What’s this obsession with four cylinders? I know, most car manufacturers have tended to use the foursome as a minimum for reasons of refinement and efficiency.

True, using two or three cylinders can save petrol but the engine tends to rattle and clatter like a lawn mower. But with the price of petrol sky rocketing (it never comes down quite as easily as it goes up, you may have noticed), motor boffins have scratched their heads in a search for more efficiencies.

I drove a Fiat a couple of weeks ago with two cylinders and, while it did rattle a little compared to many of today’s smooth petrol and diesel models, it didn’t half move well. So, taking a delivery of a three-cylinder Citroen was hardly a surprise. Everyone is looking for ways to give their cars an edge over the opposition. This three-cylinder beast is the Citroen C3. The original C3, having being launched in 1992, is a model I know well. My late wife went out clothes shopping alone one day and came back to announce she’d just bought a new C3, like you do!

I was astonished. With a motoring journalist hubby, wouldn’t you think she’d have taken me to help her buy?

Well, in a way I did. My affection for a C3 I’d tested a few weeks earlier had rubbed off on her and the C3 was a much-loved family car, renowned for its space, reliability and oomph.

Yes, a C3 with oomph. It was too tall to corner well but it was smart, well-built and even better priced. New C3 (we’re now onto the second generation C3) and it still looks surprisingly good. It’s a bigger car than you would expect and still a smart-looker. Citroen, always with a penchant for being different, have kept the C3 looking pretty fresh.

With the advent of DS models to appeal to MINI-inspired younger motorists, there was a fear that other Citroens may be left to be dull.

Don’t worry: Citroen’s design philosophy is alive and well.

So, how does the C3 measure up? Launched earlier this year, the new C3 aims to build on the success of the previous versions which notched up three million sales. Three three-cylinder engine, which somehow puts out 15 per cent extra power but uses 25 per cent less fuel than the four-cylinder units they replace, is the key to the new C3.

The car has a sharper style, a revised nose and fresh tail, but it still looks like a C3, which Citroen fans will like. The cabin, not the old model’s strongest point, has been refreshed which is good. MINI, Audi A1 and Vauxhall Adam’s influence in this respect is good.

And while the new model is slightly bigger, it’s still a fine city car and has a very tight turning circle for ease of parking. There is even the option of a parking camera, though why you would need one in this class of car is beyond me.

New C3 has a Zenith window – a windscreen which reaches high into the roof to create a lighter, brighter cabin. It’s something which worked in people-carrier Citroens and it’s just as valid here.

The biggest improvement is with the ride and handling.

It’s not quite in MINI’s class with go-kart stability, but it is much more fun to drive. New C3 can be powered by Citroen’s new-generation PureTech 3-cylinder petrol engines with a 1.0 or 1.2-litre capacity. Tested here is the 1.2 and it’s very willing. Lively and responsive to drive, but fuel and CO2 efficient, some 52 patents were filed in the development of the new engines to help bring down weight and bulk, optimise combustion and reduce friction with the aim of improving fuel and CO2 efficiency by around 25 per cent. C3 is also available with a choice of four diesel engines – HDi 70, e-HDi 70, HDi 90 and e-HDi 115.

Citroen C3 VTR Plus VTi manual PRICE: £12,940. Test car had pearlescent paint (£630) and Panoramic windscreen (£300) ENGINE: A 1,199cc, three-cylinder unit generating 82bhp via five-speed gearbox PERFORMANCE: Top speed 108mph and 0 to 60mph in 12.3 seconds INSURANCE: Group 12E EMISSIONS: 107g/km WARRANTY: Three years, 60,000 miles