DS 3 review
The DS 3 is the Citroen luxury brand's upmarket rival to the MINI and it has a lot going for it
The DS 3 has been a breakthrough car for Citroen. Why Citroen, not DS? Well, at launch, it was actually branded Citroen, but it proved so popular and sold so well the firm set up a bespoke premium DS division and put this car at its core.
The Citroen DS was launched in 2010 and received a mild facelift in 2014 where new engines were introduced. In 2016, it finally shed its Citroen styling identity and was brought up to date with the rest of the line-up, plus a hot Performance model was added to complete the range.
These constant updates mean that the DS 3 still looks fresh. It’s elegant, classy and boasts a premium design that hasn’t dated all that much, and a round of tech upgrades has kept it on the pace both in terms of engines and interior connectivity. The extra space it offers over the MINI and extra charisma it has compared to an Audi A1 cement its appeal.
The DS 3, Citroen’s (now DS-branded) premium supermini, is one of the strongest alternatives to the MINI. Citroen spotted the trend for downsizing premium cars early and developed the DS 3 to capitalise on this: upmarket trims, high equipment levels and a great deal of customisation were all engineered in.
The DS 3 is offered in a three-door hatchback bodystyle or a cabriolet, the latter demanding you sacrifice a fair bit of boot space for the wind-in-the-hair appeal. If you need a five-door, argues Citroen, choose the C3: if you need even more practicality, take a C3 Picasso or C4 Cactus.
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The original Citroen-branded car featured ageing 1.4 and 1.6-litre naturally-aspirated petrol engines. But in 2014 the facelift introduced the latest 1.2-litre PureTech three-cylinder motor. This is a big improvement, with torquey pulling power and an appreciable lift in fuel economy and refinement. In 2016, along with another facelift and a proper DS rebrand, a top-spec 128bhp version was made available.
2016 also saw the addition of the DS 3 Performance. It's similar to the limited-edition DS 3 Racing, but is now a full production hot hatch, and boasts a 204bhp 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine, stiffer suspension, a Torsen diff and beefier brakes to take on the MINI Cooper S.
Prices now start from under £14k for the base DS 3 Chic, although most buyers will end up buying the less basic Elegance. The Prestige and lavish Ultra Prestige complete the core range but Citroen is fond of special editions so you can expect to find a few of these guesting in the line-up. Range topping Performance Black spec costs an eye-watering £22,495, however.
On top of the standard trims you can choose from a huge array of individual personalisation options or extra spec packs – Giving the DS 3 a bespoke design potential that helps it rival the Fiat 500 and MINI.
While the MINI is the DS 3’s most obvious rival, it also faces competition from the Audi A1, plus more upmarket versions of sister company Peugeot’s 208. The DS 3’s strong style ensures it’s still able to hold its own despite its advancing years.
Engines, performance and drive
To drive, the DS 3 isn’t as focused as the class-leading MINI, with DS Automobiles preferring slightly more comfort-orientated dynamics (save for the Performance). Regular versions have a taut but comfortable suspension setup, with well-controlled body movements and decent bump absorption around town.
There are two exceptions here –the 17-inch alloy wheel option causes considerable thumps through the cabin, while there’s also a sport suspension option. Both seem to have a marked effect on the ride quality, reflected in reader feedback from the Auto Express Driver Power survey. The 2016 facelift has only done a little to rectify this.
Similar criticisms can be levelled at the DS 3 Performance, although it's more justified. We've only driven it on European roads so far, but it did seem notably stiffer than standard. We'll have to try it in the UK to see if it's too hard for our roads.
As for handling, the DS 3 is a big contrast to the soft, rolly Citroens of old. It retains good body control in most situations, just without the last bit of driver-pleasing bite that characterises the MINI. Even so, it turns in neatly and the steering weight builds pleasingly when you press on, while the car’s overall balance and stability are feel-good and confidence-inspiring. Even if it can’t match the MINI, it’s probably more fun than an Audi A1.
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The manual gearshift has quite a long throw, however, while the steering feels a bit slow in small movements. No complaints with the EAT6 automatic though: this is a full torque converter and suits the DS 3’s luxurious nature well.
The DS 3 Performance builds on the existing car but the firmer suspension helps it feel nicely taut and agile. The front differential keeps it very tidy in the corners with no understeer, while the steering is more direct than the regular car. It's definitely another level of driving fun, but there's some seriously competitive hot hatches around for that price.
Lower-end petrol engines used to be a bit of a weakness with the DS 3, but improvements in 2014 introduced the new PureTech engines that are a big step on. The BlueHDi diesel engine is also strong; it’s the latest-generation 1.6-litre unit offered in two power outputs.
There are three petrol engine and two diesel engine choices with the DS 3 and all but the basic 1.2-litre PureTech 82 are turbocharged. This 82PS engine is a relatively recent introduction and it’s smooth enough, but you’re better off with the 1.2-litre PureTech 110 which does have a turbo. This almost doubles its pulling power and nearly halves the engine revs at which this peak torque is produced; as such, it’s nearly three seconds faster from 0-62mph. It’s a striking step up for a relatively small price jump.
The PureTech 110 is the only DS 3 engine available with a self-shifting EAT6 gearbox alongside the regular five-speed manual. It’s a full automatic gearbox, rather than a more compromised automated manual – the effect on performance and fuel economy is minimal too.
The larger four-cylinder 1.6-litre THP 165 only comes with a six-speed manual but gives almost hot hatch-like performance: 0-62mph takes a swift 7.5 seconds and it will do 135mph. It’s not cheap, though, and you’ll have more fun with a Ford Fiesta ST for significantly less.
The full hot hatch experience comes with the DS 3 Performance's 204bhp 1.6-litre turbo. It boasts a healthy 300Nm of torque, and also gets shorter gear ratios to aid performance. It does 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds, and feels every bit as quick as that figure suggests.
The diesel choice is a single 1.6-litre turbo engine in either BlueHDi 100 or BlueHDi 120 guise. The more powerful engine is faster, by a reasonable-sounding 1.5 seconds to 62mph (it takes 9.3 seconds instead of 10.8) but peak torque isn’t that much greater. The biggest advantage to it may be in its motorway-optimised six-speed manual gearbox – the lower-power version only has five gears.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
The DS 3’s modern engine range really delivers when it comes to fuel economy. It’s the 1.2-litre PureTech engines that are the real standouts – every single version, be it 82PS or 110PS power output, five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, averages over 60mpg. This is extremely impressive and combined with CO2 emissions of less than 107g/km.
The more powerful 1.6-litre THP 165 is thirstier, but even its claimed average of 50.4mpg is impressive considering its performance, while the 204bhp version isn't much worse. Like all DS 3 engines apart from the basic PureTech 82, this motor gets S&S engine stop-start as standard, which helps cut fuel consumption and emissions in stop-start traffic.
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If the petrol engines are good, the 1.6-litre BlueHDi diesels take things to another level. The BlueHDi 100 will return 83.1mpg on the combined cycle, and even in town it claims 74.3mpg. This is combined with CO2 emissions of 87g/km.
The faster BlueHDi 120 averages 78.5mpg and emits 94g/km, although it’s worth noting that this engine gets a six-speed manual gearbox, compared to the BlueHDi 100’s five-speed. If you do a lot of motorway miles, it will be worth taking the more powerful engine – proven by the official figures, which give both engines the same 88.3mpg claimed economy on the extra-urban mpg test.
Insurance groups for the DS 3 are a little high, considering the fact it’s a small supermini-sized car. It’s worth bearing this in mind when you’re shopping for one, particularly if you’re taking on one of the sportier engines.
The basic 1.2 PureTech 82 DSign comes in at group 10E insurance, and the DStyle step-up lists this by just a single group to 11E. However, it seems adding a turbo on quickly inflates DS 3 insurance costs. The PureTech 110 DStyle is an alarming group 19A – it’s an affordable £1,200 more expensive but the insurance cost hike could make it unviable for some.
Diesel insurance groups start at 22D, with the BlueHDi 120 pushing it up to 24A. Naturally, the sporty THP 165 versions are the most expensive to unsure; group 26E or 27E for the posh Ultra Prestige. Also note that some of the special editions will cost more to insure than the regular models they’re based upon.
The DS 3 is a stylish and popular model that sells well both new and used. This means it is an in-demand car, which helps keep depreciation in check.
It’s not quite as strong here as the MINI Hatch and Audi A1, but it’s still a much stronger performer than the mainstream Citroen range. Just keep the trims sensible – all DS 3 get the stylish, upmarket looks, so protect yourself from big monetary losses by steering clear of the expensive range-toppers.
Interior, design and technology
The DS 3 really lifted standards across Peugeot Citroen when it was first launched; it’s maintained that and even, with the latest facelifted version, pushed the brand further on in what it can do with modern trims and materials.
Performance spec adds some sportier detailing like 18-inch alloys, new paint schemes, racier bumper designs and unique badging. It's more subtle than the old DS 3 Racing, but looks smart and mature.
Inside the car is a great example of a French ‘boutique’ interior. The dashboard is nicely detailed, with glossy black plastics, polished metal highlights and a choice of dash inserts running across the passenger side fascia. The dials are attractive and we love the ‘floating’ hood sitting above them. Models with climate control look upmarket, too. From 2016 the DS 3 was brought fully up to date with a new touchscreen featuring Apple CarPlay.
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Another highlight of the DS 3 are the seats, which are more like those from a larger car. Expensive variants get indulgent ‘watch-strap’ leather, making it feel every inch the downsized premium car. You even get an integrated air freshener on all but base models, which is a nice touch even if you might not like the smell.
Equipment levels are very good on the DS 3, particularly if you steer clear of the basic Chic version. All models feature cruise control, speed limiter, front electric windows, tyre pressure monitor and front fog lights, for example – the distinctive LED daytime running lights that so characterise the DS 3 are also included on all. Inside, every version up from the base car gets LED interior mood lighting. High-tech Xenon LED Vision headlights are an option on all and standard on upper-line models.
Safety features like Active City Braking have been made standard as of 2016, which can’t be said for some rivals.
The amount of customisation options is vast, with over 3 million combinations of colour (including roof colour and £730 of classy Pearl White paint), trim, wheels, interior fabrics, you name it. DS groups these into various packs and trim lines, to make things a bit more manageable, but be prepared: buying a DS 3 is not as straightforward as choosing a regular Citroen.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
The 2014 facelift brought new technology to the DS 3, the most appealing of which is touchscreen sat nav. This is standard on the choice Elegance trim and above, and works well in controlling the car’s various systems.
From 2016 it was updated further with better software and graphics, plus the optional addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto tech. It’s still not the easiest system to operate, though, lacking the slick rotary control the MINI and A1 both get.
The regular six-speaker stereo system is OK but an upgraded hi-fi, which includes a sub-woofer and central ‘surround sound’ speaker on the dash, is standard on top spec models. All models get remote stereo controls, and Bluetooth, USB socket and DAB features on all but the basic Chic.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
Being derived from the sensible and practical Citroen C3 means the DS 3 is inherently quite practical for this sort of car. The interior is well planned, space in the front and rear isn’t bad and the boot is tidily designed as well. The obvious hindrance is the lack of a five-door option, something even its impractical MINI hatch rival has solved in recent years.
DS execs will argue that if you want something more practical, there’s plenty of choice within the Citroen range that’s priced similarly to the DS 3. Keeping it to three-doors only also helps focus the brand’s marketing efforts and draw in the young, hip customers it so desires.
Although space is fine, storage is hit-and miss. There’s a couple of cubbies in the centre stack and the door bins are adequate, but the glovebox is pitiful (and cheap-feeling) plus there’s still no proper cupholders.
The DS 3 is a compact small car, following the lead of the trend-setting MINI Hatch. It is 3,948mm long, 1,715mm wide and 1,483mm tall, making it roughly similar in size to an Audi A1 and roughly 150mm longer than a MINI.
The DS 3 is actually very similar in size to the country’s best-selling car, the Ford Fiesta. It’s worth bearing this in mind if you’re downsizing from a larger car – you’ll pay premium prices for a DS 3 but you may end up in a smaller car than the one you’re switching out of.
Do also note that most models get standard rear parking sensors (good for easy city centre parking), and a reversing camera is also available.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
The DS 3 is not the largest car in its sector, but it’s usefully larger and more practical than the compact MINI Hatch. The driver doesn’t feel too cramped and the cut-away dashboard on the passenger side accentuates space there.
All models get a height-adjustable driver’s seat as standard: it’s an option on the passenger seat too, with upper-range models getting it as standard.
Actual space in the rear isn’t bad, but it feels more cramped than it is due to the small windows (tinted on upper-trim models, adding to the gloomy feel), large B-pillars and the indulgent front seats that block the view out. For adults, consider it a short-hop 2+2; you can get three in, at a push, but we wouldn’t recommend it.
Getting in and out of the rear is a bit tricky too, due to the large B-pillar and chunky front seats. At least there’s a grab handle on each side of the B-pillar to help you clamber out again. All versions of DS 3 also get three rear head restraints as standard, which is a good safety boon.
An ample 285-litre boot is a big practicality tick for the DS 3. This is just 10 litres smaller than a Ford Fiesta, for example – and it’s a massive 35% larger than the MINI Hatch three-door. This fact alone will be the reason why some choose a DS 3 over the sorely compromised MINI.
All DS 3 get split-folding rear seats as standard, extending the boot space to 880 litres. The sill of the boot is perhaps a bit high – a legacy of its sporty design – but it’s still a practical and useful space.
Reliability and Safety
The DS 3 is a stylish premium supermini that’s based on well-proven mechanicals used across the Peugeot and Citroen range. It’s Driver Power 2015 rating was a reasonable 67th place, which is by far the best in DS’s range.
Despite this, the survey results paint a below-par picture for overall reliability and build quality, particularly the latter. It seems owners find the cheaper bits of the interior disappointing – the premium bits on top can’t mask this in day-to-day use.
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The DS 3 has a full five-star Euro NCAP safety score, with 87% for adult protection and 71% for child protection. However, this score was achieved back in 2009, when the tests were less strict than they are now. It is unlikely the DS 3 would score the same today – and even then, its meagre 35% rating for pedestrian safety wasn’t great.
At least Active City Brake autonomous braking technology is fitted as standard across the range. This is a worthwhile modern safety feature that will help bring the car to a halt from up to 18mph.
A conventional three-year, 60,000-mile warranty is offered on the DS 3, in line with its rivals. You can extend this through a DS dealer for an extra one or two years at low cost (prices start from just over £300); DS also offers a full 12-year anti-corrosion warranty, for long-term peace of mind.
Impressively, three years’ DS Automobiles roadside assistance is included as standard on all DS 3.
DS used to offer long service intervals on the DS 3, but it seems these have been cut back a bit in recent years as the engines have become more powerful and efficient. Now, the guidance is routine servicing every 16,000 miles or one year, instead of 20,000 miles and two years. The firm will have been careful to ensure costs aren’t significantly higher though – and the safety benefits of more regular checkovers will be worthwhile too.