The main complaint we hear about electric cars is that they cost too much. And that’s because making smaller affordable electric cars is… a challenge. The cost of the battery can make up between 40-60% of the overall cost of the car which keeps the prices high.
So far Chinese car makers are about the only ones having much success in getting cheaper cars to market – and I say ‘cheaper’ rather loosely as we’re starting from a fairly high bar.
There are currently just a handful of electric cars on sale in the UK under £30,000 and not a single one under £25,000. So that will make this car - Citroen e-C3 - which has been designed – and built – in Europe the most affordable electric car when it goes on sale at the start of 2024. And at a time when many car makers are stepping back from building small cars because of the challenge of making them profitable this is a bold move from Citroen.
Styling and dimensions
The e-C3 is about the same size as the forthcoming Volkswagen ID.2 and its overall footprint is no larger than the current C3. But while the VW doesn’t go on sale until 2025, you’ll only have to wait until the start of 2024 for this car.
The Dacia Spring is also due next year and will be a similar price, but the Citroen feels a cut above the current Spring and is more spacious – we will have to wait and see if the new Dacia is a significant step up
One way Citroen has been able to keep costs down is by using the same hardware underneath as this car as a version of the C3 sold by Citroen in India. But while it’s basically that car underneath, the e-C3 has a restyled exterior and an all new interior too.
It's more crossover than small hatch and although it has a similar footprint in terms of length and width to the outgoing car, it's 10cm taller, has a higher ground clearance and a higher seating position.
In theory that should make the ride more comfortable over the inevitable potholes and speed bumps. And it also has some protective bits and pieces to give you some added protection from scrapes and scratches. And you can also mix things up a bit by adding ‘Color Clip’ inserts which can be changed quickly to add a bit of style. You can go further by adding one a contrasting roof colour.
You can also see clear hints of the Oli concept, including Citroën’s new large oval logo. There’s also the distinctive new design of front and rear lights and the near-horizontal surfaces.
The inside isn’t quite as simple as the Oli, but it is different to the traditional look with fake leather textured plastics.
I love the smaller, squarer steering wheel and it does feel very spacious thanks to that high roof line. You still get physical buttons along with a 10.25-inch, colour infotainment screen, angled slightly towards the driver – although this is optional on the cheapest ‘You’ versions. On this model it mimics the Oil, with a ‘My Citroen Play with Smartphone Station’ app to access music, radio, calls and navigation via a phone.
A real change is the lack of a traditional instrument cluster. The e-C3 instead uses a Head-Up Display that reflects vehicle information onto a glossy black section between the top of the dash panel and the bottom of the windscreen. There’s no duplication of information as there would traditionally be between a head-up display system and instrument cluster, and ensures drivers can easily access all the key information they need without taking their eyes off the road.
It's not as fun or interesting inside as it is on the outside - but its comfortable - as you’d expect from Citroen . The rear seat passengers should be happy too, as it’s much bigger than the Dacia in the back. Only the centre seat will feel cramped.
There are plenty of stowage areas around the car too, on door panels, the centre console and under the armrest.
And for the first time in the C3 you’ll get Citroën Advanced Comfort Suspension. This clever set up, already seen on the e-C4, is standard on all models and should give Citroen's super comfy ‘magic carpet’ like ride over potholes.
Round at the rear you get 60-40 split rear seats on all but the cheapest model and there’s a decent amount of space between the wheel arches. The measurements say there’s 310 litres of luggage volume with the seats up – the same as a Vauxhall Corsa Electric – but the backs don’t fold flat and it doesn’t look like a huge space. There's no figure for the seat-down space yet.
Battery and charging
The e-C3 gets a 111bhp electric motor at the front along with a 44kWh battery pack which according to the official figures will be good for 199 miles of range. You can also expect larger batteries to join the range, but they won’t - of course - come with that affordable £21,000 price tag.
It also has 100kW DC fast charging capability, which is unusually fast for a cheaper EV model. It means the battery gets from 20 to 80 percent capacity in 26 minutes on a suitable rapid charger in the right conditions. Standard AC recharging can be done at up to 11kW.
What's interesting about the battery is that Citroen is following in the footsteps of car makers like Tesla, MG and Ford - to name just a few - in using lithium iron phosphate cells. These are mostly manufactured in China and tolerate more frequent and faster charging, don’t use expensive - and contentious - materials like nickel, manganese and cobalt, and crucially, they cost less.
However; the downside is that they’ve heavier, bigger and they’re less likely to be recycled as they contain fewer precious metals.
They also don’t perform that well in cold weather – and as a heat pump isn’t available of the e-C3 we will be watching closely to see what happens to that 199 miles of claimed driving range in the middle of winter.
There’s no doubt that the e-C3 will be a game changer for car buyers, enabling many more drivers to join the electric revolution with a sensibly-priced small family car with a decent range, performance and practicality. If it drives well too, this could be a real winner from Citroen.