CITROEN DS3 REVIEW
You could hardly accuse it of being handsome, Citroen’s new DS3, but there is a kind of punchy pugnacious charm to its lines.
And while carrying the venerated DS badging of Citroens past, don’t go looking for any retro design clues – there are none. The DS3 is an all-new direction for the French carmaker.
With a ‘floating’ roof, deep chrome-rimmed maw, shark-fin B-pillar, heavily-sculptured LED-accented front guards, screaming paint options and edgy interior style, the DS3 is no shrinking violet. You will never lose it in a crowd.
With flexible personalisation options, the DS3 is the first among a range of new, more sports-focussed models from Citroen, all of which will carry DS badging.
It's Citroen's tilt to a younger buyer demographic. “(The DS3) represents not just a new model but a complete rebirth of the brand,” Citroen Australia Public Relations Manager Edward Rowe said.
A new direction the DS3 may be, but its competitors are not exactly shrivelled wall-flowers. At $35,990 for the DS3 Sport (plus on-roads), it's lined up against premium contenders like the retro MINI, Peugeot 207 GTI, even BMW's 1 Series and Golf GTI.
So, is Citroen’s new DS3 up to the task? We put a rabid yellow six-speed manual DS3 DSport through its paces to find out (the auto-only DStyle is not yet available).
What’s under the bonnet?
It's a proven formula the DS3: build a small, lightweight hatch, sit it on big wheels and put a willing torquey engine under the bonnet.
The DSport scores the same BMW-sourced 115kW 1.6 litre engine as the auto version of Peugeot's RCZ.
It finds its 115kW at 6000rpm, but it's the low down and flat torque curve – 240Nm available from just 1400rpm to 4000rpm – that gives the DS3 a very lively feel under the toe.
With turbocharging, DOHC, multi-point electronic fuel injection and happy to run without complaint to the 6200rpm redline, it's fun when stretched and has no trouble hauling the DS3's featherweight 1165kg around.
It is also relaxed and under-stressed; in sixth gear at 110km/h it is pulling less than 2000rpm.
Our tester, the DSport, comes with six-speed manual only. With a stubby shift, large chrome and piano-black gear-knob, it is not as precise as some (there is a little 'play' in the lever) but is fun to whip through the nicely-spaced ratios.
It also centres accurately between third and fourth – you would need a ham-fist to miss the intended cog.
There are disc brakes front and rear, ventilated up front. It also comes (naturally) with ABS, emergency brake assist, brake force distribution and ESP with traction control.
Suspension set-up is struts up front with flexible beam rear. And while there is nothing remarkable in that combo, it works very well in the DS3.
Like the RCZ we tested recently, the DS3 is firm and stable but with nicely-controlled initial compliance.
This gives it a sporting ride and precise handling without sacrificing comfort.
Wheels are 17-inch Bellone alloys, and there are a range of style choices. Spare wheel is – sensibly, in keeping weight down – a space-saver type.
How does it drive?
This is the second car in as many weeks from the giant French PSA Peugeot Citroen stable that offers flat sports handling without punishing the kidneys, and is quite untroubled even by poor secondary-road surfaces.
Last week it was the Peugeot RCZ, this week it's Citroen's DS3.
This is a very well-balanced small car with quite tenacious grip and eager performance. While a hot-hatch, and a sharp steer around a winding pass, it's not a screamer – not like the (admittedly pricier) Megane Turbo, Golf R or even Mazda3 MPS.
Covering the 0-100km/h sprint in a claimed 7.3 seconds, acceleration is certainly brisk, but it doesn't pin your ears back.
That said, with nicely-weighted steering, good road feel and a willing engine, the DS3 DSport can really be hustled along. (There is also a 200hp version not yet earmarked for this market, the DS3 Racing – one that will pin the ears back.)
At speed, turn-in is sharp – the DS3 readily points where its intended and is not easily shaken off line, even through pot-holed corners.
It can be precisely-placed when cornering quickly, and, even with some induced slide (the ESP doesn't chime in too quickly), feels controlled and very well-balanced.
It is certainly one of the better handling sports hatches we've tested in recent times.
As we alluded earlier, the DS3 is geared for relaxed cruising. In sixth it is barely ticking over... this will certainly pay dividends at the bowser. Citroen is claiming a combined average fuel consumption (urban, highway) of 6.7 l/100km.
Its gear ratios are just right, the clutch feel and shift action is also 'just right' and the steering is light, well-weighted and accurate. Poking the DS3 DSport around town, and in the peak-hour cut and thrust, is a doddle – who needs an auto with such a user-friendly feel?
Not so good is the sound-deadening (or perhaps the choice of tyres).
There is some wind disturbance evident at the A-pillars and, on coarse bitumen, tyre-roar can be intrusive. It is okay on most surfaces, and quiet on the freeway, but secondary roads can get into the ear a bit.
Interior quality and features
The interior of the DS3 is likely to galvanise views.
Bright colours and trim options, an unusual ‘leatherette’ and rubbery patterned stuff in the seats, faux carbon-fibre, piano-black plastics, brushed metal, real leather here and there – it’s all thrown in.
It’s as though Citroen rounded up every funky material they could find, threw it all into the interior and stirred it in with a big paddle.
Stylewise, I’m not sure it works (but I’m not to be trusted in matters of taste). Have a look for yourself and decide; there is certainly no lack of choice of options.
Taste aside, what I don’t like about the interior is the poor fit of some of the trims and fittings. The glovebox lid doesn’t seem to close properly, and other trims don’t marry up as precisely as they should.
Also, there is nowhere much to put anything. You can’t get a drink bottle or can into the door bins, and the glovebox – although cooled – is too small to be practical.
All that aside, the seats are very comfortable, the steering wheel is adjustable for reach and rake, controls are generally well laid-out (although the cruise control stalk is tucked behind the wheel) and most things work ergonomically.
And it’s pretty well loaded with features.
It’s got all the safety stuff: driver and passenger air-bags, side and full-length curtain airbags, ESP, ASR, ABS, front seat-belt pretensioners with force limiters, auto hazard lights under rapid deceleration, fuel cut-off and automatic door unlocking in case of accident. (And a lot more, click through to the Model Information for more details.)
The DS3 DSport also comes with, as standard, remote central locking, alarm, lights on security delay, tinted glass, pollen filter, scented air-freshener diffuser, air-con, cooled glove box, MP3 compatible radio/CD player, six speaker sound system, and aux-in socket (Bluetooth is extra).
So, that’s Citroen’s new DS3. It is certainly striking and has the on-road performance to match its pugnacious lines.
While you get a lot of car for the money, and Citroen is pitching it at a premium buyer - someone looking for larger car features in a smaller high-quality package - our feeling is that it is over-priced.
With a high Aussie dollar, we think Citroen could have sharpened its pencil. At $35,990 plus on-roads, the DS3 has a lot of work on its hands to win buyers over.
That said, Citroen’s DS3 DSport is fast and fun to drive, offers superior on-road dynamics, has an up-market look and individual but purposeful lines. But you’ve got to hurdle that price first.