What’s Hot: Still grabs attention, perky engine and a 'fun fling' on the right road.
What’s Not: Interior practicality falls short, starting to feel a little old.
X-FACTOR: All the charm of a MINI without the retro baggage.
Vehicle Style: Premium Light Hatch
Price: $33,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 121kW/240Nm 4cyl turbo petrol | 6spd manual
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.1 l/100km | tested: 9.3 l/100km
There’s a clear and distinct difference between style and fashion. One is timeless, elegant, and graceful - the other is Nicki Minaj wearing something almost invisible at the VMAs.
History will remember the original DS as an automotive style icon, but will the DS range of the 21st century be remembered so fondly?
When being seen with the right lifestyle accessories can do wonders for your social status, is dangling the key to a new DS3 from your Chanel keyring the right thing to do?
The updated DS3 arrived in Australia earlier this year with relatively few changes. New head and tail-lights (rich in detailed LED arrays) and new diamond-cut alloy wheels make up the biggest changes.
The range has been pared back to a single model, with only a manual transmission, but the nine exterior shades, four contrasting roof tones (a total of 29 different combinations all up) and three interior schemes remain. The individual touch still rests with you.
We spent a week with the ‘anti-retro’ DS3 to investigate if the charming French hatchback’s beauty was more than just skin-deep.
Quality: There are hits and misses inside the DS3. The design is pleasant, but falls a little short of some premium rivals.
The seat trim looks and feels top notch, and the huge glossy dash face is well-itted with tight gaps.
Unfortunately there were a few errant rattles, and the sole cupholder is made out of a flimsy plastic that didn't really hold cups (or bottles, or cans) very well.
Will the interior pass the test of time? Most likely, yes - but sadly the DS3 is too closely related to the more utilitarian and now discontinued Citroen C3 it is based upon.
If Citroen wants the DS line to play premium, it is going to need to step up its efforts here.
Comfort: With a high roof and huge front doors, the DS3 is easy to slide gracefully in and out of. Once seated the deeply bolstered front chairs are supportive but comfortable.
Disappointingly, the driver’s controls are offset ever-so-slightly. After a few hours behind the wheel, you might find yourself leaning into one side of the seat, just to square yourself against the steering wheel.
Rear seats offer a surprising amount of space.
The high roof gives plenty of space, theatre-style seating allows a clear view ahead, and there are big solid assist-grips to help alighting passengers.
Kneeroom is the only dimension that feels a little short. Unlike so many three-door hatches though, the big unobstructed side-glass is a boon to outward visibility.
Equipment: A plump specification list includes single-zone climate control, cruise control and speed limiter, auto Xenon and LED headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, auto dimming rear view mirror, folding centre armrest, leather wrapped steering wheel, inbuilt air freshener, and aluminum pedals.
Entertainment comes via a seven speaker sound system with USB and auxiliary inputs, displayed on a 7.0 inch screen at also houses navigation and reverse camera functions.
Unfortunately the DS 3 misses out on a touchscreen, and navigating around the functions using the limited controls on the low-placed audio system feels a generation out of touch against more sophisticated rival systems.
Storage: Boot space is reasonable at 285 litres.
The boot floor is a long way down, with a high-placed load lip. Rear seats fold flat, but not level.
Cabin storage is scarce, with a single cupholder and a not-quite phone sized shelf in the centre stack, a slim bin in the centre armrest, paltry door pockets and a compact glovebox.
It’s best to travel light in this one.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: Now that Citroen has tidied up the DS3 line-up, there’s only one powertrain offering available in place of the low and high-output models previously.
The good new is the high-output 1.6 with 121kW of power at 240Nm of torque remains, and picks up an extra 6kW over the previous DS3 in the process.
While it may not be a firebrand, it is certainly enough engine to make the DS3 feel sprightly.
At low RPM it never feels too doughy, and once boost picks up it loves a good mid-range chase.
Keep winding the tacho on though and you’ll find little reward for your efforts. Better to rely on the torque than outright power.
The DS3 can show city commuters a clean set of heels easily enough. Take it out of town and it will cruise comfortably with enough torque to be untroubled by inclines.
Refinement: Keep in mind the DS3’s city-centric persona and you should be happy with refinement levels. Around town it is hushed, with a neat growly exhaust burble for just the right amount of sporting feel.
Hit the open road however and tyre noise can be highly intrusive. Even though you’re in close proximity to your passengers, raised voices are required to be heard over the racket of the Michelin Pilot Exalto tyres.
Aside from that the engine is smooth and loves a rev, but can sound a little breathless at the top end.
The clutch is smooth, with a high take-up point while the gearshift has a nice chunky feel. Best not to rush gear changes though, our test car kept getting snagged on the way into third gear if hurried through its gate.
Ride and Handling: Citroen cars, and the original DS in particular, may be renowned for their innovative ‘Hydropneumatic’ adjustable suspension and the magic carpet ride it delivers, but innovation isn’t the case here.
The DS3 runs a traditional suspension set-up with a pseudo MacPherson strut front-end matched to a torsion-beam rear. Steel springs at both ends, no height adjustment, as conventional as can be.
That’s not a huge problem though, it still has real handling flair. Over a favourite stretch of winding road the DS3 embraced corners like a kid with a new toy.
It feels securely planted, but will happily dance, and even kick out the bum with some mild lift-off oversteer if you’re feeling adventurous.
There’s simply not enough small cars with this level of driving engagement. Ride quality takes a back seat though, and while it isn’t uncomfortable it does have trouble blotting out sharper road surface imperfections.
Braking: Four wheel disc brakes help reel things in. The pedal feels easy to regulate underfoot, with a mid-length stroke that’s just right for a city commuter.
Throw out the anchors on an emergency stop and the DS3 pulls up smartly. Even after a long downhill run the brakes remained responsive, showing little sign of fade.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - the DS3 scored 35.14 out of 37 possible points. Please note, this score applies to vehicles tested under the previous ANCAP regime in 2011
Safety features: Dual front airbags, side airbags, and side curtain airbags, antilock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and electronic stability control are standard.
Front seatbelts are fitted with pretensioners while all seating positions feature adjustable head restraints with three-point seatbelts, two ISOFIX child seat anchor points are included in the rear.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Six years/unlimited kilometre including six years roadside assist.
Service costs: Citroen Confidence Servicing covers all DS models with a six-year capped price service program. Each service is $360 with service intervals set at 12 months/20,000km.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
MINI Cooper ($26,650) - Let's go with the slightly cheaper and less powerful Cooper, and not the golden-child Cooper S here, why?
Because you’ll want to throw options at it, driving the price up, and besides the Cooper S is really more of a hot hatch, so that’s a little unfair.
MINI started the premium compact revolution, the Cooper offers fun handling and a perky engine. If retro isn’t your thing however, the bloated caricature styling probably just won’t captivate you. (see Cooper reviews)
Audi A1 Sport 1.4 TFSI ($27,750) - In typically Audi minimalist style the A1 doesn’t quite exude the warmth of either the Cooper of the DS3 but it does deliver modern luxury quite well.
Not as gutsy as the Citroen, but the 1.4 litre engine still feels zippy and the whole package is really at home tearing about the city. Firm riding but great handling completes the picture. (see A1 reviews)
Alfa Romeo Mito Quadrifoglio Verde ($30,500) - Despite the Mito’s age, it still manages to look special on the road. Inside though, the interior lacks polish and leans heavily on sportiness as a theme.
Handling is sublime, so too the gutsy engine making this version of the Mito feel mightier than its looks suggest. The little Alfa’s bone-jarring ride may the biggest turn off, particularly if style is all you’re seeking. (see Mito reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Despite not being brand new in this market, the pert DS3 still attracts plenty of attention. Its sense of style hits the mark - and yes that is style, not fashion - perhaps more Lagerfeld and less Lacroix, if that’s what matters to you.
And on the road, the DS3 is thoroughly enjoyable.
A great many may never leave the confines of Australian cities and while the DS3’s metropolitan heart beats strongly, this car is simply too good to deny a winding open road.
For many the deciding factor may be the manual-only transmission. While it is no chore to operate, a decent auto is something this small Citroen desperately needs - it will arrive eventually, but you’ll have to be patient.
Yes, it comes well equipped, but at just a shade under $34k before on roads the DS3 isn’t exactly budget motoring.
PRICING (excludes on-road costs)
- DS3 DSport hatch - $33,990 (up $4250)
- DS3 DSport cabrio - $36,590 (up $3600)