Citroen C2 Review

Find out more about the Citroen C2 in the latest Motors.co.uk Review

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3
Out of 5

Pros

  • Good fun to drive
  • Relatively frugal and safe
  • Low insurance

Cons

  • Patchy build quality
  • Small rear cabin
  • High depreciation
  • MPG

    0 - 0

  • CO2

    0 - 0 g/km

Model review

Citroen has had a long tradition of making fun small cars, and the C2 had a tremendously difficult act to follow. Its direct predecessors were the AX and Saxo, two superminis that were highly thought-of at the time and are fondly talked about even today.

The C2 was introduced in 2003 as a replacement for the three-door Saxo, with the C3 sitting alongside it as the five-door option. It was unashamedly a car aimed at the 'Max Power' youth car culture, with the same Furio, VTR and VTS trim levels as the sportier and more appealing Saxo model, while the C3 had to make do with less evocative names.

It addressed a lot of the Saxo's shortcomings too, with a much-improved safety rating and security systems – all things that had made the old car difficult to insure when combined with over-exuberant young drivers.

Unusually, the C2 also sported a 1.4-litre diesel engine and stop-start technology for improved emissions and economy. There was an automatic option too; dubbed 'SensoDrive' this allowed drivers to change gears with paddle-shifters on the steering wheel. This was largely unheard-of technology at the time, outside of Ferrari and Aston Martin, and added further sporting credentials.

As a supermini, the C2 had some fairly serious rivals. Technically the car was in the same category as cars like the Fiesta, but the tiny size – 3.66 metres long – makes it roughly the same size as modern city cars, and the fact it was exclusively a three-door put it up against some different cars. Notable alternatives were the Ford Ka and SportKa, and Volkswagen Lupo.

While the C3 continues to this day, the C2 was cancelled in 2010 and replaced with the Citroen DS3, latterly the DS DS3.

Latest model

There was only one generation of C2, with a mild facelift four years into its life.

It was introduced in 2003, a year after the five-door C3 had replaced the Saxo range, to a mixed reception. The softly-styled C3 certainly captured the essence of a French hatchback, but the sportiness and joie de vivre had been lost. The C2, as a three-door model on the same platform, arrived to bring it back. The two cars shared a lot of technology, including engines, which you could also find across the Peugeot-Citroen divide in the Peugeot 206. These included 1.1, 1.4 and 1.6-litre petrols and 1.4 and 1.6-litre diesels.

The much more angular styling, notably the different height glass either side of the B-pillar, gave the C2 a much more sporting look, shared by its larger sibling the C4 – in fact there's a great deal about the current DS3 that isn't too far removed from the C2. In a further nod to the Saxo heritage, the C2 had some very familiar trim levels, including LX, Furio, VTR and VTS. There were also limited edition models such as the GT and the Loeb, named for Citroen's world rally champion Sebastien Loeb.

Although a three-door version of a supermini, the C2's much smaller stature and three-door nature put it in a different sector. Rather than fighting with the Ford Fiesta like the C3, the C2 rivalled the Ford Ka.

The C3 took on Volkswagen's Polo, the C2 challenged the Lupo. Other rivals included the second generation Renault Twingo and the Toyota Yaris. However, probably the most serious rival of all was the recently introduced Mini hatchback.

Value for money

It's difficult to fault the C2 as a value proposition even when new. The entry level car back in 2003 was the 1.1i L, at £8,395. Although prices rose to just over £14,000 for the diesel VTS car, you'd be hard-pressed to even get a Mini at the same budget.

It wasn't exactly the height of opulence at that price though. Although metallic paint was an option, very little else was and the car came equipped with barely anything – even the bumpers and door handles were left as plain, unpainted black plastic.

By the end of its life Citroen had resolved the trims down to just three, which broadly corresponded with engine choices, and gentrified the car somewhat. The base model was now the 1.1i VT and this had electric windows and a CD player, for £9,845. The top of the range VTS had alloy wheels, air conditioning and electric door mirrors, and still came in under £14,000.

Day-to-day costs were pretty good too. The petrol VTS was the costliest, at 40.9mpg combined and 163g/km CO2, equating to £175 a year in road tax, but the diesel returned nearly 66mpg on paper. The entry level cars rated at group 1 insurance, the lowest possible, but as the groupings have now been reclassified they sit in group 3. Even the VTS was only in group 15.

Looks and image

The C2 was an attempt to recapture the sportier image of the Saxo and older AX GT, by comparison to the softer, five-door C3. It worked well, with some unusual styling hints like the different height glass either side of the B-pillar, and you can certainly see how the more modern DS3 model that replaced it is an evolution of the design.

At the time the C2 came out and over the course of its life, Citroen was on a sporting high. It was in the middle of a rich vein of form in the World Rally Championship, which saw the manufacturer win three successive titles and driver Sebastien Loeb on a run that would take him to nine back-to-back titles.

It certainly helped the C2's more dynamic image, and Loeb's name was even applied to a special edition car early in its life.

Space and practicality

Ultimately, the C2 is a very small car and it's reflected by the amount of space available. The rear seats are not particularly accommodating, and are made worse by the more sloping roof eating into headroom. There are only two of them too, which is probably for the best, but you can fit sliding rear seats which increase knee room at the expense of boot space. As the C2 is a three-door car, access isn't the best but it's no worse than any other car of this type.

Standard boot volume is 193 litres, which is broadly comparable to modern city cars. Opt for the sliding rear seats and this can rise up to 224 litres.

Fold the rear seats – and all late model C2s came with split-folding units – and this could grow to 619 litres, although it will require the rear seats to fold down into the footwell which limits front seat space. A split tailgate makes access easy too.

The C2 put in a good performance when tested by EuroNCAP too. A four-star rating in its 2003 crash test moved it streets ahead of the 2-star Saxo it replaced. It proved broadly good or adequate in most aspects of the passenger impact loading, with good restraint systems including thorax airbags. Later cars also had ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution emergency braking assistance.

Engines

There were five different types of engine used across the C2's life, but at the end of its production this was down to four.

A 1.1-litre petrol was the start point, fitted to the VT model. It was a 59hp unit that, despite the C2's modest 956kg kerb weight, dragged it to 60mph in 14.2 seconds. Top speed was just 98mph, but a combined fuel economy of 48.7mpg and 138g/km CO2 was reasonable at the time.

A larger 1.4-litre version was available in the VTR. With 72hp it was a mite quicker – 60mph came up in 12 seconds and top speed was 105mph – but it still had a 47.1mpg combined fuel economy and 143g/km CO2.

An alternative VTR model was the 1.4-litre HDI diesel. This produced 67hp and so was slightly slower than its petrol namesake, with a 13.3 second 0-60mph time and a 103mph top speed. It had the lowest CO2 emissions at 113g/km, and the best fuel economy at 65.7mpg combined, for any C2 model.

The performance crown went to the 1.6-litre, 16-valve VTS petrol. With 121hp, it managed 0-60mpg in 8.1 seconds and top speed was pushed up to 126mph. Although fuel economy was down, it still rated at 40.9mpg, and 163g/km CO2.

Running costs

The C2, like its predecessors, was one of the cheapest cars to run day-to-day. The 1.4-litre diesel was the pinnacle, with 65.7mpg combined  - rising to 76.3mpg extra-urban – but no model was truly costly when it came to fuel. Even the sprightly VTS rated at nearly 41mpg, and all of the other petrol models were in the high 40s too.

Road tax wasn't much of an issue either. Again, the VTS would cost the most, with 163g/km sitting in the £175 bracket. The diesel, meanwhile, was just £30 each year. Insurance costs were about as low as they could get, with the VT model rating in group 1 in the old 20 group system. Even today it's only in group 3 (from 50), and even the VTS is only in group 15.

It perhaps wasn't quite as well made as other cars though, so you may find you're spending more on maintaining the C2 than you are on fuel and insurance. Parts aren't expensive though, probably helped by how much of the C2 is shared with the C3, C1, Peugeot 206 and Peugeot 107. Even consumables like brake pads won't set you back more than £100 for a complete set of eight.

Things to look out for

Surprisingly, given the reputation that French cars often bear, there's not all that many known common faults with the C2. Mechanically, it seems pretty durable, especially the diesel cars.

However the list of recalls for the C2 and related cars is rather lengthy, and includes a few safety critical issues like defective headlights that may turn off without warning, ineffective brake pedal linkage, suspension springs that may break, handbrake failure and a situation where the brake hose may wear through contact with other body parts. These affect several thousand cars – a good chunk of the UK's entire supply – so it's vital to check that they've all been addressed.

Look out for signs of abuse in the sporty VTR and VTS models – it's likely that the VTS cars in particular will have seen a track day or two – and for anything used as a round-town runaround the usual checks apply. Watch for parking dings, scrapes and kerbing. The interior is one of the most fragile parts and the digital LCD dashboard has been known to give up the ghost too.

Rivals

Although the little C2 sits on the same platform as the C3 and the Peugeot 206, it's a good 20cm shorter and that moves it out of the supermini class and into the city car sector.

That gives it one or two pretty serious rivals, in the shape of the Mini hatchback and Fiat 500. Both aim for a slightly more premium sector than the Citroen and were notably more expensive, so the C2 was more often cross-shopped with the Ford Ka, particularly the SportKa, and Volkswagen Lupo.

Other small city cars that aimed for the same sort of 'fun' vibe as the C2 included the Suzuki Swift and the second generation of Renault Twingo – the Renaultsport version of which is almost the perfect rival to the C2 VTS.

Depreciation warning

Depreciation hit the C2 pretty hard, but it's not uncommon to see in cars of this size and for many of the French brands which, by reputation, just don't have long-term durability. Initial retained values for the C2 were as low as 35% over three years, so even though you'd spend just over £8,000 on it new, it'd be worth less than £3,000, 36 months later.

The good news for second-hand buyers is that this means most C2s will have depreciated as far as they ever will by now, and if they're kept in good, roadworthy condition they shouldn't wander down any further. VTS models and some of the special editions like the GT will buck the steeper depreciation trend.

Trims Explained

For the final year of its life, the C2 had three trim levels.

VT

The VT was equipped with the base 1.1-litre petrol engine and 14-inch steel wheels. Equipment included a height and reach adjusting steering wheel, front electric windows with one-touch function, height adjustable driver's seat, tinted windows and an MP3-compatible CD player and RDS radio with steering wheel controls.

Prices start from £9,845

VTR

The VTR was available with 1.4-litre petrol or diesel engines. Notable additions included air-conditioning, electric-adjusting door mirrors, body-coloured bumpers and aluminium-effect interior trim pieces.

Prices start from £11,045

VTS

Top of the range was the 1.6-litre VTS. This included 16-inch alloy wheels, electronic stability control, front sports seats, front and rear spoiler, a chrome exhaust, aluminium sports pedals and a leather steering wheel. Front fog lights were also added.

Prices start from £13,475

Summary

  1. Three-door car only
  2. Base model lacks air conditioning
  3. High depreciation
  4. CD player as standard
  5. 1.4-litre diesel rated to 65.7mpg
  6. Insurance group 3 for entry VT car
  7. 193-litre boot increases to 224-litres with sliding rear seats
  8. Replaced by Citroen/DS DS3
  9. Four-star EuroNCAP rating

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