Citroen DS3 review
The Citroen DS3 offers a fun drive, efficient engines and an array of personalisation options
Citroen's DS3 was the French brand's first offering under the 'DS' premium badge. Positioned as a more stylish, luxurious and dynamic alternative to the C3 supermini, it benefitted from a mid-life facelift in May 2014 to bring it in line with rivals. Those rivals include tough competition from the MINI Cooper, Audi A1 and Alfa Romeo MiTo, but the charming Citroen is still a strong contender.
As is common in this class of small fashionable cars, there's lots of scope for personalising the DS3 inside and out. It's been a strong seller since it was launched in 2010, thanks to its stylish looks, premium cabin and rewarding driving experience.
But it's not all fashion and fun. It's also pleasingly efficient, with the 1.6 e-HDi diesel model emitting only 91g/km of CO2 and managing 78.5mpg. Even the VTI 82 petrol manages 62mpg, although three-cylinder turbocharging on rivals helps some match this figure.
The DS3 is available in five trims - entry-level DSign, mid-range DStyle and Dsire as well as DSport and Ultra Prestige versions. There are also various special editions that add unique trim and styling upgrades.
Even entry-level models are well equipped, with a leather steering wheel, cruise control, electric windows and mirrors and air-conditioning. DStyle and DSport specifications also come in 'Plus' versions, which include upgrades such as Bluetooth, bigger alloy wheels, digital climate control, parking sensors and auto headlamps and wipers.
The Citroen DS3 is a fun car, both to look at and to drive. Its colourful, quirky design may not be to everyone’s taste but it certainly stands out in the premium supermini class even now. An economical and punchy engine range helps keep it on the radar of many buyers. Improved build quality and practicality would enhance the overall package.
Our choice: DS3 1.6 e-HDi 115 DStyle
The DS3 has been around for more than four years now, yet it still manages to be a head-turning car. Its latest facelift has only brought slight revisions made to the headlight design, colour choice and alloy wheel design, but the DS3 remains a car that stands out from rivals such as the understated Audi A1 and evolutionary MINI. It features the bold lines and quirky details that Citroen is known for.
Highlights of the DS3's design include eye-catching LED running lamps, 'shark fin'-inspired B-pillars and 3D-effect LED tail lights. New to the 2014 model are concept-style xenon headlamps with LED running light elements that add an extra air of sophistication to the DS3's front end.
Most Citroen DS3s feature attractive alloy wheels, a tailgate spoiler and chrome-trimmed exhausts. The car can also be customised with contrasting roof colours, body decals and mirror finishes.
Inside, the DS3 is stylish and solidly built. It shares its interior with the more traditional C3 hatchback, but there's a choice of eye-catching finishes for the full-width dash panel, while a floating cowl sits above the chrome-ringed dials. To complete the upmarket look, there's a gloss black centre console, leather and metal-effect gearlever and drilled alloy pedals.
Despite the expensive look of the interior, it's let down in some areas by cheap-feeling plastics - particularly on the door tops and the lower half of the dash. Still, the DS3 comes generously equipped with MP3 connectivity, cruise control and electric windows and mirrors standard across the range.
Further up the range, DSport Plus models also get heavily bolstered front seats, leather trim, eMyWay sat-nav, parking sensors, automatic lights and automatic wipers.
The Citroen DS3 engine line-up is comprehensive. For petrol fans, the range consists of a 1.2-litre VTi with 82bhp, a 1.6-litre VTi with 120bhp and the hotter THP 155 that, as the name suggests, offers 155bhp and has a 0-62 time of 7.3 seconds.
For those who prefer diesel power, a range of engine options are available - an efficient 1.6 e-HDi with 90bhp, emitting a tax-friendly 95g/km of CO2 and a 120bhp 1.6-litre BlueHDi engine offering similar economy figures. We'd recommend either the mid-spec 1.6 petrol or 1.6 diesel that balance fuel-sipping economy with useful overtaking pace.
Point the Citroen’s stubby nose down a twisting back road, and you’ll soon be revelling in the car’s agile and entertaining handling. The steering doesn’t have the same meaty weighting as the MINI’s, but it’s quick, precise and delivers decent feedback.
Body control is also good and grip is strong. Even so, it’s possible to subtly adjust the Citroen’s line through a corner using a combination of steering and throttle.
DSport models receive stiffer suspension to give it better handling and grip, but this comes at the cost of slightly reduced driving comfort. However, the DS3 still does a better job of smoothing out bumps than the stiffer MINI.
The limited-edition DS3 Racing model has sharper handling and a rear hot-hatch vigour, and goes from 0-62mph in just 6.9 seconds.
Citroen doesn't have a great track record for reliability, with the brand finishing a disappointing 26th place out 33 manufacturers in the 2014 Driver Power survey. Despite this ranking, Citroen has made huge efforts to improve its reliability, especially in the exclusive DS range. This has paid off for Citroen - the DS3 came in at 37th place out 150 cars in this year's survey.
There are still some issues that Citroen needs to address, though. There have been complaints of faults with the electrics and windscreen washer jets. In terms of safety, the DS3 was awarded a maximum five-star rating in Euro NCAP's crash safety tests - thanks in part to standard ESP, an immobiliser and seatbelt pre-tensioners.
As with most cars in a style-led class, practicality is hampered by a three-door bodystyle. Still, the doors have wide openings and the front seats slide forward to help get in and out of the back seats. Also, there are well-placed grab handles on the B-pillars to ensure access to the rear bench is simple enough.
In the back, there's a trio of three-point seatbelts and a decent amount of head and legroom on offer. Handy features such as cupholders and cubbies are dotted around the cabin, as well as useful door pockets and a deep centre console storage bin. Despite the amount of storage on offer elsewhere, the glove compartment is virtually useless because of the intrusive fusebox.
Opening the tailgate reveals a well-shaped boot with a healthy 285-litre capacity – 74 litres more than in the MINI. Fold the 60:40 rear bench flat and this increases to 980 litres.
The 1.6 e-HDi DStyle is the cleanest engine in the Citroen DS3 lineup - it uses the manufacturer's stop-start technology to reduce emissions to just 91g/km. Because the Citroen DS3 doesn't weigh much, even the quickest petrol version manages 48.7mpg and emits just 135g/km - that's only £155 in road tax. Bear in mind, though, the automatic gearbox nudges the CO2 emissions quite high, with the 1.6-litre VTi emitting 150g/km.
Meanwhile, the 1.2-litre VTi petrol returns 61.4mpg and emits 104g/km - this also falls into insurance group nine, while other engines fall between insurance groups 15 to 32.
Be careful not to get carried away with the accessories catalogue, as Citroen DS3 prices can soon build up. Residual values are much stronger than on the rest of the Citroen range, though, with most models holding more than 50 per cent of their value after three years of ownership.
You can also take advantage of a decent-value £449 servicing pack, which covers scheduled maintenance for three years and 35,000 miles.