Citroen DS 3 review
The DS 3 (previously called the Citroen DS3) offers a fun drive, efficient engines and an array of personalisation options
The DS 3 was Citroen’s first attempt at separating its upmarket sub-brand from the more mainstream models. In 2015, it dropped the Citroen tag altogether to create further differentiation – though its roots are still evident, with familiar styling and the signature double chevron grille.
Positioned as a stylish, youthful and more luxurious alternative to the Citroen C3 supermini, the DS 3 is aimed directly at the MINI Cooper, Audi A1 and Alfa Romeo MiTo. There’s no denying it’s more desirable than its humble sibling, and with various personalisation options, it’s been altogether more successful with younger buyers.
The DS 3 first went on sale in 2010, but has been constantly developed over the past few years, with the biggest aesthetic changes arriving in 2014. The changes included a tweaked front end with new LED headlights, as well as various updates on the inside. In 2015, the slow and thirsty automatic gearbox was replaced with a far superior six-speed EAT6 system – though it’s only available on the PureTech 110 petrol model.
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 turbocharged three-cylinder petrol will do 60mpg, feeling suitably brisk, too.
The DS 3 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.
Our choice: DS 3 DStyle 1.2 PureTech 110 manual
Engines, performance and drive
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. An economical and punchy engine range helps keep it on the radar of many buyers, while cheap running costs should appeal to younger buyers.
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 165 that, as the name suggests, offers 165bhp and has a 0-62mph time of 7.5 seconds. However, our pick of the range is the new 1.2-litre PureTech three-cylinder turbo petrol, which offers peppy performance and more than 60mpg fuel economy.
For those who prefer diesel power, there’s a pair of frugal BlueHDi units with either 98bhp or 118bhp. Both have plenty of torque for overtaking, and neither feel particularly noisy on the motorway.
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.
A new EAT6 automatic option joined the range in 2015. It’s currently only availalble on the PureTech 110 engine, but is a huge improvement over the old ‘box – offering 40 per cent faster shifts and massive 30 per cent gains in fuel economy. There is a sports setting which sharpens the response, but you’ll have to make do without steering wheel paddles, removing a degree of driver fun from the whole experience. If you want a sporty automatic supermini, the MINI Cooper is still the one to have.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
The 1.6 BlueHDi DStyle is the cleanest engine in the Citroen DS 3 lineup - it uses the manufacturer's stop-start technology to reduce emissions to just 87g/km. Because the Citroen DS 3 doesn't weigh much, even the quickest petrol version manages 50.4mpg and emits just 129g/km - that's only £110 in road tax.
Meanwhile, the entry-level 81bhp PureTech returns 62.8mpg and emits 104g/km, while the more powerful 108bhp car is only slightly less efficient posting figures of 107g/km. It’s also available with Citroen’s EAT6 automatic gearbox, returning 60.1mpg overall, with CO2 emissions of 108g/km. That’s a massive 28 per cent improvement on the old car – slashing emissions by a whopping 42g/km.
Be careful not to get carried away with the accessories catalogue, as Citroen DS 3 prices can soon build up. Navigation costs around £1,000, and like-for-like the DS 3 DStyle is still around £700 more than the equivalent MINI Cooper.
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.
Interior, design and technology
It’s been around for five years, but the distinctive DS 3 still has what it takes to turn heads. With its bold double-chevron grille treatment (which will be removed on future models), plus ‘shark fin’ C-pillars and a squat, sporty stance.
The DS 3 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, but with bags more style and youth appeal.
Highlights of the DS 3's design include eye-catching LED running lamps, 'shark fin'-inspired B-pillars and 3D-effect LED tail lights. From 2014, DS added concept-style LED headlamps and eyebrow indicators, adding an extra air of sophistication to the DS 3's front end.
Inside, the DS 3 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 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.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
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.
Reliability and Safety
Citroen has always struggled to shake off its reputation for flaky build quality and poor reliability, but the standalone DS brand is starting to make a difference. The DS 3 finished 67th out of 150 cars in our Driver Power 2015 survey, but a 150th place finish for build quality is a concern.
The DS 3 has a five-star Euro NCAP rating, but this was awarded in 2009 when the testing procedure was less rigorous. Even so, all versions come with six airbags, stability control, a seatbelt reminder and automatic hazard warning light activation during emergency braking. Low-speed collision avoidance is available for £250, but only in combination with the £820 Plus Pack.