BY ANDY ENRIGHT
As a nation we like a bit of grief. Hand wringing sometimes seems to be a national pastime. Those looking forward to getting all dewy-eyed and nostalgic over the passing of Citroen's massively successful Saxo model weren't given much of an opportunity to get the black armbands on. With the launch of the C2 model in September 2003, Citroen showed that it was straight back with its 'A' game. Used examples are currently doing the round at very attractive prices.
After the mild disappointment engendered by the cuddly C3 model, Citroen knew that they had to produce a more sporting and youth-oriented car to sate the appetites of those weaned for years on a steady diet of Saxos. The C2 was just that car, released in the UK in September 2003. The styling took a little getting used to, at first looking like a C3 front grafted onto an entirely more angular rear end but, like many bold designs, what initially looks a little odd can bed in nicely. The range consisted of a budget 1.1-litre model and mainstream 1.4-litre petrol and diesel versions. A VTR sports model with a 1.6-litre 110bhp engine and a sequential paddle-shift gearchange was also introduced and was an instant hit.
More sports models soon followed. For those who were less than enamoured with the sequential gearbox, Citroen introduced the C2 GT in December 2003, a car mechanically similar to the VTR but fitted with a standard manual box. This too sold very well but rumours of a forthcoming VTS model were causing some customers to hold their horses. When it did appear in summer 2004, younger buyers had no excuse. With 130bhp on tap, a manual gearchange and an insurance rating fully six groups lower than the old Saxo VTS model, Citroen dealers were besieged by younger drivers falling over themselves to find a dotted line on which to sign.
Alterations to the car introduced in Autumn 2005 saw an all-new dashboard introduced with square buttons replacing the previous round efforts, higher grade plastics and silver detailing. The Sensodrive gearbox was also improved and a 1.4HDi Furio model became available. These C2 derivatives can be spotted by the clear section in their tail light clusters.
The C2 Stop & Start was introduced in Spring 2006. Equipped with the 1.4-litre petrol engine and the Sensodrive automatic gearbox, it switches its engine off to save fuel when the vehicle is stationary, restarting it automatically when it's time to move off. The autumn of 2007 brought a new range topper to the C2 line-up. The 110bhp VTS HDi delivered 64mpg and punchy performance.
In Summer 2008, there was a minor restyle which brought what Citroen hoped was a smarter and more 'distinctive' front radiator grille and an 'imposing' one-piece front bumper. There were also 'cooler' trim colours and equipment upgrades that now included lateral airbags on many models and features like an MP3-compatible stereo even on the entry-level C2 Vibe. To make the purchase decision easier, the C2 line-up was simplified to four trim levels - Vibe, Rhythm, VTR and VTS. The clever 'Stop & Start' model was now more affordable too, thanks to this technology's availability in budget Rhythm trim.
What You Get
Although it shares its chassis, drivetrains and a number of body and interior parts with the C3, don't think of this car as merely a scaled down version of Citroen's spherical supermini. The styling marks a different direction with a C3-style bulbous nose allied to a far edgier, angular back end. Although to some it might look like the results of two design studies fused at the door pillars, it's certainly distinctive. The side windows adopt a staggered line while the rear haunches blister out in a purposeful fashion.
The VTR might be over shadowed by the VTS but it certainly looks the part with colour-keyed bumpers and a subtle sill'n'spoiler kit, although if you opt for the 1.4i Furio model, you'll get the cosmetic addenda without the punchier engine. Whichever C2 model you opt for, you'll find a car that maximises its use of available space very effectively. Despite being even shorter than a Saxo, it's easily able to seat four in comfort. Lessons have been learned from the reception given to the C3 interior and the C2 adopts many of the funkier styling touches such as the ventilation system and the bar rev counter and introduces a few of its own. Interior materials quality has been improved where possible and there's a wide range of trim choices from sober monotones right up to the most extrovert two-tone designs.
The steering adjusts for rake and reach in all versions while plusher trims also get a height adjustable seat. Few will have any cause for complaint given the amount of space in the front of the cabin as it feels no smaller than the C3, a car already renowned for its spaciousness. Like the C3, the C2 gets a can holder ahead of the gear lever as well as generously proportioned door bins that can accommodate a 500ml bottle of pop. Access to the rear isn't bad and Citroen have displayed admirable pragmatism in failing to pretend that the C2 is anything other than a four seater. So many small cars cram three belts in across the back and end up trussing occupants up like a leg of lamb but the two rear seats of the C2 are well sculpted and respectable in terms of knee and shoulder room although taller passengers may feel the sloping roof impinges on their coif. Opt for upspec models and the rear seats individually slide, recline, fold and tumble. This allows the owner to optimise luggage or passenger space by sliding the seats on runners but in order to fold the rear seats fully flat, the front ones need to be run a long way forward, precluding this possibility for long legged drivers and front passengers. All versions nevertheless get a tailgate that splits into two sections to ease loading in tight spots.
What to Look For
Although cabin trim quality isn't the best in class, the C2 comes from tried and tested stock and you should expect little or nothing in the way of mechanical faults. The engines in particular are supremely reliable and few issues have emerged so far. The Sensodrive gearbox is a good deal more durable than a sequential manual as there are no clutches to wear out when performing hill starts or three-point turns. A few grumbles have been raised over the digital dashboard but this is an easy fix. As with any car that's used primarily as an urban scoot, check for knocks and scrapes, kerbed alloy wheels, uneven wear on the front wheels and kiddie devastation in the back. Also make sure that the used valuation of the car accurately reflects the state of play regarding Citroen's periodic cashback deals and so on. The list price the vendor may show in a car magazine may well bear very little relation to what he or she actually handed over for the car. Use this information to your advantage and negotiate hard.
(approx. based on 2002 C2 1.4 excl VAT) A clutch assembly is around £110 and an exhaust system about £325 including a catalytic converter. Front and rear brake pads will be in the vicinity of £35-40 each. A radiator is about £170, an alternator about £250 and a starter motor £230.
On the Road
Four engines - all borrowed from the C3 - are offered with the C2, though the range-topping unit is available in two distinct forms. A 61bhp 1.1-litre opens proceedings but the mid-range 75bhp 1.4-litre petrol with the Sensodrive gearbox is a more relaxed drive. For ultimate economy, the 1.4-litre HDi models will be the first port of call, whilst the VTS version marks the top of the range priced from £11,995. It's a 130bhp car that sits above the 110bhp pair of the VTR and the lightweight GT; all three of these performance models are powered by Citroen's 1.6-litre 16v engine.
With 10bhp more than its Saxo predecessor and a whole bunch more standard equipment, the VTR model is good value. The GT is essentially the same as a VTR but for a few hundred pounds less it strips out some excess weight and the sequential gearbox to provide a more hard-edged appeal. The VTS is the quickest C2 with a 0-60mph sprint of 8.1s and a 126mph top speed. It emphasises this fact with an aggressive bodykit, bold 'VTS' badging and a set of 16" alloy wheels.
The five-speed manual transmission from the C3 is the default choice on most of the engines but many C2s are also available with the SensoDrive gearbox that Citroen claim is 'rally style'. This four-speed sequential 'box boasts advanced electronics that attempt to learn different driving styles, whilst a flick of the lever allows the driver to make 'manual' changes without the need for a clutch pedal. Although the shift responses may disappoint Colin McRae, the gearbox is certainly game enough and will blip the throttle on downchanges when you're in the mood defaulting back to an automatic mode when you're not.
While the C3 has done good business for Citroen but failed to really capture the public's imagination, the C2 rectified that with some very encouraging sales figures and a strong product range. As a used buy we'd lean towards a 1.4-litre diesel or the C2 GT, although when greater quantities of VTS models land in the used arena this will be a difficult car to resist.