By M4 Travels
This is a review of our car hire for the 2 months we were in Europe, the 2018 Citroën C-Elysée.
Model: Base, or just above
Engine / Transmission: 1.6 l Turbo Diesel with 5 speed manual
HP / FT-LB torque: Somewhere in the range of 100 HP and probably 150-180 ft-lb but I honestly don’t know.
Seating for 5 (but honestly, no more than 4 adults)
Body Style: 4 Door Sedan
Tires: 4 of them 205/65R16 (ish)
Features: Power windows, inconveniently located near the shifter, power locking doors, with a single lock button on the dash, Apple Car play, Large glove box, confusing cruise control, adjustable headlights, small and oddly shaped center armrest, and mirrors that barely adjust.
A serious review of this basic oil burner would talk about the storage, the handling (G forces), the 0-100 km/h acceleration and braking; but this is a semi-serious review, so I will of course probably not mention most of these.
We had a Citroën C- Elysée as a rental on our recent 2-month road trip through France, Italy and Spain. The C- Elysée, the darling of the Citroën fleet, the workhorse of the French car makers’ models, the most common car we saw… NOT! I honestly think I saw a grand total of about 5 other C- Elysée’s in our two month driving tour, and 4 others were taxis in Spain! I am not sure how many of this model they made, or sold, but I am guessing I wouldn’t have to use more than my hands and feet to count them – based on their prevalence in the European landscape. Unless there is a hidden hamlet somewhere in the lands of barely travelled France, where nothing but C- Elysée’s roam, I would have to believe they made and sold a grand total of 6; ours included. In a continent where hatchbacks and estates (wagons) rule supreme, a four-door sedan wasn’t a rarity, but just not the norm. Us getting a 4 door sedan was not anticipated either – as we booked what should have been a wagon, but car rental companies being what they are, substituted an equivalent car for the wagon. Only thing I have to say about that is… equivalent my a$$.
On to the features. The CE (as I will now call it for simplicity) was likely at the bottom end of the model range. I am guessing the only options we had were the power features and A/C, as I can’t see what else would have been an additional paid add-on. The car had a strange location for almost everything. The cruise control was hidden behind the left side of the steering wheel, on a small stalk with a small selector wheel and two very (very) inconspicuous speed adjustment buttons. These buttons were hard to feel on first pass and I wasn’t sure they did anything at first. Two different settings on the cruise were also accessible from this stock, with one limiting the upper speed of the car, and the other setting the cruise. Not sure the purpose of the first option, as you could adjust the limit to whatever you wanted and it actually didn’t do anything related to the cruise – in that you could still pass the upper limit set. I still don’t know what it that was for. The cruise, once engaged, worked okay. I wouldn’t say it was perfect, as it didn’t seem to understand what a hill was, as descending a hill required a lot of breaking to keep it even close to the pre-set limit. That would be a big fail in my books.
Another strange option was the ability to adjust the headlights. I don’t even know where to start on this one. WHY? When in the history of driving had you wished that you could adjust the headlights up and down? I don’t mean the intensity, but the actual position in front of the car. The headlights could be pointed out as normal, or down so that you could look for spare change in front of the car. I must have missed that in my previous reading of car features, as I had never heard of it, or knew it existed. We only became aware of this completely ludicrous feature about 3 weeks into our rental. After having driven across France and a good part of Italy, we were getting sick and tired of staring at the road about 5 m, or less, in front of the car at night. We literally couldn’t see the car in front of us on a dark night. We thought that car had poorly adjusted headlights and were finally making plans to head to a local dealership to get them re-adjusted, as the darkness came earlier and earlier with the onset of fall and daylight savings time ending. Then one day, by accident, I decided to check to see if the internal light dimmer would do anything. You know, that little wheel on the left side of the dash, near the headlights that usually dims or brightens the dash lights? Well, to my amazement, and astonishment, the headlights of the car pointed up. WHAT? The solution to our evening driving problems was solved, but it is something that should have not needed to be solved. Who thought that this was a key feature to put in a car with a grand total sales of 6? A feature that is probably in a total of 2 cars in the history of the world!! Anyway, now with this new feature under our command, the night driving improved and we could again venture out past 6 pm! Freedom! I would like to hear the sales pitch on this option… ‘Lost spare change? Need to check if you shoes are still on? Trying to look for your dignity? You need adjustable headlights!’ Anyway…
The next key feature of the CE was the power group. The windows and the central locking. Central locking was controlled by a single button on the dash near the radio. No backseat unlocking for your passengers, they are completely under your control. Not the only car with this feature, but probably should be the last. Unless this is a car you use for trapping people – then it is a perfect feature! The power windows did have individual controls, and the backseat passengers could even open and close their own windows… if they could find the controls! Turns out, the front controls (all 4 windows) were clustered forward of the stick shift – like small guards on each corner of the dual cup holders. The back windows were also inconveniently located in the centre console, near the air vents, which made reaching them very difficult unless your arms extended well past the normal length. Our kids in the backseats were able to operate the windows with their feet, but only just barely. Great for stopping them from randomly opening the window at 130 km/h on the highway initiating that ear popping ‘whump whump whump’ pressure sound, but inconvenient almost every other time. The front windows and their central location were equally as mis-positioned as those in the back. Stopping at France’s (or Europe’s) frequent toll booths made for an extremely annoying dance of shifting and opening or closing the window, as doing both at the same time either required cooperation from the passenger, or a third arm. Sometimes neither were an option. Positioning of the window switches on the door makes sense in so many ways, and even after nearly 2 months in this little blue machine I kept reaching for the window switch on the door… I just couldn’t get used to the central location. If you were shorter, or alternatively had your seat way back, reaching for these controls was plain awkward and poorly thought out.
The CE had a functional, if not imprecise, 5 speed manual transmission. I assumed that it was like every other transmission on the market today in the mass produced cars, syncromesh – or you didn’t need to learn to double clutch to shift. Most shifts in this car would agree with that synopsis, but every so often, like a double-yolked egg, you wondered what was going on. Second gear and reverse had a stubborn streak that would often require an extra oomph to get them to comply with your demands for movement. I have been driving stick shifts for 25 years or so now, so I am not new to them, nor have I only ever driven top of the line ones. I grew up driving a manual pick-up truck, then an old VW 5 speed, so getting the little stick to do my bidding was not something I even considered as a concern in a ‘new’ rental car. I don’t know this car well enough to make solid assertions on what was going on, but previous experience leads me to believe that someone learned to drive stick on this car, as going into second is usually the hardest jump for a beginner. And as for the reverse that was about as strong as limp toast left in milk, I would have to guess that the clutch and gears have seen better days. Backing up a few small hills in Italy required more than a little coaxing from this people mover and relying on it to get you safely out of areas in the Cinque Terre area was a bit more than I was willing to ask of it. A nice feature missing from this car would have been hill assist, as the actual transmission/clutch seemed to be too weak for the car. A 6th gear would have been a nice addition for cruising at high speeds and additional fuel economy as 5th felt too pushed to be the top end.
The little blue oil burner was a pleasant surprise when it came to acceleration and fuel economy. Even driving at the 130 km/h limit of the French and Italian autoroutes, the economy still came in at a reasonable 5.2-5.4 l/100 km, and it didn’t take that long to get there. The diesel was certainly not the most powerful out there, and couldn’t really overtake anything in a hurry, but did its job when asked. It nimbly moved us around the twists and turns, motorways and hills and country sides of Europe. For a small car I couldn’t have asked much more. I liked the prototypical grunt of the diesel as it took off the line, and the mild knocking as it idled ready for action. It was not a quiet engine and may actually be mistaken for an idling school bus, plus the interior sound dampening between the engine compartment and the cabin was probably made of 1-ply toilet paper stretched thin but if hearing isn’t your best feature, this car would do just fine.
Storage and Space
With a trunk capable of easily holding 4 suitcases and then some, the CE’s storage space was much more than advertised on the outside. Annoying trunk lid arms / hinges set inside the trunk cut into the otherwise ample storage but did not completely deter us from packing it as full as it could get. The trunk was perfectly suitable for a family of four on vacation and would be more than adequate for the average trip to the grocery store, outlet mall, or kids’ sporting event. Inside the car the lack of adequate storage in the backseats (small pockets in the doors and back of front seats) limited what was neatly packed and reachable resulting in a lot of loose items all over the place. The front had slightly more in-door storage, but a tiny centre console where I could put my wallet or my cell phone, but not both, and a lack of a loose change drawer made it a pain to constantly reach for the wallet when paying the numerous tolls across Europe. The glove box was sufficiently deep to store small animals, lunch, and shoes, along with gloves. None of those were necessarily tested.
Space within the car for the passengers was another issue. Perfectly fine for 2 adults and 2 children but putting more than 2 children in the back was a stretch. The middle seat position would of course be the master of the window switches and receive all of the AC but would that make up for the shoulder pain of being squished, probably not.
Score: Storage: 3.5/5; People Space: 2/5
An interesting feature the CE came with was Apple Car Play. Sounds fancy, right? Well, yes, and no. The overall radio system was confusing at first, with at least 3 different selections necessary to get the regular radio to play, and it was even worse when the Car Play was engaged. The radio seemed to change frequency on its own and didn’t always go to the adjusted station. No idea what was going on there – as it did this the whole time we had it. Now, I suppose Apple Car Play is a good idea for a few things; maps being one. It was very convenient to plug in our iPhone and put the directions on the car’s info screen. No issues there, until it stopped working. For no reason, on multiple occasions the Car Play would not work at all and we had to remove the car connection from our phone and reinitialize a new one. Again, no idea why it did this. Other than this, Car Play is just plain annoying if you have someone using the phone with directions on the screen – it constantly changes the screen and mutes the radio. I know this isn’t an issue with the CE directly, but the software, but as Citroen chose it for this car, it fits with the overall experience with this car. Oh yes, and another spectacularly useful feature of Apple Car Play was that while plugged into the system everytime you took a screen shot on your phone, it took a screen shot of the Apple Car Play menu in the car. Extremely useful.
Citroen did their best to make money with this car. I mean they made at least 6 of them, and built it ‘on-the-fly’ without consideration for little things like design or functionality – that has to count for something right? Well, yes, it means this is a car capable of getting you from point A to B, but after hours you will be wondering why point B was so important to get to that I did this to myself? But that won’t matter as you won’t really be able to hear yourself think over the engine noise and the poorly lined windows allowing a steady stream of road noise to fill the cabin. Also, if you were unlucky enough to be the 5th adult in this car, stuck in the middle of the backseat, you will be wanting to be anywhere but where you are, so forgetting about point B and dreaming about your happy place will be the only thing to help alleviate the cramps in your shoulders and knees from being squished. Add to this the Apple Car Play feature that shuts itself off randomly and a radio that changes stations makes for a fun ride.
A sort of half effort seems to have been put into the design and build on this car and it is definitely better off as a rental / taxi vehicle and not something I would even consider buying. I will say that it is a good sized car for Europe’s narrow streets and tight parking spots. We were able to fit it almost anywhere, even considering it has a turning radius of an oil tanker. So after our 2 months with this car I returned it to the heartless car rental corporation and didn’t even look back – good riddance.
Final Score: A disappointing, but generous 2.2/5