I recently paid $904.61 in order to spend a week behind the wheel of the worst car I've ever driven. It was a highly interesting experience, and I'd surely do it again, provided that my only alternate form of transportation involves getting dragged around for a while by an angry gorilla.
Yes, folks, that's right: I'm reviewing my European rental car. The last time I went to Europe, I also wrote a review of my rental car, and nobody really read it. But I'm trying again, because this time I think I can captivate you. I can excite you. I can really draw you in. Plus, I can deduct it all from my taxes.
The primary reason nobody bothered with the old review, I suspect, is that the car I drove was slow, boring, and gray. Unfortunately, my latest rental car was even more slow, and even more boring, though to be fair it's roughly the same amount of gray. So I've decided to employ some extra special journalistic touches to keep you interested, starting with the following highly informative "Q & A" session:
Q: Is the Citroen C-Elysee the worst car you've ever driven?
Now that we have that out of the way, it's time to get a little background on the C-Elysee. Unfortunately, I have absolutely no idea what that background is. Wikipedia says this car was designed in China and built in Spain, though my particular rental carried a French VIN number. The whole thing is very confusing, which probably explains why Hertz stuck it in the "Volkswagen Golf or similar" rental class, instead of a more appropriate segment, such as "Wheeled Hand Cart or similar."
Whatever the case, Wikipedia is certainly right about one thing: this car was designed for, I believe the politically correct term is, "emerging markets." What this really means is "people with low standards." Or maybe even "people who dump out their trash in rivers." Put another way, the C-Elysee is so depressingly mediocre that it isn't even offered in Citroen's home market of France. Yes, folks: this is a French car so bad that even the French don't want it.
So why is it so bad?, you're wondering. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WHY IS IT SO BAD?!
To help explain, we'll start in a place where the designers clearly didn't: the engine. Although Citroen claims my C-Elysee was powered by a 92-horsepower 1.6-liter turbodiesel, I beg to differ. I think it was powered by whatever keeps my iPhone running, except maybe slightly detuned so things don't get really out of hand. Seriously: I've had 1:18 scale models with more juice than this thing.
Now, I know what you're thinking, and that is: Oh, look! The guy with the sports car thinks a small European diesel car is too slow! What a surprise! But let's not forget I recently owned a Nissan Cube, which boasts 120 horsepower and the acceleration of patio furniture. The C-Elysee lives in a whole different world of slow, a world where you sometimes pull away from a stoplight and look down at the gear lever, convinced you've accidentally started in third.
To prove my point, I bring up one especially memorable occasion, while attempting to drive up a steep hill in Italy, when the car simply ran out of power. Foot on the floor, lowest gear possible, the thing was rolling backwards like a teen driver practicing hill starts in her brother's 1997 Civic coupe. We eventually had to park the car at the bottom of the hill and climb up the old-fashioned way: dragged by an angry gorilla.
If the engine was bad (and it was), then the styling was worse. I have never, at any point in my life, seen a blander, duller, more boring car than this thing. Seriously: there wasn't one unique line on the entire vehicle, except for the little cut in the hood where they install the surprisingly large Citroen badge, presumably designed to constantly remind people of the mistake they've made. Apparently recognizing the dull styling, Citroen installed a feature where the hazard lights blink incredibly fast, like strobe lights at a nightclub, for about 10 seconds whenever you press the remote. Click! Blink blink blink blink blink blink blink. "Oh. That's what our car looks like?"
But the absolute worst part of the car is its ergonomics. Yes, we can discuss the fact that it features power windows in front and crank windows in back. We can talk about the center air vents, which only had one "open/close" slider, even though there were two vents. We can mention the "steering wheel" stereo controls, which are actually mounted on a stalk located completely out of sight, directly behind the steering wheel. But nothing comes close to the stereo.
A note to all automakers: when you make a stereo in a car, the huge, central knob should control only one thing: volume. There are no exceptions to this. The knob should control volume, it should only control volume, and it shouldn't be allowed to control anything besides volume. Any employee suggesting the knob's function be changed to anything but volume should have his company car immediately revoked and replaced with a Citroen C-Elysee.
If, in some insanely incorrect decision approved by a group of employees whose sole automotive experience comes from watching old clips of Herbie the Love Bug on late-night TV, you choose to make the central knob do anything other than volume, it should control the song track. Turn to the right, next track. Turn to the left, previous track. But really, it should control volume.
In the C-Elysee, the central knob controlled… are you ready for it? That's right: playlist. So what would happen is, you'd go to adjust the volume, and BAM! You're listening to a different song, by a different artist, on a different playlist. And then you'd go back to your previous playlist, and guess what? The playlist starts over. From the very. First. Song.
In case you're curious, the volume buttons are over on the left of the stereo. They're the exact same size and shape as every other button, and they've been inexplicably placed directly next to the buttons for "MODE" and "BAND," two things you never want to press when you're trying to turn up your favorite song.
All this sounds pretty bad, considering that I paid more than $900 for the privilege of driving this thing for a week. But it got even worse during a special moment I'm affectionately calling "The Horn Incident." Here's what happened: at one point, I made the mistake of honking the car's horn. This is a normal thing you do to signal your presence to other drivers, or alert someone to an impending dangerous situation. In Europe, people honk the horn fairly often. It's standard practice.
Not in the C-Elysee. In the C-Elysee, it created pandemonium. The horn stayed on, loudly, firmly, even after I removed my hand from the horn pad, turned off the car, and stepped outside. People are staring. I decide to pull the fuse for the horn. We open the owner's manual. Where's the fusebox? I get the fusebox cover open. The horn is still blaring. It's attracting a crowd. Which fuse is it? We thumb through the owner's manual. The owner's manual is in Spanish! The horn is still on. We Google "horn" in Spanish. Google Translate gives us the translation for "goat horn." The horn is still blaring. The hood is up. The crowd is growing larger. And then… silence.
It didn't last long, though. An hour later, we had a repeat of The Horn Incident, this time while reversing, with my hand nowhere near the horn pad. Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeep! It went on for minutes at a tourist hotspot, surrounded by onlookers, gawking at the idiots with the dodgy rental car. It was embarrassing for us, but it must've been liberating for the C-Elysee. For the first time in its life, it was getting noticed. And not just for being the shitty gray rental car that can't climb a hill.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn't work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.