Review and road test of the Citroen C-ZERO (2010 - 2020)
By Jonathan Crouch
Citroen's C-ZERO was one of the very earliest full-electric small cars, launched back in 2010 and sold over ten years until more sophisticated full-electric battery small hatches arrived on the market. The C-ZERO might not be the most adventurous all-electric vehicle you've ever seen, but it's an affordable and potentially sensible choice if all you need a little BEV model for is very short hops. You'll need to buy very carefully though.
5dr Supermini (BEV [47,64,67KW])
Zero. Zilch. Nothing. When it comes to the future of fuelling our cars, that's the figure we're all aiming at. A pipe dream? Maybe not, according at least to Citroen back in 2010 when they first introduced this car, the all-electric C-ZERO. For over seventy years, the French brand has been one of the pioneering forces behind the development of automotive electric power, a period in which, prior to the launch of this BEV, they had sold over 10,000 battery-powered vehicles. It was only following the turn of the century however, that the lithium-ion battery technology we've all benefitted from in our laptops and mobile 'phones was able to open up the possibility of such cars becoming a realistic alternative to conventional petrol or diesel models. Which enabled Citroen, working alongside Mitsubishi and its PSA group partner Peugeot, to bring this C-ZERO model to market.
We're talking here about a proper car, not a safety legislation-dodging 'quadricycle' like some of the less savoury electric vehicles that appeared on the market in the early Noughties. A little family runabout you could use every day, almost without noticing it ran on battery power. That's something that in the 21st Century's first decade, almost every major car maker talked about but Citroen was one of the very few who actually got on and brought such a thing to market. This C-ZERO model was part of a joint development programme which also bought us Mitsubishi's MiEV and Peugeot's iON, all essentially based on the same design. The C-ZERO started out in 47KW form, but was later upgraded with a 64 or 67KW powerplant. It sold until 2020. So how does it stack up as a used buy? Let's find out.
What You Get
This C-ZERO certainly won't put off any prospective buyers with its very conventional looks. It's clearly a little sub-supermini citycar, if a rather high-sided one. At 3.5m in length, it's more akin to Citroen's C1 in size than the company's C3 supermini, though the 1.6m height makes it feel pretty big inside. If you find that high-sided look very Japanese, you're absolutely right. This is essentially a Mitsubishi, Citroen and their PSA group partners Peugeot having turned to the Oriental brand for help in sharing the massive development costs of this car. The Japanese maker was looking for development shortcuts too, basing this model on its Mitsubishi i, a conventionally powered city runabout with a design dating back to before 2007.
Having to base this thing on a little citycar wasn't ideal for Citroen. Whereas in this era, rivals Nissan could point to a relatively small price gap between a top-spec diesel Focus-sized family hatchback and their comparably-sized all-electric LEAF model, the French maker acknowledged that there was a yawning price differential between the cost of an urban runabout like their C1 and this C-ZERO. But they did point out that within the confines of its compact dimensions, this car offers a surprising amount of space inside. True enough, it does feel surprisingly airy inside. Certainly the cabin is narrow as it has to be given that the car is under 1.6m wide but unless you're trying to transport a trio of rugby players, you shouldn't feel it too much.
At the wheel where you sit rather higher than some drivers might like, you shouldn't expect especially high standards of fit and finish. Still, the Japanese production line screwed everything together pretty well and ergonomically, the layout is sound, with excellent all-round visibility. Taking a seat here for the first time, the only clue most would have that this was not conventional petrol powered citycar would be the fact that the dash displays a petrol pump with, somewhat oddly, an electric plug hanging out of it. Is that better or worse than using a mobile phone when topping up? We're not sure.
As for rear seat room, well thanks to the fact that the propulsion system is very compact and the underfloor batteries don't impinge too much on cabin space, there's enough space for two adults - or even three children - to feel quite comfortable on the kind of short to medium journeys this car will be making. Boot space is pretty limited though, with just 166-litres below the parcel shelf. Of course though, if you're not using the back seat, you can push forward the 50/50 split-folding rear seats to free up much more space.
What to Look For
Make sure the battery on your C-ZERO hasn't been severely depleted; the car may have been sitting on a dealer lot (or someone's drive) for months with flat charge before being jumped into life for your visit. The manual says you should ensure a full charge every 15 days, so it must be important. As part of ownership, Chademo rapid charging is fine so long as you don't over heat the car such as repeated use on long road trips. Don't leave the battery at 100% for any longer than absolutely necessary. As for tyre pressures, well make sure they're on the dot as under-inflation, even by a couple psi, can make a big difference to range. The radio and phone/satnav will make no difference to that range, nor will use of the wipers or rear-screen demister - or even the lights. Use of the heating though, will make a huge dent in range capability; in winter, it could knock off 15 to 20 miles off if you want a warm car. Buy some good warm driving gloves for the winter and get into the habit of keeping your coat on when driving..
Speed will also make a huge difference to range. Try and keep the power needle as far left as possible while driving - ideally to the left of the text of the word "Eco" on the power dial as much as possible and passing the "o" of "Eco" only when you're in danger of getting too slow. Also, don't fall into the trap of thinking you can blast the speed and then gain it all back in regenerating brake energy harvesting - you will get back no more than about half of what you used to speed up by regenerating. When possible, drive at 50mph or slower, but don't significantly hold up the flow of traffic as you will be causing a danger and giving EVs a bad name. When you have spare charge though (on short trips) do use it as it can be fun!
(approx based on a 2017 C-ZERO 67KW excl. VAT) A pair of front brake pads are around £38 depending on brand. A pair of front brake discs are around £130. Wiper blades sit in the £3-£13 bracket.
On the Road
You tend to approach a drive in an electric car expecting a futuristic driving experience - which this Citroen is very careful not to provide wherever possible. The idea here was to create something able to make the transition from an ordinary petrol or diesel-powered small car as easy and unfrightening as possible. So you get in and find a conventional cabin with drive marshalled by an ordinary auto gear selector. Ahead of you are equally conventional dials - or so it appears at first glance. Peer a little closer and in actual fact you'll find that what looks like a fuel gauge actually denotes your remaining battery charge. Which isn't much help unless you know just how far said charge might take you. For that, you've to scroll through the options on the LCD circular display that sits the other side of the digital speedo until you find that displaying driving range.
Citroen reckon that the figure you'll need to see displayed here won't need to be too big since apparently, the average urban journey is no more than 23 miles. So let's assume that you're charged up and ready to go. There's a conventional ignition key to fit into the conventional ignition, but there's nothing ordinary about the silence greeting you when you twist it. Or about the way that this car shoots away from rest. It doesn't do so quite as quickly as its design stablemate, Mitsubishi's MiEV, but that's because this C-ZERO uses a simpler, more frugally-orientated auto gearbox. Use the first portion of throttle travel and this Citroen will be in Eco mode. Give it a firmer prod and it surrenders the remaining part of the useful 180Nm of torque on offer. Despite this, from 0-30mph, this car really does feel quite rapid, but progress slows as the revs rise, culminating in a 0-60mph of around 16s time that's no better - but certainly no worse - than a conventional rival petrol citycar.
Get fully up to speed and there's an academic top speed of 80mph, with enough overtaking punch to get from 37 to 56mph in about six seconds, but approach either of those figures on any kind of regular basis and you'll find the figure on your range indicator dropping like a stone. And this, we'd suggest, is a read-out you're going to be staring at rather a lot since it'll determine exactly how and when you're going to be able to use this C-ZERO. Citroen always claimed that from fully charged, this car would have a NEDC range of up to 93 miles, a figure which appears to have been calculated on the basis of someone motoring very slowly indeed. We certainly never saw anything like that amount of projected mileage on this indicator our time with this car, but that's because the computer driving the read-out bases its calculations on previous use, artificially lowering a range figure you can then extend by driving carefully.
Unlike Nissan, Citroen doesn't provide a useful sat nav system which when you're out and about would guide you to your nearest charging point, so you're going to have to be organised on this before you set off. Which shouldn't be a problem. A quick scan on the internet at sites like www.ev-network.org.uk can quickly bring you up to speed. An even better site we've found is on www.nextgreencar.com where there's a map that not only shows charging points around the UK but designates the different types.
When you've to get your car on charge, you'll find that connecting everything up is mess and hassle-free. The C-ZERO has two charging flaps, one on each side. One is for a 'rapid' charging lead for those times when you're fortunate enough to find a 'rapid' charger. Most of the time though, you're going to be plugging in at home or out-and-about to a 'fast' (or possibly 'slow') charging point, so you'll be using the flap on the other side of the car. It releases just like a petrol flap so you can plug in.
Like its other EV rivals, this one's synchronous electric motor (47kW on earlier models, up to 67KW on later ones) makes no noise whatsoever, which in itself can be a bit of a menace to dozy pedestrians or the partially sighted who aren't alerted to its presence as they would be by the artificial noise created for safety purposes by a rival Nissan LEAF. So you'll need to have your wits about you when inching your way down congested city streets or manoeuvring about carparks. Here, the compact dimensions and impressively tight 9m turning circle are both a boon, as is the finger-light power steering.
Leave the city limits though, and that same lightness at the helm is less welcome but handling is much better than the tall stance and skinny tyres lead you to expect. This is due to well controlled body roll thanks to the fact that the heavy 88-cell battery pack has been strategically located underneath the centre of the vehicle to give a low centre of gravity and balanced stability. Heavy side winds and the turbulent wake from enormous HGVs can upset things a bit though. But one of the most abiding feelings you take away with you after a drive in this car is that of how little you have to use the brakes. Approach a corner, a junction or a roundabout and the regenerative braking does most of the slowing down for you, replenishing battery energy as it does so. Such is the cleverness of BEV technology.
No, of course this C-ZERO won't be for everyone. Those without a garage or with regular long distances to travel will join single-car families in dismissing this Citroen out of hand. But that still leaves plenty of people for whom this might be an ideal second or third car for cost-effective day-to-day use.
Cost-effective? Take into account all the savings this car could bring you and yes, you may even end up believing so. And if you can make a financial case for buying one, then you'll find the rest of the ownership package as painless as it's possible to be. Zero tailpipe emissions are only the start of a motoring experience offering a very real glimpse into a greener, more economic future of automotive ownership.
Citroen C-ZERO (2010 - 2020) review by Jonathan Crouch