Why Citroen's C3 Airdream+ is an air-raising experience

IT’S surprising what kind of thing can leave me feeling slightly unnerved at the wheel.

Lapping Millbrook Proving Ground at 193mph in a Porsche GT3 RS was memorable but I never felt fearful. On the contrary, it was a great buzz.

By contrast, one of the most nerve-wracking things I’ve ever experienced was a long motorway journey in a Smart ForTwo. Every time I passed a HGV in the upright little microcar I feared I would be sucked under its wheels.

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The Citroen’s new low-emission C3 Airdream+ gave me a less dramatic, but similarly vulnerable, feeling on the motorway.

While it cruised with aplomb, one of the main innovations of the new C3 is a panoramic windscreen—standard on all VTR+, Exclusive and Airdream+ models—which Citroen refer to as ‘Zenith.’

I soon labelled ‘Art,’ however, as it gave the C3 the appearance of a person with a very high hair-line, like the folk singer of Bright Eyes fame, Art Garfunkel.

But its wasn’t the fear of a follically-challenged future that set me on edge, it was a feeling of vulnerability whenever I pushed back the portion of roof which neatly slides away to reveal nothing but sky above your head.

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The light this allowed into the cabin was fantastic, it almost gives the feeling of a convertible without the chilly wind and buffeting, but driving in blustery conditions I found the feeling of exposure a little unnerving.

Luckily for Citroen there a host of benefits offered by their latest generation C3 apart from that extended windscreen.

The Airdream+ comes equipped with the manufacturer’s 1.6-litre HDi diesel engine and, as well as offering sprightly performance, it serves up claimed fuel economy of 74.3mpg and road tax exempt CO2 emissions of 99g/km.

Citroen’s first production car to dip below 100g/km does so without any complex start/stop technology or regenerative braking, relying solely on a low kerb weight (1,080kg) and that efficient 91bhp engine.

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With a useful 170lb.ft. of torque the C3 the feels quite nippy.

Citroen claim an 11.5 second sprint to 62mph and 112mph top speed but that feels a little on the conservative side.

Although capable of ironing out the most rutted roads with an efficiency that few modern hatchbacks can conjure, the trade-off is that the C3 does suffer from a degree of pitch and roll.

While it’s bump absorption in pretty exceptional there is a sense that the C3 needs to settle into a corner on its supple springs before it can deliver reliable grip and poise.

It’s a car that prefers a relaxed gait.

The C3’s cabin is a comfortable place to be.

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Slender A-pillars allow even more light inside than the gaping windscreen might do alone, and liberates impressive visibility from the driver’s seat.

Very similar to that of the MINI-rivalling Citroen DS3 hatchback, the interior’s design is stylish and offers an array of soft-touch, tactile surfaces.

A swathe of silver breaks up the upper part of the dashboard and heavily cowled instruments give a sporty view of the speed, revs and gear shift indicator.

My only gripe—one experienced in every Citroen I’ve driven in recent times—is that the instrument stalks that offer control of the stereo and cruise control are rendered invisible by the broad spokes of the steering wheel.

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To see the symbols that indicate each button purpose you either have to crane your neck or wait until you are turning a corner. Far from ideal.

Another surprise was the notable omission from the C3 in Airdream+ specification of alloy wheels. In the absence of automatic headlights and wipers they would have helped justify the Airdream+’s £15,090 price tag.

But the new C3 is a stylish and spacious family hatchback which represents another leap forward in interior quality and styling for Citroen.

It’s predecessor's domed appearance has been toned down and it now looks more youthful with its frowning headlights and sharp bonnet creases.

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A young audience will undoubtedly overlook the C3 in favour of the more dynamic, three-door DS3, though, which comes with the same low emissions and fuel consumption as the Airdream+ for saving of more than £1,000.

In terms of quality and comfort the C3 is probably the best in its class but, just like me when I’m feeling exposed on the M1, it’s a little soft around the edges.