When I heard that Citroën were resurrecting the sacred DS badge for a range of premium individualistical sports crossovers or some such marketing nonsense I felt a chill down my spine. The DS was an iconic vehicle, one that defined the company for the next 40 years and the thought of that badge being used on some half-arsed gussied up C3 had me wanting to take the next plane to France, blockade the airport and set fire to some lorries full of EU subsidised Boeuf et Agneau.
Time passed and PSA unveiled the first car to receive the new brand, it was to be a competitor to one of my least favourite cars, the new Mini. Objectively the Mini is an excellent car but it would have Issigonis doing triple salchows in his grave if he saw his vision bastardised into the current vehicle. Take a look next time at a Mini parked next to something else and just check out the size of it. Mini it is not.
But I digress. The DS3 was unveiled and I gasped. It was glorious and I’ve spent the last two years waiting for my chance behind the wheel of one. Imagine my delight when I learned that Avis UK had a superb selection of DS3s as part of the Select Series range. I booked one for my last day on a recent trip to London for a very reasonable forty quid and started my love affair with the little darling.
The first thing that hits you about the DS3 is just how “premium” it feels. For a company synonymous with cheap, almost disposable vehicles deeply discounted to shift the most numbers possible the first fruit of Citroën’s premium DS brand is a deeply impressive attempt to set it apart from it’s cheaper brethren.
On the styling front it is so great to see a Citroën with some individuality to it’s styling. The DS3 looks fantastic with a aggressive yet playful character. The sharks fin-like B pillar gives the impression of speed and movement even when stationery and the overall proportions of the car are pleasing and purposeful. It is well made too with the doors giving a satisfying clunk when closed, not something you usually hear said about a Citroën!
The interior is reasonably well crafted too, if a little ergonomically haphazard. There is a swathe of shiny black plastic with a reasonable faux piano black finish and the sporty seats of this Sport Plus trim are well supportive and comfortable. The equipment roster ticks the right boxes with all electric mod cons like climate control and a pretty impressive stereo system. There are only a few extras on offer including a so-so nav system (save the cash and get a TomTom) and the usual parking sensors (worthwhile due to the poor rear visibility) but you can still get yourself into serious financial distress if you tick too many of the boxes at order time and don’t kid yourself that they’ll be worth more than a few Euros at trade in time.
I lucked out and got a top of the regular range Sport Plus version fitted with a 1.6 litre 150hp petrol engine. Like a lot of small French engines it is a revvy little thing eager to lift up it’s skirt and run towards the red line. Sixty arrives in 7.3 seconds and the top speed is 133mph and I have no reason to doubt either figure.
So it is fast but does it go around corners? I give the handling a B+. The ride is, as you should expect from a Citroën, smooth and compliant and with a notable absence of body roll making a seriously competent package. This is a car that goes as well as it looks only being let down by the steering, it is a super quick, over-assisted rack making it too twitchy and vague which ultimately keeps it from wrestling the handling crown from the Mini.
As is de rigeur in this class segment there is an almost infinite number of colour and trim combinations but Citroën has been smart and kept the option packages simple but limits the selection of individual options to the lower trims. A choice of two petrol and two diesel engines ranging from 90hp eco-minded eHDI through to the range topping 150hp THP petrol turbo driven here there should be a DS3 to meet your needs. Prices range from £12,405 to a very reasonable £17,695 for the THP driven here.
A special mention must go to the superbly extrovert limited run DS3 Racing packing 200hp and a paint job that screams “look at me” which has proven to the be the pick of the bunch, with just 200 heading to the UK you have to be quick and at £23k it is a gamble especially with the excellent RenaultSport Clio around for £5k less. French car companies are well know for their ‘special editions’ that end up as regular runs, just ask anyone who bought a Clio Williams in the 90s.
What Citroën has achieved here is something very difficult indeed, something that many manfacturers have tried, and failed. They have created something “desirable”. Badge snobs would never have thought it possible that a French car could hold its own in this segment. However, I am happy to say that the DS3 doesn’t embarrass itself rubbing shoulders with the likes of the Audi A1, Fiat 500 Abarth and of course the stalwart of the segment, the Mini. If I were in the market for one of these premium hatches and didn’t want the obvious Cooper S on my driveway then the DS3 would be my choice.