Citroen DS3 review
The Citroen DS3 offers great handling, like the MINI, but is bigger inside and more refined
The Citroen DS3 is Citroen's answer to the MINI Cooper, Alfa Romeo MiTo, Vauxhall Adam and even the more expensive Audi A1. The French manufacturer's luxury 'DS' range - which now includes the Citroen DS4 and DS5 - was kicked-off by the Citroen DS3.
The stylish DS3 has been a huge hit for Citroen, with thousands of examples sold since its launch in 2009. At the heart of the car’s appeal are its distinctive looks, upmarket interior and entertaining driving experience. And, as with the MINI, there’s a vast array of personalisation options.
It's pretty efficient, too, with the engine line-up fronted by a tax-free 1.6 e-HDi model which emits just 91g/km of CO2. There's also a 1.6-litre petrol turbo that produces 153bhp. The Citroen DS3 is centred around four main specifications - entry-level DSign, mid-range DStyle, as well as DSport and Ultra Prestige versions.
The entry-level Citroen DS3 DSign gets a leather steering wheel, body colour painted door mirrors with a chrome base as well as six speakers and an MP3 compatible CD player. DSign and DSport specifications also come in 'Plus' versions, which includes upgrades such as bigger alloy wheels and digital air-con for DSign spec and rear parking sensors and automatic headlamps for DSport spec. On top of this, the Citroen DS3 is available in a limited edition Racing version and a special Red edition. There's a cabriolet version, too - the Citroen DS3 Cabrio went on sale in February 2013 and comes with a fully reclining canvas roof.
Our choice: DS3 1.6 e-HDi DStyle
It’s been around for more than four years, but the DS3 still has the ability to turn heads. Compared to the evolutionary MINI and understated Audi A1, it stands out with its blend of bold lines and quirky details.
Highlights include the eye-catching LED running lamps, ‘shark fin’-shaped B-pillars and 3D-effect tail-lights. Our Sport trim car also has attractive 17-inch alloys, a tailgate spoiler and chrome-trimmed twin-exit exhaust. Plus, all DS3s can be customised with contrasting roof colours, body decals, mirror finishes and wheel options.
Inside, there is a choice of eye-catching finishes for the full-width dash panel, while a neat floating cowl covers the chrome-ringed dials. A gloss black centre console, leather and metal-effect gearlever and drilled alloy pedals complete the bold look.
Yet while the interior is stylish and solidly built, it’s let down by some cheap-feeling plastics, particularly on the door tops and lower half of the dash. Still, the standard kit count is generous and includes climate control, Bluetooth and ambient cabin lighting. Sport models also get heavily bolstered front seats, and leather trim can be added for £1,150. Other desirable additions include the £800 eMyWay sat-nav and £450 City Signature pack, which adds rear parking sensors, automatic headlamps and a front centre armrest.
The Citroen DS3 engine range features the efficient 1.6 e-HDi diesel engine, which emits a tax-free 91g/km - this can be had with either 90bhp or 153bhp. 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. There's also a nippy 1.6 THP DSport, which reaches 0-62mph in just 7.3 seconds. DSport specification also gets stiffer suspension to give it better handling and grip, but the downside to this is reduced driving comfort.
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.
Happily, this nimble handling doesn’t detract from comfort levels. The ride is firm at low speed, but the DS3 does a better job of smoothing out bumps than the stiffer MINI.
The limited-edition DS3 Racing model has improved handling and goes from 0-62mph in just 6.9 seconds.
Traditionally, reliability has been a weak point for Citroen, with the brand finishing a disappointing 24th out of 30 in the 2013 Driver Power manufacturer results. Granted, Citroen has made huge efforts to improve its reliability, especially with newer models such as the exclusive 'DS' range. This was especially made evident in the 2013 Auto Express Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, where the Citroen DS3 managed to secure the French manufacturer its best ever entry in the results - ranking 36th out of 100. There are still some issues that Citroen needs to crack down on - some have complained of faults with the electrics and windscreen washer jets. The Citroen DS3 was awarded a maximum five-star rating from the Euro NCAP crash safety test - it comes with ESP, an immobiliser and seatbelt pre-tensioners.
The DS3 is limited by its three-door bodystyle – although Citroen also offers a Cabrio with a peel-back soft-top. Still, wide-opening doors, seats that slide forward and usefully placed grab handles on the B-pillars ensure access to the rear bench is simple enough.
Once in the back, you’ll find a trio of three-point seatbelts, plus a lot more head and legroom than in the MINI. Scattered about the cabin are handy cup-holders and cubbies, useful door pockets and a deep centre console storage bin. The only real black mark is that the glove compartment is rendered virtually useless by 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 47.1mpg and emits just 136g/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.
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.