IAIN ROBERTSON 

 

 

Drop-tops, rag-tops, convertibles and cabriolets are all car types that seem to inhabit our psyches, writes Iain Robertson, none more so than in our present scorcher of a summer, when even the ‘health-conscious’ will not refuse a bit of wind-in-the-hair.

In actual fact, we are also a nation that, despite our innate conservatism (“It’s just not British, dear chap!”), would opt for more gaily coloured aspects to our lives, as evinced by the growth of IKEA and its near subversive Scandi-promotion. As a child of the sixties, I can still recall a bonding session with my father, when he and me drove in his white and green-side-striped Lotus Cortina to Hayling Island and its colourful beach-side entertainments arcades. It was one of those rare and memorable occasions for which no excuses were necessary, apart from his ability to escape from work for a day to be spent with his son.

When he parked the car outside the resort’s Wimpy Restaurant, a white-over-aqua-blue Ford Consul Mark Two convertible drew alongside, with a very dapper chap driving it, complete with Brylcreemed hair and pencil moustache, accompanied by two headscarf-wearing ladies in floral frocks. It was like a scene from the later movie, ‘Brighton Rock’ (which, if you have not, I would urge you to view). While my powers of recall are such that I can remember the figure-of-eight, indoor go-kart track, on the ‘prom’, the episode was etched into my car-curious memory by the appearance of that Ford Consul, despite the desirability of my dad’s only just more modern and so-much-sportier Cortina.

While Ford referred to its base colour as ‘blue’, Citroen calls its thoroughly modern version Pacific Green. Regardless, it is a bluey-green hue that causes peaks of hilarity (as all two metres of me extracts myself from the test car), extreme biliousness, or shades of envy, all of which suggest that it is bang on-trend. Apart from its black, electrically-operated, roll-back ‘soft-top’, every available inch of the baby Citroen’s bodywork is painted in the crisp Sea World colour scheme that creates near-nuclear reactions. If a carmaker wants to formulate a response with its smallest motorcar, colour is a great way to do it.

Just as the Crayford-bodied Consul was more about cruising than high-performance, powered by a 998cc, three-cylinder petrol engine (sans-turbo) that develops a modest 72bhp, with a marginally less impressive 68lbs ft of torque (you simply must rev it), it is ‘good looks’ that provide Citroen’s major attraction. Given ideal conditions, the chubby, yet well-proportioned, little C1 Airscape in Feel trim will crack the 0-60mph benchmark acceleration test in a reported 12.3s, before topping-out at a whisker below the ‘magical ton’ (100mph). Truth is, it feels a lot slower and it is only by extending its grunty three-pot, which makes a not-unpleasant, off-beat growl, that any intentions of completing a safe overtake, or even scorching to motorway speeds, become possible. It is an engine that ‘comes on-song’, once it revs past 3,500rpm, where its camshaft timing delivers some additional verve.

Much of this apparent lack of urge could arise from the extra metal incorporated within a compact five-door body-shell that is necessary to replace the torsional strength removed by the tin roof. It is gratifyingly rattle and creak-free. Yet, the 3,475mm long hatchback tips the scales at a modest kerbweight of 840kgs. The electric roll-back installation is well-insulated, fully waterproof and substantial enough to withstand a monsoon downpour. It features a one-touch, draught-free, fully-open position within eight seconds, although a ‘safety’ device ensures that it stops halfway for the return trip, demanding a second depression of the cant-rail located switch, to avoid a soaked interior. It is the price you pay for convertible-ism, more on which in a moment.

To be fair, while the C1 does not exactly help in eagerness terms, this teensy Citroen would feel much happier cruising Cannes’ La Croisette, or Cleethorpes’ Central Promenade, although it is eminently contented to barrel home after a day spent at the seaside, however exotic, returning up to 68.9mpg (Official Combined figure), while 54.0mpg is closer to the norm. It emits a mere 93g/km CO2, which equates to a first-year road tax of £125. By the way, its service intervals are every 10,000-miles, which helps to keep running costs within sensible bounds. If you acquire an example for business use, it would carry a BIK taxation rate of just 19%.

Riding on 15.0-inch steel wheels clad in ‘Comet’ wheeltrims (alloys are optional in Feel trim), the C1 benefits from 2.6-turns lock-to-lock steering and a 10.2m turning-circle, which affords it great manoeuvrability in town and electric responses at higher speeds. The 5-speed manual gearbox snicks delightfully between ratios and the car’s overall handling is inherently safe, although it can become a tad ‘nuggety’ at higher speeds, sometimes fidgeting itself nervously around the lane, in which you happen to be travelling.

As you would expect of any modern car, the C1 Airscape also incorporates a number of driver assist features, such as lane discipline, hill-start and distance alert, on top of stability and cornering, as well as the more customary traction controls. The default position is ‘off’, demanding driver intervention for some of them. The car’s interior reflects the exterior body colour on doors and a piano black plank across the dashboard, punctuated by a 7.0-inch touch-screen for audio and phone connectivity (that mirrors a driver’s iPhone/smartphone for sat-nav and music replay purposes) and a colourfully illuminated instrument binnacle that moves with the tilt-adjustable steering column and carries a digital rev-counter alongside the main analogue speedometer and digital information read-out. It is a simple layout that works very well.

While the driver’s seat is the only one featuring height adjustability, there is an outstanding amount of space within the cabin, which also features excellent air-conditioning, when the roof is not open. The front seats feature striped pattern cloth inserts that add extra pizzazz. The rear bench split-folds 50:50 to expand a deep boot area of 196-litres capacity that can carry a week’s worth of shopping, when they are upright. There is no spare wheel and a puncture repair kit serves purpose. The all-glass (but metal framed) hatchback opens by depressing a pushbutton located in the upper rear bumper, a simple but effective means of not grubbying the driver’s fingers.

While its body colour creates a lasting impression, much like the aforementioned Consul, the C1 presents an elegant little Gallic package, from its cute face to its chic tail. In some ways, it looks more complete than some rival brands’ tin-top tiddlers. However, appeal of this convertible order does carry a stiff price tag of £12,845, which includes the optional Active City Brake at £480. Beg your supplying dealer and you might drop that price to a significantly more affordable level and, should you desire gentle wind-in-the-hair rustling, the C1 Airscape truly has very few competitors and none at less money, which is worth bearing in mind.

Conclusion:   Sub-compact, or ‘city’, cars offer a style challenge to car designers with which most cannot deal. However, Citroen’s team has done a superb job with the C1 Airscape, which makes it highly desirable as a practical and affordable ownership proposition. It is worth serious contemplation, despite its bath-toy colour scheme (others are available).