QUICK TEST: Citroën C3 e-HDi 90 Seduction
With SA's streets literally littered with swarms of Polos, i20s and Yarises, Citroën's C3 is an unconventional underdog with a dollop or two of French flair.
It's not as flamboyant or as racy-looking as the new Clio, yet the C3 is distinctive in its own right and recently it was treated to a facelift.
Not that it really needed a refresh, but the latest upgrade does at least add a more elegant smile in the form of a redesigned front bumper with a slim chrome grille now connecting the headlights. Seduction and Exclusive models also gain an LED strip below the headlights.
Yet the big talking point on the e-HDi Seduction that I drove was its super-frugal turbodiesel engine with idle-stop technology.
It really makes a cactus look thirsty. In the standardised European lab test, the C3 1.6-litre HDi 'Airdream' engine achieved combined fuel consumption of just 3.7 litres per 100km and an urban figure of 4.4 l/100km.
However, driving normally in Joburg's city traffic, I recorded a drinking habit of 6.5 l/100km. While that's really not too shabby, it's also not a lot less than what I achieved in the Peugeot 208 with the 1.2-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine - which is also fitted to the entry-level C3, at a R36 000 saving over the HDi.
For those primarily focused on saving money, the three-pot petrol model is a no-brainer and it's not a terrible performer, in the 208 at least, but let's give this diesel motor its due.
Slam your foot down and the C3 HDi comes to the party with some really impressive urge. The 1.6-litre engine's output of 68kW is well within the ballpark of its rivals, and its 230Nm maximum torque figure trumps all but the more expensive VW Polo.
There's practically no lag off the line in this HDi and the motor provides meaty grunt through each of its five well-spaced gear ratios. What you're getting here is a fine balance between performance and efficiency, from a motor that sounds and feels refined by diesel standards.
Another highlight of the C3 is its interior, which was recently spruced up with a 'Tungsten' dashboard cross strip, bright metal finishes on some of the controls and new upholstery.
Looking ahead is a pleasant experience as the C3's dash imparts a sporty feel and it's tastefully finished. On a superficial level, this is one of the better cabins in its class, the only downside being that rear legroom is a little tight.
The mid-range seduction model featured here comes with nothing fancy in the way of gadgetry, but all the basic luxury trappings are there, along with safety kit in the form of four airbags and ABS.
It's hard not to like this distinctive and solid-performing diesel hatch, but the big downside here is its price tag of R226 900 - as you'll see below, it commands a sizeable premium over all rivals barring the Polo.
That said, the wonky rand is playing havoc with car prices and for all we know, Citroën may just hold these recently inflated prices while the others raise theirs in the coming months.
Yet for now, it would be against my better judgement to pay the premium that the Citroën commands.
Citroën C3 e-HDi 90 Seduction
Engine: 4-cyl, 1.6-litre turbodiesel
Gearbox: Five-speed manual
Power: 68kW @ 4000rpm
Torque: 230Nm @ 1750rpm
0-100km/h (claimed): 11.0 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 180km/h
Consumption (claimed): 3.7 l/100km
Warranty: 3-year/100 000km
Service plan: 4-year/60 000km
Price: R226 900
Chevrolet Sonic 1.3D LS (70kW/210Nm) - R198 500
Ford Fiesta 1.6 TDCi Trend (70kW/200Nm) - R210 300
Hyundai i20 1.4 CRDi Glide (66kW/220Nm) - R209 900
Peugeot 208 1.6 HDi Active (68kW/230Nm) - R206 900
VW Polo 1.6 TDi Comfortline (77kW/250Nm) - R239 400