“I Dreamed I Moved Among The Elysian Fields”

Have the car rental Gods smiled upon our Canary Island correspondent? 

All images by the author

When we make our annual January pilgrimage to Tenerife, I still enjoy a moment of childish excitement as we approach the airport car hire desk, wondering what prize the ‘or similar’ lottery will award us on this occasion. Usually it’s disappointingly familiar VW Group fare such as a Polo or Ibiza, but this time it was the exotically titled Citroën C-Elysée, a name so graceful and poetic that you have to admire the company’s sense of humour and/or irony in dreaming it up for such an apparently prosaic model.

The C-Elysée is, essentially, a B/C-segment saloon developed by PSA for emerging markets, but also sold in southern Europe. It uses an amalgam of previous generation Peugeot/Citroën hardware and is resolutely conventional, with transverse FWD, strut front and torsion beam rear suspension. With a different nose and tail, it’s also sold as the Peugeot 301.

My first acquaintance with the car is in darkness, so we load our cases into the boot and I settle into the driving seat. The controls are mainly simple and intuitive. It takes me a few moments to find the electric door mirror controls, to the left of the steering column, and the electric front window switches, inconveniently placed low down either side of the gear lever. The manual air-conditioning controls are the classic three rotary knobs, simple and hard to improve upon.

We launch ourselves onto the busy TF-1 motorway westwards and first driving impressions are positive: the car has light but quite accurate steering, the diesel engine is flexible and adequately powerful for a light car, weighing in at about a tonne. The gearchange is rubbery and imprecise, but the gate is wide so there’s little chance of selecting the wrong gear. It’s so wide that, when I first changed up to fifth, I punched my partner in the thigh (which serves him right for ‘manspreading’ in the narrow footwell).

The car cruises happily at 120kph with a combination of noticeable but not overly intrusive road, wind and engine noise. The suspension is quite soft, clearly set up for comfort, but sharp ridges or bumps unsettle it easily: the speed bumps we encountered leaving the airport had to be taken very slowly, otherwise there was quite a loud thump and lurch from the rear axle, amplified by the lack of a steel bulkhead behind the rear seats.

The front seats are supportive and comfortable, and remained so even on a later ninety minute drive the length of the island to the capital, Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Our undoubtedly hard used 99k km example still felt tightly screwed together, more so than some rather ‘baggy’ similar mileage Polos we had previously rented on the island.

I got my first proper look at the car the following morning as we headed for the supermarket to stock up. It looks quite smart, if anonymous, in metallic silver. Its stand-out feature is space: I’m just under 6′ (1.8m) tall and, with the driver’s seat correctly positioned, I still had a couple of inches (50mm) of both head and knee room to spare in the rear seat. It also has a truly enormous boot.

It’s so long that I almost had to climb in to retrieve some smaller items that had rolled forward as we drove home. The rear seat split backrests also fold forward, enlarging the available space further, albeit with a 60mm step in the elongated floor. There’s a deep well underneath the boot floor containing a full-size spare wheel, highly unusual these days.

The C-Elysée was clearly designed as a saloon, so is quite well proportioned, the big boot largely hidden under the sloping rear window. Happily, it avoids the Kardashian-esque rump that afflicts some hatchback designs modified to a saloon format. The only design detail that jars for me is the awkward looking upward deflection of the bodyside crease over the front wheel arch. The 301 does not have this detail and is the better looking of the siblings to my eyes.

Low cost and maximum utility were clearly foremost in the designers’ minds, and the car is none the worse for this. The gauge of the steel feels thin, an impression reinforced by the hollow sound of a closing door and lightness of the boot lid, which has no gas struts to give it an artificial feeling of heft. Instead, it has a simple pair of steel rods, attached at one end to the goose-neck hinge and at the other to the body. These act as torsion bars, assisting the opening. The lid stays up by the simple expedient of opening beyond its vertically balanced position, where it falls back towards the rear screen, a neat and cheap solution.

The door skins are single pressings incorporating thick window frames and the rear doors have a large plastic sail panel that avoids the need for a fixed quarter-light, yet still allows the glass to be (manually) lowered, albeit not fully. The thick frames and shallow side glass give the DLO an unusual “gun turret” appearance to my eyes, but this is not apparent from inside, where visibility is good. The only blind spot is caused by the high tail, which I blame for my ineptitude in nudging a bollard in a car park. The bollard was not damaged and, if the car was, it was impossible to tell as it already had so many minor battle scars from previous careless encounters (not that I was careless, dear me, no!)

The interior is, predictably, a sea of black under a sky of grey headlining and pillar trim panels. The plastics are all hard and hollow, with some inconsistent and unconvincing “leather” graining. The only relief in the lower darkness is a broad strip of slightly garish metallic-look plastic across the dashboard and, surprisingly, satin finished metal interior door pull handles.

Instrumentation is limited to a speedometer, tachometer and a very early-noughties looking orange dot-matrix display containing the fuel gauge and odometer. Another throwback is what appears to be a standard single DIN aperture for the FM radio/CD player, which looks and performs like a cheap aftermarket item, but isn’t. It apparently has Bluetooth connectivity, the effectiveness of which I didn’t bother to test.

Some might question the practicality of the saloon format, but the car is aimed at conservative emerging markets, where this format apparently still carries some prestige. The C-Elysée is surprisingly popular in Tenerife, and not just as a taxi. A hatchback version might have been considered, but wisely avoided*. However, I wonder if Citroën missed a trick by not offering an estate version, which would have been incredibly capacious? As it is, the saloon starts from a list price of €12.3k in Tenerife, which is terrific value for the C-segment level of space it provides.

Inevitably, one expects some rough edges on a car built down to a price, but I wasn’t expecting this to be taken quite so literally: exiting the car in a tight parking space, I caught my calf on the bottom trailing corner of the driver’s door and got a deep scratch that bled quite freely, if briefly! My wound was caused by a jagged edge where the outer door skin was folded inwards at the corner. It looked like a manufacturing defect, not the result of accident damage.

So, how would one sum up the C-Elysée? It’s by no means a fine car, but as a car, it’s fine, by which I mean it does exactly what it’s supposed to. It provides generous accommodation and perfectly adequate transport for a family on modest income, appears to be robust and is likely to be cheap and easy to maintain, even outside the dealer network.

More contentiously, is it a “real” Citroën? The answer to this depends very much on your frame of reference, for it’s certainly no technological or design masterpiece in the tradition of the DS, CX or even the GS. However, it bears comparison with the 2CV as an honest workhorse. It has none of the latter’s charm or personality and will never be remembered fondly, but the 2CV was not designed to be charming, but cheap, practical, roomy and robust, just like the C-Elysée, in fact.

Bear with me a moment while I find my tin hat…

* Especially considering Škoda’s experience with the Rapid Spaceback, a truncated version of the Liftback with less boot space, even than the smaller Fabia estate. Skoda initially tried to sell the Spaceback in the UK for an £1.1k premium over the Liftback. It’s rarity compared to the Liftback, a mini-cabber’s favourite, in our neck of the woods, shows the folly of that decision.

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

50 thoughts on ““I Dreamed I Moved Among The Elysian Fields””

  1. Hi Daniel,

    The Elysée (and the 301) never did anything for me. Usually I like those cheap alternatives built for far flung countries but these just looked too old school for me. I was about to write about its replacement the other day and post pictures of it and then thought otherwise. So here it is: the C3L. Not officially presented yet:

    1. Good morning NRJ. I wonder if that’s a Chinese market model? The ‘L’ might suggest so, as the Chinese really like the LWB versions of regular saloons. That said, it looks like an evolution of the C-Elysée, particularly the DLO.

      Here’s another view of it:

    2. Yes Daniel, for the Chinese market. It’s funny you say the DLO is reminiscent of the Elysee as I’ve made the same observation this morning. It’s based on the much talked about (mainly by me) C3 XR so it’s kind of a saloon SUV !
      They kept the same windows as the C3XR so it’s all a bit odd around that area (don’t look at the rear door shutline Daniel ! you’ll have nightmares)

    3. “….. a name so graceful and poetic that you have to admire the company’s sense of humour and/or irony in dreaming it up for such an apparently prosaic model.”

      I laughed at that 😀

      This is a good second opus Daniel, thank you for the article !

    4. Actually, all the Citröen models this morning have that distinctive C-pillar treatment you mention before as being reminiscent of this little beauty:

      What goes around comes around…

    5. From the side, that looks a bit like the Polestar 2 – just not so nice.

    6. Any excuse to post an image of the delectable SM, but, you’re right, NRJ, well spotted!

    7. Hi Daniel,

      Greetings from China! I’ve just stepped upon this wonderful website and found the discussion concerning the C3L really engaging~ Just want to add some latest info from a Chinese perspective.

      The C3L went on sale in June, costing from 84,900 to 105,900 RMB (9300~11,600 GBP). It is powered by a 1.2-3 cyl turbo found almost in all PSA products these days (85kW output in this case), mated to either a 6spd manual or a 6 spd DCT transmission.

      Sales are extremely poor on this one, as they only managed to ship 32 of these in July (class leaders tend to manage 20~30k!!!). Chinese consumers hate the look of this thing!

      As for the origin of this car, sources close to the Chinese joint venture company suggest it was originally intended for the Iranian market. However, as PSA suspended its joint venture activities in Iran due to the worsening political situation in 2018, the plan was probably scrapped. PSA then forced the half-baked project as a part of a deal with the Chinese joint venture company, DPCA, as they negotiate the introduction of the forthcoming 2021 C4L (saloon version of the newly released 2020 C4). In short, if DPCA wants to introduce the new C4L in China, it has to introduce the C3L with it. That’s how this car found its way to China.

      Ofc, these are all rumours among enthusiasts. So please don’t quote me on this one ~

      I hope you guys find this info interesting!

      Regards,
      Shawn

    8. Hello Shawn, and welcome to DTW! Thank you for your kind words, and for the interesting information on the C3L. It is certainly an unusual looking car, and I’m not surprised to hear that it is selling poorly in China.

      Please take some time to explore our archive. I hope you will find much to interest you there. I am looking forward to hearing more from a Chinese perspective in due course.

  2. I like this type of car – utterly unpretentious. It´s like a Chevrolet Epica or Suzuki Baleno.
    You could say that making it more of a design statement like the 2CV or Berlingo would even make it pretentious. That´s a hard circle to square.
    I could easily imagine this as a decent car from a no-name brand like Chevrolet or perhaps an honest-to-goodness car from Suzuki. It´s a pity that Citroen find themselves in the Dacia market like this. I don´t want to be dogmatic about brand values since that has been, in the end, a rather destructive concept. Yet Citroen might have tried a shade more with this. As ever, I want to know why they don´t offer a brougham version. It´d be pure profit.

    1. But d’you know what Daniel, I love it. Fell for it at first sight. Although there’s something clearly awkward about its appearance it’s one of those cars that fascinates me (forget Lamborghinis and Porsches, these cars are Why I like cars).
      Something about the fact that these type of cars look cobbled up, like they presented a huge challenge to the people working on it and this is the best result they could come up with. I like the big, obvious design faux-pas these cars are full of, it makes them interesting and dare I say, unique:)

    2. Just figured out how to post pictures in the comment section. Here are a few pictures of the C3L I shot at a local Citroen dealer.



    3. Well done, Shawn that’s a DTW riddle you’ve solved!

      If you want to post the images without the Imgur frame and logo visible, either “touch and hold” (app) or right-click (web version) on the uploaded image and choose “copy URL” (app) or “copy image address” (web version) then paste that into your comment.

      I’ll amend your images to remove the frames now.

  3. Were the door handles really made of metal ? I’am surprised because I think other, less utilitarian PSA products don’t even have that privilege.

    1. I was as surprised as you, NRJ, but they were cold to the touch and felt, well, metallic. I think they were aluminium, or an alloy of the same.

      We said goodbye to the C-Elysée this morning and are now back home. I must say it was an amiable companion for our three weeks on the island.

    2. I’am not sure Tenerife will ever recover from so much hotness Daniel. I mean, you driving in a C-Elysée must’ve been the highlight of so many Tenerifians (?) during this dreary month of January. Glad you enjoyed your hols and the car.

  4. Hi Daniel,

    I’m currently up the road from Tenerife in Fuerteventura. I’ve seen a few of these Citroëns (note the trema should be on the “e” and not the “o”) here, as well as lots of basic C3s (sans Airbumps) for rent.

    Last generation Renault Clios and Hyundai Konas are also popular here and it’s been great to see a couple of W124s still going strong, albeit inevitably as taxis. I’ve also had my first sightings of the new Corsa, which was a huge disappointment.

    1. Hi John. Thanks for the heads-up regarding the misplaced trema, a schoolboy error on my part, now corrected.

      There were lots of base level C3s in Tenerife too, mainly white. Good looking in a chunky way apart, of course, from the clumsy blacked-out A-pillars:

      They just about work with a contrasting black roof, but I wish Citroën would either design them in properly or just paint them body colour instead.

  5. The Elysée’s dashboard always reminded me vaguely of the DS3’s. And there’s a very good reason I now realise, it’s basically the DS3’s dashboard but dressed differently. PSA really has made very strange decisions at various points in its history: how could a premium supermini share a dashboard with such a low-cost car ?

    Elysée

    DS3

    1. Despite the overall impression, if you look at the detail it’s not the same at all, is it? Even the central air vents which look almost identical aren’t actually the same items. Which surely means that an own goal has been scored along the lines of the 106 vs. Saxo, where despite all superficial appearances the two were actually completely different.

    2. Hi Adrian,

      There’s still some details that are shared like the steering wheel and the basic layout looks the same: the air vents might look different but they’re placed at the same points. Same for the hazard light switch and the other button opposite it: they look different but the layout is the same. The glove-box since to be cut exactly the same way too and the plastic “skin” on both car’s dashboard seem to be there to hide the similarities.

      I know PSA is not the only group sharing components but I think they’re so ‘cheap’ sometimes that they hinder their chances to be taken seriously. I don’t think VW would’ve done the same with, say, an Audi A1 and a Chinese VW Jetta.

    3. I think the 3 round features for the AC etc… are also the same on both cars don’t you think ?

    4. Even the little wheel beside the central air vents is shared. Do you need any more proof Adrian ?

    5. They look different to me. If there is a “problem” it´s that the “base” is so high now that it can be hard to express extra value in supposedly higher up trims.
      By the way, has anyone seen the Peugeot 208 dashboard? It makes these two look like pictures of clarity. The touch-screen is the big offender. There are three different oblongs vying for attention and you´d imagine some inight into Gestalt Laws would have nudged the designers towards a closer visual similarity between the three shapes. It could not have been a good drawing to start with. I mean, a mess of shapes. If it ever was much of a drawing.

    6. Regarding the new 208 dashboard for me it’s the same story as the old i-cockpit, it’s headache inducing just to look at it: so.many.things.going.on. And the jury is still out there as to the benefits of the instrument binnacle being above the steering wheel. Some people hate it and others love it but those who “love” it tend to be Peugeot aficionados that would defend the marque no matter what. I drove the outgoing 2008 for a few months and the odd layout and small steering wheel didn’t bother me really but I suspect it’s more problematic for taller drivers. It’s exactly the same dashboard on the new 208 and on the new 2008.

  6. A truly comprehensive and well-written review of a rather forgettable vehicle.

    In most major conurbations, no doubt most people would buy a decent used car for that money instead of this dour penalty. But on an island with huge numbers of tourists and presumably low permanent population, the used market is no doubt small and flooded with worn-out old versions of cars like this flogged off at local auctions by car hire companies.

    Our name for this kind of car is “rental fodder”, and a boot means bigger (longer) than a hatch so more dollars per day with the skewed metrics of car sizing peculiar to the rental industry – I can’t remember your car segments, but a Corolla compact saloon rents as a mid-size here, the only beneficiary of their Trumpesque insistence on unreality being the rental companies themselves. Many people rent rarely, and after that cheap flight to Florida they find their reserved compact car is a Hyundai Accent, not an Elantra as any sane member of society would expect. A Polo for a Golf sort of thing. Leads to arguments. But I digress …

    1. Hi Bill,

      I think the fact that it’s also built in Spain has something to do with their prevalence there.

    2. There seems to me to be a sharper sense of class distinction in the US than over here in Euroland. Of course the magazines do refer to relative cheapness and economy design yet they do so without such a strong language. I wonder why this is. Is it like that in the UK? I can´t tell any more. I don´t think the car industry and car ownership here enjoys the same prestige. My stomach feeling is that for the most past most people are baldly indifferent to the car you drive. They´ll notice a very fancy car like an Aston or Porsche or Rolls; the rest are subsumed into a broad middle class. It might also be to do with Scandinavian egalitarianism. I saw three guys who I suspect were property developers standing on a corner inspecting a site in my area. On the corner was parked a four-door Porsche. The three guys looked to me rather pushy and brash and I think that the Porsche was only bought to impress their peers. It has no use in a place like Denmark with 120 kmph speed limits on the motorway. If such cars impress very few (and disgust many others) there´s no point in buying more than you need to get around comfortably. And these days a Focus, Astra or Golf is probably at least as comfortable as the S-class of 1995. That´s not faint praise – that´s a statement about how good “ordinary” cars are. I don´t think even Dacia sell a “penalty box”.

    3. Picking up on Richard’s point, a car like the C-Elysée makes enormous sense on an island like Tenerife, where even the longest drive is around 90 minutes and, off the motorway, many roads are narrow and twisting, following the contours of the rocky landscape. Parking in towns and villages is difficult and congested, and the vast majority of cars display the battle scars of close quarters manoeuvring. Why you would want to drive a large and/or expensive car in such an environment is beyond me. You might have noticed that our well scuffed and dinged rental car has a white door mirror capping in the first image above, presumably a “quick and dirty” fix after an accident.

      There was a nearly new metallic silver Renault Talisman parked on our road and it was already covered in many minor and not-so-minor scrapes. It even picked up a very noticeable injury during our stay. Madness!

    4. Daniel,

      You’d think a car called Talisman would be protected from that type of thing.

  7. The HDI version i drove felt hilariously fast considering it had 92 hp
    Its a fun little runaround IMO

  8. Thanks for this review, Daniel! It’s always good to read about a car from people who have actually used them in their daily life (well, not quite so, in your case), instead of just having driven a few laps on a course, courtesy of the car maker.
    What you write about it is probably about what I’d have expected: nothing to really get excited about, but a true down-to-earth vehicle with a few rough corners. I’m still no fan of the three-box design, but I can see how it can make sense. For me, it would have to be the estate, though.

  9. I was actually referring to Daniel’s comment on why they don’t offer an estate. That’s exactly the question I always ask myself… Reality? Unfortunately not.

  10. Now, hot off the presses, here’s a new twist in the C-Elysée tale.

    Apparently, PSA bought the rights to the (Hindustan) Ambassador name in 2017 and is considering launching a rebodied C-Elysée (which is manufactured in China as well as Spain) using this name, which is still hugely resonant in India, even if the Morris Oxford based original is no longer in production.

    Here’s a couple of speculative renderings:

    Thanks to Keith Adams at AROnline.co.uk for bringing us this story.

  11. A good and very thorough review of the C-Elysee/301.

    I’m afraid it didn’t underline enough the major USP of this car – it is the literally limo-like
    rear legroom. When I say limo-like, it is not an exaggeration. If we don’t count the Superb Mk1 which is premium product (and that was itself based on the LWB, Chinese-market version of the Passat), the contemporary automotive market has never seen such
    a legroom-endowed low-cost car as the C-Elysee/301.

    It is the comfiest B/C-segm. rear bench of all cars out there, even including the Logan’s, which is different ergonomically different: Logan rear seat occupants are seated much higher (thus offering a perfect thigh support and perhaps a better real-life comfort), but the Logan’s rear legroom is, while still opulent and cossetting, nowhere near
    as shockingly limo-like as the 301’s. They were obviously designed as a Taxi
    from the outset.

    Another surprise was the undisputable racing success of the C-Elysee (WTCC),
    which is probably a fruit of its long and narrow disposition. Having the combination
    of a very long wheelbase and a small aero cross-section has always been beneficial to tin-top racing (such as Audi’s current (TCR) RS3 Sedan – which shares its platform with
    the Skoda Rapid sedan).

    Besides, as a nod to aero-ambition, the C-Elysee/301’s DLO sides are inclined
    in a conventional fashion, and not box-upright, Panda-169-like
    as the Logan’s/Sandero’s, which offer the aerodynamic properties
    of a phone booth.

    Having talked to many Taxi companies about their fleet experience with the C-Elysee,
    it seems that they’re indeed rather robust in 250-300,000+ kms mileage conditions,
    which confirms the solid basis for Daniel’s impression about the car feeling decidedly robust. The Taxi noticed, however, one big design failure (probably caused by PSA
    using mix-and-match shelve-components as normal in low-cost cars) – and that’s
    the front shock-absorbers being self-destructing in as little as 30-40,000 kms on
    substandard quality paved roads. Apparently, the angle at which they are fitted
    (and the forces exerted by the properly Citroenesque wheelbase length) far exceed
    their 207-based dimensional/constructive sturdiness. Apart from changing the front struts every 3-4 months in “100,000+ km p.a.” Taxi usage, they have been supremely
    reliable, especially in the HDi iterations. (Certain HG issues are noticed on the 3-cyl
    1,2 petrol models, but it could be due to substandard LPG-conversions just as well…).

    In some trim levels, Peugeot offers(offered) the 301 with a light-coloured interior (and door cards!), which, coupled with the obscene rear legroom, makes for a unique, almost enviable interior ambiance (actually hard to fathom that it exists in a 11-12 K Euro priced car). What with the 301 being already a far rarer sight than the C-Elysee, those light-cream coloured 301s will probably be the collectable choice, as I have only ever seen
    two of those, so they must be rarer than a Citroen C3 VTR…

    1. One of the reasons I like DTW is the delight of reading this kind of enthusiastic and, as far as I can tell, unobtainable information. Where can I see a 301 with a light interior?

    2. Happy to oblige, Richard. Here’s the C-Elysée’s with a light upholstery option. Unfortunately, it doesn’t extend to the full door cards, just the armrests.

      It also gives you an impression of the excellent space Alex confirmed, particularly the rear legroom.

    3. Thank you – no rear centre arm-rest. That really does spoil it for me. I have a feeling the Nissan Can´t Recall It´s Name would be as good as this and it does have a rear centre arm-rest.

  12. Daniel, thank you for supplying photographs that I just could not manage to locate.

    What I had in mind, however, was the 301 in particular (not the C-elysee), was offered in a totally light-cream coloured interior,
    including the lower parts of the door cards and the lower dashboard.
    To the best of my knowledge, they did not offer the light-coloured door-cards/lower dash on the Citroen-badged cars, only on the 301
    (which are discontinued and therefore doomed to become
    rare anyway, especially said higher-end trim versions).

    Richard, if we agree that the ‘handwriting’ all over the 301/C-Elysee is such that they wanted to mimick 90% of what Renault did with the Logan, then a centre armrest would probably be hard to justify.
    These are a truly low-cost exercise and a rear bench armrest
    is probably way out of the “low-cost spirit”.

  13. Hi Daniel, I’ve only heard bad things about the car, but you say the seats are supportive and comfortable? Like in an ordinary Citroen kind of way or..? They look like something of early 2000’s car and hard? I’m probably gettting one in Greece which I’m not very fond of. But reading this I feel it may not be so bad.

    1. Hi Jonas, and thanks for dropping by DTW. I probably moderated my expectations, knowing that it was a cheap car, but neither my partner nor I suffered any discomfort in the 90 or so minutes it took us to drive from one end of Tenerife to the other. I’ve certainly been in less comfortable cars. The island’s main roads are all relatively new and smooth. How it would cope on more rutted or uneven surfaces is another matter, however. I hope it proves acceptable for you.

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