain. The 1.0-litre petrol engine is made by Toyota so should prove reliable, and can return 65.7mpg when fitted with the manual gearbox. It produces a lowly 99g/km of CO2, so it's tax-free and London Congestion Charge exempt and insurance premiums are low, making it a great car for first-time drivers. All-inclusive servicing packages and a three-year warranty should help keep a lid on unexpected bills, while parts will be readily available thanks to the fact it shares all its major mechanicals with the Peugeot 107 and Toyota Aygo.