Citroen India has been cautious with its product plans for this market and frugal in its expectations. Its first made-for-India vehicle — the C3, has barely been in the market for six months. And even though it may be early days to predict the future performance of this B-segment-sized hatch, it would be safe to say that it is unlikely to rock the boat of its competitors. Yet the story of the C3 has only just begun; its next chapter is electric, and the script was written by Citroen even as the petrol version was being planned.
The ‘eC3’ is a BEV on the C3 platform and it will be Citroen’s next offering for Indian car buyers. It is certainly the right time to go electric, what with so much happening already and more waiting in the wings. But will an electric clone alongside its petrol sibling be the right strategy? Maybe Citroen wouldn’t care which of the two sells more. With the C3 and its conservative trim strategy, Citroen indicated that it is keen on a bottom-up strategy, with a clear focus on keeping the vehicle affordable. It does look like the same strategy will be adopted for the eC3 too. Last week I headed out to the WABCO Proving Grounds just outside Chennai to experience first-hand the eC3 and what it has to offer. Here are my first impressions.
The eC3 is nearly identical to the petrol C3 in every aspect of design. It would be very hard to tell them apart if you were to stand next to them. The lid to access the charging port at the front right panel and the ‘e’ badge are the only giveaways. The LED headlamps with their X-shaped light signature and the Citroen chevron grille are identical to the petrol sibling. In fact, the solid bonnet grille trend we’ve seen with other EVs is not something that Citroen has adopted. At the rear too, there is little to distinguish the eC3 from the petrol version. The eC3 badge on the tailgate and some minor colour scheme variations are the only differences. The one change that would not have been appreciated by buyers is the battery pack of the eC3 compromising the amount of space available in the boot. Thankfully, the boot continues to offer 315-litres of luggage space and a spare wheel too (same as C3).
Stepping into the cabin of the eC3 leads to a similar sense of “DeJa’Vu”. The only obvious difference with the petrol sibling is the absence of the gear shift stick. In its place is a simple small selector lever (Citroen calls it the ‘e-toggle’) that allows the driver to go from Reverse to Neutral to Drive. The eC3’s cabin also gets a 26cm touchscreen infotainment display with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. One more differentiator for this electric version is the MyCitroen Connect app which can be used to access 35 connected car features, including geo-fencing, one-click SOS alert, intrusion alert and charging station location. These connected car features should make it to the petrol C3 too soon. The eC3’s dashboard, centre stack and other controls for the manual aircon etc. are identical to the C3. In fact, some of these are a bit too similar like the stalked, manually adjustable door mirrors and the physical ignition key that one still needs to slot into the steering column and turn for getting the e-powertrain into standby mode (no push-button start).
The materials used for the cabin’s trim elements and accents are the same as in the C3, which then means a mix of interestingly designed bits with decent quality finish and a bunch of hard plastic parts that are average in build. The eC3’s seats are comfy, just like in the ICE version, and there is a decent amount of space in the cabin even for rear passengers, even though the floor has had to be raised by almost three inches to accommodate the battery pack under the floor. The seat hinges haven’t changed, so that does lead to a bit of a knees-up sitting posture. The ground clearance has also reduced by about 10mm due to the battery pack, though it is still 170mm.
The eC3’s battery pack is a 29.2kwH lithium-ion unit housed under the floor. The battery doesn’t get active liquid cooling, instead it is air cooled. There is a misconception that Li-ion batteries mandatorily need liquid cooling; it is only so when the recharge and discharge cycles are fast. So, if the performance demands on the battery pack are heavy and if DC fast-charging at 25kW or above is attempted then the internal heat generation will need liquid cooling. Same reason why DC fast charging stations themselves sport liquid cooling within the charging tower. Citroen engineers claim that the eC3 has been pushed to the extremes with its air-cooled system being tested heavily, including in a kiln with ambient temperature conditions exceeding 65°C.
The eC3’s performance has also been calibrated to deliver only a measured, very limited performance. There is no Sport mode, only Normal and Eco, top speed is restricted to 107kmph, and throttle response has been dulled probably to ensure that the battery stays protected without the need for an expensive cooling system. There are no selectable regenerative braking modes too; with the only mild variation between the two drive modes being the difference. Regen braking is also constant irrespective of the state of charge (SOC). The only downside to this BMS strategy (battery management system) is that the charging cycles are likely to be long — ten-and-half hours via a wall-socket and about an hour for a 10-80 per cent charge via a 7.2kW DC fast charger.
The electric motor is a permanent magnet synchronous unit that delivers 57PS of peak power and 143Nm of torque, which makes this Citroen’s output more than the Tata Tiago.ev long range. Yet, it is slower to the 60kmph mark at 6.8 seconds, compared to the Tiago.ev’s 5.7 seconds. The eC3’s performance also seems to taper off steeply once it crosses the 60kmph mark. The ride quality in this electric Citroen seems to be fairly sorted, though I can’t say how it might be on bad roads and broken tarmac. I only spent about an hour driving it on the smooth, well-laid tarmac of the WABCO track. in terms of handling, the generic advantages of an electric with the lower weight distribution and lower CG do the eC3 too, with improved cornering stability. The cabin is quiet and very typical of an electric vehicle, though that does mean that one gets to hear more of the other sounds including wind noise.
From all of the eC3’s features, Citroen’s intent is clear — it is looking at a sort of commuter positioning for the eC3 and not a performance-focused one. That is a good enough strategy to adopt given the direction in which e-mobility is headed. For now, most EV buyers are second car buyers, who are either looking to join the green brigade or want to leverage the lower ownership costs of an electric. So, a e-commuter in the garage could well be a saleable option. But, EV buyers are typically tech-savvy and appreciate more feature-laden cabins. That could be a problem with Citroen’s planned variant strategy of only two trims — Live and Feel, for the eC3 too (similar to the C3). In the absence of other ways to tempt buyers, Citroen has to take the fight to competitors with an aggressive pricing strategy. I expect prices to range between ₹8 lakh to ₹12 lakh. Official launch and price announcement will be in the second week of February this year.