MOTOR MOUTH: A Jolie Sort of Vehicle

Management Today, March 4, 2003 | Go to article overview

MOTOR MOUTH: A Jolie Sort of Vehicle


The new C3 is best evidence so far of Citroen's long march from the lacklustre anonymity that affected this most idiosyncratic of manufacturers after its takeover by Peugeot a generation ago. It is a well-designed, charming, comfortable, characterful car that is a delight to use. Partly as a result of this, UK sales of parent company PSA exceeded those of Ford for the first time last year. French critics say the new Fiesta suffers from presentation triste. The C3 is quite the opposite: its presentation is very jolie indeed.

Like Renault, Citroen has always benefited from being a metropolitan manufacturer whose points of reference are determined by what's culturally available in Paris. This makes a big difference in access to chic when you think that rivals are based in Brentwood, Russelsheim, Sunderland and Nagoya. Never mind the innovations in design and technology that made Citroen famous, there are other marvellous eccentricities in the company history. Once, an astrologer was commissioned to advise on the most propitious time to launch a new model.

Even better, one of the collaborators in the famous Croisiere Jaune (Central Asian Expedition of 1931-32) was the renegade Jesuit and mystic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Besides discovering Homo Sinanthropus (Peking Man), Teilhard developed the concept of the noosphere, which postulated a mysterious democracy of thought among sentient beings. Citroen designers have recently been deployed in the noosphere, where they learnt the democratic thought that most people find the run of the superminis boring. Thus the C3.

Styling is fashionably globular, but elegantly so. There are visual references to the marvellous old deux chevaux, with its Bauhaus geometry, but they are witty nuances, not doleful full-blown retroidism. In profile, the curved cabin excites historical memories, but also provides exceptional interior space. Inside, the C3 feels like a much bigger car. It also rides and cruises au-dessus de sa gare: the comfortable suspension is soft and the car feels exceptionally stable, even at ambitious motorway speeds.

Of course, this is not a car designed for drag racing, but the 1.4 litre engine performs smoothly and, although there is no obvious danger of bursting capillaries during acceleration, the C3 does not feel embarrassingly slow. …

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