By Jonathan Crouch
The second generation C1 was Citroen's second take on the city car state of the art. This French brand has always been rather good at very compact, efficient little models. Their iconic 2CV goes back to the Forties and the brand did well at the turn of the century with the little Saxo. The first generation C1 replaced that car in 2005 and nine years later, this second generation C1 model arrived. How does it stack up as a used buy?
The original MK1 version of Citroen's C1 used to be an easy car to recommend - to the right kind of buyer. People like us would point people towards it who simply wanted a really cheap way to get mobile. Theoretically there were less expensive city car options but in practice, Citroen's dealer deals often meant that a first generation C1 was the next step up from a moped when it came to affordable running costs. So what of this MK2 model? Well, it had a bit more about it.
In every sense actually. The looks made more of a statement. There was (initially anyway) a wider choice of petrol engines - and of body styles too with the introduction of a canvas-roofed 'Airscape' variant. All versions were a little bigger inside. And a lot more up to date in terms of technology, safety and equipment. In other words, it was clear from the moment we first saw it in the Spring of 2014 that this Citroen had evolved. That's the good news for the company.
The tougher part of the brand's C1 assignment came in differentiating this car from the two rival models that, beneath their different aesthetics, shared pretty much exactly the same design. This city runabout you see, like its predecessor, was developed as a joint venture with Peugeot and Toyota. The reasons why you might buy one in preference to Toyota's rather self-consciously funky Aygo model might come down to price, the affordable availability of that open-roof option and the fact that the Japanese brand's contender doesn't offer a pokier petrol engine. It's harder though, to differentiate this car from a rival Peugeot 108, unless you're one of those who appreciates this C1's more youthful in-your-face styling.
That may well also help this Citroen in dealing with extremely tough competitors elsewhere in the city car segment from this period - cars like Fiat's Panda, Hyundai's i10, Vauxhall's Viva, Renault's Twingo and the various models derived from Volkswagen's up! Most customers wanted this car in 1.0-litre form (that 1.2-litre engine option lasted only until 2018) and in conventional hatch guise (the 'Airscape' version with its fabric-folding roof was deleted in 2020). The second generation C1 range sold until late 2021 and wasn't replaced.
What You Get
In the brand's own words, this car was supposed to deliver an 'upbeat response to urban mobility requirements'. The 'upbeat' bit is delivered here, with the unusual two-part headlamp signature. Together with the integrated LED daytime running lights, this aimed to create a smiley front end gaze that hoped to emphasise what the brand sees as this car's 'cheerful design' and 'strong character'. It works better in the metal than it does through the lens and differentiates this C1 from its Peugeot and Toyota design stablemates far more distinctly than was the case with the first generation model.
It looks a bit more up-market too. Many customers will doubtless also like the option the Airscape version of this car offers of a full-length retractable fabric folding roof, creating that cabriolet feeling without the cost or buffeting associated with a fully-fledged convertible.
At the rear, there's a cleanly-styled tailgate topped off by an integrated roof spoiler that hides the external hinges that used to look so ugly on the old MK1 C1 model. We say 'tailgate': in reality, this lifting rear section is little more than a deeply sculpted hinged back window, doubtless there to reduce the cost of manufacturing but from an ownership perspective, a feature we've never liked. Unlike a proper conventional lifting rear hatch, this opening glass panel doesn't fully cut into the bumper, so there's quite a lofty lip over which you've to lift in your shopping, even if the height of this was here reduced by 20mm in comparison to this model's predecessor. The VW up! (along with its Skoda and SEAT stablemates) suffers from the same thing for the same reason.
Enough about access: what about actual luggage space, the lack of which put so many people off the previous generation version of this car. The news that this MK2 C1 was 40mm longer than its predecessor led us to hope for more in this area, but examine the small print and you'll find that all of this extra length was actually added to the front end to meet modern safety impact legislation. In fact, this car's platform was pretty much the same as it had been before, which disappointed previous Citroen city car buyers wanting to trade up to a model with the kind of generous 250-litre-style boot space they'd have got in a rival Volkswagen up! or Hyundai i10. There was nothing like that on offer here. Still, on the positive side, cargo room did in a MK2 C1 usefully rise from the feeble 139-litre space you previously got in the previous car to a much more acceptable 196-litre capacity - easily enough for a couple of small suitcases or a set of golf clubs. Curiously, that's nearly 30-litres more than a supposedly identical Toyota Aygo.
Not that luggage space is necessarily the be-all and the end-all for customers in this class. Most of them rarely use the rear bench in their cars and therefore, have no issue in regularly pushing the 50:50 split seats forward to extend the space available. In this case, though the load area created has quite a step in it and the folded seats don't lie completely flat, you do get a very decent 868-litre capacity. If you need a greater capacity than that for your weekly shop, it might well be time to change your lifestyle rather than your car.
If you are using the back seat, then you won't be expecting it to be very spacious, given that this car is just 3.4-metres in length. It isn't. Still, with a bit of co-operation from those ahead of them, two adults could manage without too much grousing on short to medium-length trips, even if they were six-footers. You might even think of cramming three kids on this bench, were it not for the fact that, rather annoyingly, there are still only two belts provided. If you do have kids, then we'd definitely go for the five-door model, rather than the three-door version. By and large, kids in this Citroen don't mind the restricted legroom but they do tend to object to a couple of features you find on a lot of small city cars - the lack of proper wind-up rear windows (you only get an angled panel) and the slight claustrophobia engendered by the upwardly sweeping waistline of the rear door.
Up front, it's reasonably easy to get comfortable, provided you've avoided an entry-level variant without seat height adjustment, something that's important to have because the steering wheel adjusts only up and down, not in and out. Settle in, then start to look around and if you've tried a few city car models from this period, you might conclude that the quality of the trim, though a step up from what was provided previously, isn't quite of the standard you'd find in, say, a Volkswagen up!. Still, the design is more interesting, which takes you mind off the fact. And it can be more interesting still, for the instrument panel, the centre console, the air vents, the gearshift knob and the gear lever surround could, from new, all easily be changed to a colour of the owner's choosing, something still possible on used models.
The wide dashboard's nice, trimmed in a cool matt finish and framed by refreshingly slim A-pillars that aid visibility. Talking of visibility, if you've got a C1 with the fabric folding roof, you'll need to accept the fact that with it open in bright sunlight, a number of the interior dials and displays will be difficult to read. It'll also be pretty difficult to converse with fellow passengers at higher cruising speeds too, despite the roof system's aero-acoustic deflector. Still, we all have to pay for our pleasures don't we? Fortunately, the inside of a MK2 C1 is quite a pleasurable place to be. And quite practical too. There are two cupholders, a good-sized glovebox that incorporates a bottle-holder, practical storage options for your mobile 'phone and loose change and door bins big enough to hold a 500ml bottle of water.
Ahead of you at the wheel lie a mass of different-shaped elements of trim. The round speedometer pod with its LCD central display is flanked by an optional vertically-stacked rev counter that as you accelerate, lights up like an Eighties Atari video game. Even more curiously styled is the trapezoidally-shaped central panel that holds the 7-inch infotainment colour display that Citroen provided to dominate the centre of the dash on all but the entry-level model. This system really adds another dimension to this C1 and to be honest, we'd hesitate to buy one without it. It's operated using a fully integrated touchscreen and can include a rear view camera on plusher models. Wherever it's fitted, you get a DAB radio, along with vehicle and journey information and Bluetooth 'phone connectivity that includes the sending and receiving of texts.
What to Look For
Most C1 buyers we came across seemed satisfied. There was a report of a leaky boot. And apparently, the Bluetooth won't pair if the car's been parked on a hot day for too long: make sure that the central screen phone pairing system works properly for your handset. One customer complained of brake squealing and juddering. And another customer complained of window glass rattling. In another case, the hubcap nuts went rusty in all four wheels.
A key 108 product recall in this period occurred in 2016 regarding the steering column, advising customers that a component within in it might not be to the correct specification and therefore there might be an issue with potential loss of control. Otherwise, it's just the usual things; check the interior for child scrapes - and the wheels and rear bumpers for parking scratches. And insist on a fully stamped-up service history.
(approx based on a 2018 C1 1.0 excl. VAT) Expect to pay around £3 for an oil filter, around £5 for an air filter and around £6-£22 for a wiper blade. Front brake pads vary in price between £13-£22 for a set. For front brake discs, think around £40-£50 for a pair. A radiator costs in the £100 bracket. A starter motor is around £93. A pollen filter is around £13-£14. A water pump is around £55 - with pricier brands up at around £126.
On the Road
From launch, the MK2 C1 offered a couple of petrol-powered three cylinder choices, with an 82bhp VTi unit from the C3 supermini arriving to join an improved version of the older 69bhp 1.0-litre unit. That 1.0-litre engine is unashamedly aimed at urban folk and might become a little aurally wearing if you were to use it over an extended motorway trip. If such a journey might be an occasional possibility, the 1.2-litre engine option (not incidentally available on this car's Toyota Aygo design stablemate) would be a better choice, but it only sold until 2018.
If you're familiar with the first generation C1, then you should find this replacement car to be a touch more driveable, even in 1.0-litre form. For a start, in the old C1, you needed to really wind some revs onto the clock in order to get anywhere - which had a marked effect on your fuel consumption. In this car, nearly all of its 95Nm of pulling power is available right down low in the rev range, from as little as 2,000rpm. That means you won't need to rev the thing to death in order to get it going, though if you do, the 998cc unit sounds playful, its normally aspirated note filling the cabin with a characterful three cylinder thrum. This also has the advantage of making the car feel peppier than it actually is.
Once you've covered a few miles, the first thing you'll probably notice is just how light most of the controls are - especially the steering and the clutch. The exception to this is the gearchange, which needs more of a firm shove than you'd expect from a car designed with urban driving in mind. If that's an issue, then you might well be tempted by a rare C1 model fitted with the automatic 'ETG' gearbox. That auto variant will certainly suit urban-bound folk, people who'll also appreciate the tight 4.8m turning circle and that light steering we mentioned. Parking is as easy as you'd expect in a car with an overall length of under 3.5m, with good all-round visibility marred only slightly by the chunky rear C-pillars. The wide rear wheel arches might be a bit vulnerable here but on top variants fitted with the multimedia system's standard reverse parking camera, that shouldn't be a problem. The big, clear mirrors should help too. The brakes also feel up to spec, despite this Citroen doing with without rear discs and opting for a cheaper rear drum set-up instead.
And handling? Well the development team behind this car say that they benchmarked the Ford Ka in this respect, one of the results of which was that the steering was made 14% more direct than that of the old C1. True enough, it does provide more fingertip feedback than before. Other incremental dynamic improvements include re-tuned springs and dampers, plus a lighter rear torsion beam, one of the things contributing to a 60kg weight saving over this model's predecessor. The result is a slightly more agile, chuckable city runabout that could be driven with a bit more vigour but it still wasn't the driver's choice in this segment, though that's something few likely buyers will care much about. Pitch into a corner and you get the predictable helping of body roll and tyre squeal you'd expect from this kind of car. Stick with it though and this C1 can, nevertheless be pretty good fun to pedal along.
Overall, it's true that there are still more sophisticated choices you could make in the city car segment from the 2014-2021 period, but there's a time and a place for sophistication and we can imagine many buyers in the market's smallest sector being prepared to look past issues of practicality and refinement, being persuaded instead by this little Citroen's sheer value and joie de vivre.
Those are the things you want in a city car - but that's not all you want. With this second generation C1, Citroen seemed to understand this. The result was a much better car. And a much better used proposition.