The C2 VTR looks fun, too. That down-dipping rear side window surely breaks every known design rule, but somehow it works: the look is strangely, engagingly mechanical, as though the whole body is a big piece of naked engineering. Other visual knick-knacks? The front edges of the doors are cut back to follow the contour of those amply flared front wheelarches, emphasising the brevity of the rounded nose, and the abbreviated, upright tail contains a two-part split tailgate like... well, like an old Austin A40 Countryman.
What you want to know, of course, is if the C2 VTR is the chuckable, throttle-steerable, bundle of biddability that the Saxo VTR and VTS have been. Those Saxos, and their Peugeot 106 GTI cousins, are possibly the last vestiges of the instant, share-your-thoughts, test-your-skill interactivity best portrayed by the old 205 GTI. Currently the only other low-cost, easily-insurable warm hatchback with such a spirit is Ford's new Sportka, unless you count a Mini Cooper. It's the obvious way to make a small car fun, but litigation-wary carmakers no longer like to trust the inexperienced end of the buying public with anything more demanding of skills than stamping on a brake pedal.
The C2 VTR - there's no VTS version in the immediate plan - has 110bhp available from its 1.6-litre, 16-valve engine, and two key sensation-definers. The first (subtle) is a torsion-beam rear axle in place of pure trailing arms: cheaper (rubber bushes cost less than needle rollers), quieter (easier to insulate from road noise) but bound to soften the focus. The second (in yer face) is a no-choice Sensodrive sequential five-speed transmission, a robotised manual with fixed Ferrari F1-like paddles and no clutch pedal. Change gear like an F1 driver, get smooth downshifts without having to do any of that tiresome throttle-blipping and heeling-and-toeing, thrill to the future. It's standard, like it or lump it.
Inside, the C2 does drop strong hints of imminent good times. The facia is a dark-plastic version of the C3's, the car on whose platform, suitably shortened, the C2 sits. The seats' bolsters are in a bright colour repeated on the door trim pads, the gear-selector lever and door-pulls are in translucent plastic, the two rear seats are individual, foldable and slideable. That leaves quite a gap around the vestigial rear shelf, the worse for road noise. The tailgate's plastic lower half, strong enough to sit on, itself opens up into a storage box; less clever are the rearmost front door pockets, ludicrously slim and liable to take possession of any mobile phone unwisely dropped within.
Straight off, the VTR feels taut, keen, squirty: its ride height is lower than a lesser C2's, tyres are fatter (195/45 R16), springs, dampers and anti-roll bars are stiffer. But we're into virtual feedback here. The electric power steering, crisp and proportional at speed, feels oddly slow-witted at lower speeds and swamped by the flywheel effect of its motor.
Now we're diving into a roundabout, accelerating hard (lots of traction, little understeer), then backing off. And... yes, here comes a little bit of tail-out. Not instant, not calling for flick-wrist correction and a dab back on the throttle, just enough throttle-off oversteer to tell you it can do it, since you asked. The VTR doesn't dance through directional changes like the Saxo did; it's too delayed-action, too yaw-damped to do that. Pity. But it's still quite fun, in a planted, wide-tracked, firm-riding way.
And the transmission? Try as you might, you cannot get an upshift that's both quick and totally smooth. There's always a meaningful pause or a surge or a slurringly slipped clutch. Downshifts are fine, but if you're into tidy, smooth, well-modulated gearchanging you will rail against its inability to do the job as well as you can. Even the claimed 0-62mph time suffers, mainly through the inability to perform a banzai launch.
After the VTR, I drove a 70bhp C2 turbodiesel, all smoothness and civility. It had a manual gearbox. And it was joyous, transmission-wise at least.
So please, Citroen, can we have a manual C2 VTR? Otherwise we'll just have to point people into a Sportka instead.