Certain cars are born great, others have greatness thrust upon them.
Then there’s another category of cars that have pimply adolescents thrust upon them. Into this final category came the Citroen Saxo VTR – a car that developed a cult following amongst those who craved performance and style but couldn’t stomach big insurance bills. Such was the success of the VTR model that it came to account for a disproportionate percentage of total Saxo sales, giving Citroen a decidedly peachy bottom line. Time, however, caught up with the Saxo and as ever more sophisticated rivals waded in, a replacement was sought. In the distinctly unconventional shape of the C2 VTR, Citroen reckon they’ve found it.
After the familiar form of the Saxo, the C2 VTR comes as something of a shock. Unlike many cars that create a sudden negative or affirmative response regarding their styling, the C2 provoked a riot of discussion about whether that ‘round at the front, sharp at the back’ shape worked. The closest we could get to consensus was that it looked at first striking, then awkward but once you took time to get your eye used to it, yes it did work. What’s beyond any reasonable doubt is that the VTR version looks a whole heap better than the standard shopping trolley version.
With a chunky sill and spoiler kit as well as 16-inch alloy wheels and colour-keyed bumpers, the VTR does a great job of walking the fine line between aggression and juvenility. So many manufacturers try to create a sporting hatch and just end up producing a car that few over the age of twenty-two would ever be seen dead in. With a long pedigree of producing credible performance hatches, Citroen haven’t fallen into that particular trap. Powered (in the form that most people buy) by a 75bhp 1.4-litre petrol engine, the VTR tries hard to walk the walk too, accelerating to 60mph in 12.2 seconds and running on to a top speed of 105mph.
"The C2 VTR does a great job of walking the fine line between aggression and juvenility"
Of course, this isn’t premier league hot hatch territory but neither is the Group 3 insurance rating – one of the key attractions for younger customers. They’ll also give thanks to the VTR’s ability to average 47mpg in everyday driving conditions. If you want to better that, there’s a 1.4-litre diesel derivative priced at about £800 more. Citroen have been spectacularly successful in offering incentives that have lured young drivers to embark upon the Citroen way and the VTR is bound to be no different. Look for cashbacks and free insurance offers and if none are forthcoming, try the Citroen dealer down the road. It’s impossible to carp about the C2 VTR value proposition. Weighing in at just over £11,000 as a 1.4-litre petrol model, if you take underlying inflation into account, the VTR works out at less than its sparsely equipped Saxo predecessor retailed at seven years ago.
Despite being even shorter than a Saxo, the VTR is easily able to seat four in comfort. Lessons have been learned from the reception given to the MK1 C3 interior and the C2 adopts many of the funkier styling touches such as the ventilation system and the bar rev counter and introduces a few of its own. Interior materials quality has been improved with the introduction of the upmarket dashboard also found in the C3 featuring high-grade plastics and silver detailing. There’s a wide range of trim choices from sober monotones right up to the most extrovert two-tone designs.
The steering adjusts for rake and reach plus there’s a height adjustable seat. Few will have any cause for complaint given the amount of space in the front of the cabin as it feels no smaller than the C3, a car already renowned for its spaciousness. Like the MK1 C3, the C2 gets a can holder ahead of the gear lever as well as generously proportioned door bins that can accommodate a 500ml bottle of pop. Access to the rear isn’t bad and Citroen have displayed admirable pragmatism in failing to pretend that the C2 is anything other than a four seater. So many small cars cram three belts in across the back and end up trussing occupants up like a leg of lamb but the two rear seats of the C2 are well sculpted and respectable in terms of knee and shoulder room although taller passengers may feel the sloping roof impinges on their coif.
The VTR also gets the rear seat system where the seats individually slide, recline, fold and tumble. This allows the owner to optimise luggage or passenger space by sliding the seats on runners but in order to fold the rear seats fully flat, the front ones need to be run a long way forward, precluding this possibility for long legged drivers and front passengers. It’s also fitted with a tailgate that splits into two sections to ease loading in tight spots.
With a number of safety features that include twin front and side airbags on all models and power assisted steering across the range, the C2 VTR looks a decent buy. Big car features like anti lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist are fitted as standard as are sports seats and even cruise control – surely a first for such a tiny car. If you really want to push the boat out, the VTR can be specified with Citroen’s RT3 system, incorporating a voice activated phone, satellite navigation and a five-disc CD autochanger. Owners and insurers alike will be relieved to hear that Citroen has fitted a proper Thatcham-approved anti-theft alarm as standard.
The C2 VTR has a serious weight of expectation resting upon its little shoulders. So far it seems to bearing up extremely well.