Whatever badge you’ll find on the front, the Volkswagen Group’s smallest car is the leading light of the city car sector. Critics love it, whether it’s the good value SEAT Mii, the good quality Volkswagen Up or the blend of both in Skoda’s Citigo.
Some city cars have developed a reputation for being bought by the elderly or as Motability vehicles due to the low purchase cost, and this usually necessitates an automatic gearbox – something useful in stop-start city traffic. Fortunately, the Volkswagen parts bank has this covered with the ASG automated manual and we’ve been testing the Citigo out with this clutchless option.
With city cars there’s a certain amount of managing your expectations when it comes to how it looks. They’re all governed by the same handful of principles, requiring a small box for the engine and a bigger box for the people – the ideal is to make it as big on the inside and as dinky as it can be on the outside. In the absence of Stephen Hawking’s capabilities of folding dimensions in on themselves, this leaves you with a part-glass cuboid just about every time.
There’s not a great deal of excitement in the Citigo’s shape, and it’s worth noting that the Citigo and its cheaper sibling the Mii have a body-coloured section of bootlid, whereas it’s glass on the more expensive Up.
At the front though, the Citigo loses out to the Up, where the simpler lines of the Volkswagen look ever so slightly cooler than Skoda’s attempt to graft their current corporate fascia onto the diminutive city car. It ends up looking like Ned Flanders‘ moustache – though at least this may make it the unofficial car of Movember!
This Elegance range-topping model adds front foglights, body coloured mirrors and 14-inch alloys to round off the design and it’s probably not until you see the car side-by-side with the entry level “S” that you’ll realise just how much they add to the car’s overall kerb appeal. The SE probably offers the best of both for a little less cash. You can even get a – slightly incongruous – racing stripe is available as an option.
It’s a lesson in simplicity in here. There are no bells or whistles, no button-festooned steering wheel and no big colour screens. You get old school rotary heater dials, a stereo with a monochrome LCD display – black on green and very 80s calculator, some useful cubbies and a speedo.
Of course this is 2014, so there are nods to present day must haves. The Elegance model tested here comes with heated front seats and a “Portable Infotainment Device” – essentially an integrated Garmin sat-nav with media player, Bluetooth and trip computer that you can remove from its socket in the centre console.
The 251 litre boot is big enough for the weekly family shop – though you may need to stack two deep – and it’ll open out to 951 litres if you fold down the rear seats. This is only marginally useful as there’s quite a step between the boot floor and the folded seat backs, so if you’ve got larger things to transport we’d just plonk them on the back seat and use the belts to restrain them.
Passengers need not worry either – there’s plenty of space for people, with 950mm of rear headroom and more than 650mm of shoulder-room each even in the back. A city car it may be, but it’s one that can reasonably be used as an only car.
Surprisingly this is where the Citigo – at least this particular Citigo – lets itself down. It’s not because of any lack of dynamism, mind. The Skoda is as happy to settle into a long and pretty settled cruise as it is darting about hither and thither. There’s a little lolling about if you’re trying to fling yourself cross country, but nothing to discourage you from enthusiastic driving.
Our caution is not due to the city manners either. The controls are all light and positive, visibility is great and the suspension soaks up most of the worst that rarely-resurfaced urban streets can throw at it.
In fact the disappointment all comes from that stick in the middle. The ASG transmission is really very dull-witted and ponderous, with the sluggishness of the upshifts only being matched by the eagerness to shift down when needed – 70lb ft of torque is not sufficient to hold 30mph in 5th, but it picks it anyway. You can ameliorate the effects by anticipating the gear change and backing off the accelerator – just as you’d do with a manual gearbox – but they seemingly come at random. It’s best to pin the throttle down to encourage it to hold the gears until you reach your desired speed.
You can always slide the stick over and choose your own ratios manually, but this doesn’t cure the age it takes to disengage one gear and pick up the next. Manouevring is also a little more difficult than it ought to be as the car doesn’t creep when the brake is released like a normal automatic. You’ll need to bring the engine speed up a bit and this can make parking a somewhat jerky affair.
All engine options on the Citigo are versions of the 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine, with either 59hp or 74hp – both offering 70lb ft of torque. Both are available with the auto and either is enough to move the Citigo about with a bit of vigour at low speeds but, on motorways, you’ll want the more powerful option like the model we had on test.
Paired to the ASG, the engines offer slightly worse fuel economy and emissions, with this model incurring £20 road tax – all the manual cars are currently rated low enough to qualify for free road tax. Combined fuel economy is a claimed 62.8mpg – it’s difficult to say how close we got to this figure as, despite driving it around for a week, we didn’t really make a dent in the fuel gauge. Given that the tank is only 35 litres, this at least hints at a decent return.
Value for Money
As an overall package, the Citigo is pretty sharp when it comes to value, but with the Elegance model tested it’s a case of looking at what you don’t need to get better value in a lower trim. It’s nice to have the big-car toys in such a little package, but they’ll cost you.
In fact, the car we drove weighs in at £11,477, thanks to the Elegance trim, additional Safety Pack, Entertainment Pack and the panoramic sunroof – not to mention the £595 automatic gearbox. While it’s all very civilised, we’d be tempted to drop all of them and shuffle down to the SE trim, with the infotainment box ticked. You’ll probably miss the electric front windows but, for a two grand saving and the better fuel efficiency and the driving experience of the manual model, it’s worth it.
Everyone loves the Citigo and it’s easy to see why. It’s an eager and charming little thing that, despite the credentials as a tiny box for urban driving, works well pretty much anywhere and can be used as a family car even with older kids. The Elegance range-topper we had might be a bit too expensive for most buyers, but it at least comes with everything you could want along with everything you need.
What it doesn’t need is the automatic gearbox. Unless it’s an absolute necessity for you – it’s worth avoiding. If you need an automatic, you’d be much better off looking at the Hyundai i10 or Kia Picanto which come with a more traditional style automatic. This is a bit of a shame – the manual Citigo is a much better car.