Citroen DS3 DSport

Firm reinvents DS badge with performance three door

The Citroen DS3 has one car very clearly in its sights: the MINI. As the ‘Anti-Retro’ TV ads proclaim, the striking new three-door doesn’t look to the past for its inspiration – unlike its popular British rival.

Citroen has copied MINI with its optional extras, though. As with the Cooper S, the DS3 is available with a host of roof and mirror colour combinations, plus a range of decals and accessories.

The unique DS badge is proudly displayed front and rear, but the newcomer still incorporates Citroen’s double-chevron logo into its bold grille. Swept-back headlamps and a distinctive kink in the B-pillar also add to the visual drama, and our red and white test model attracted plenty of attention on the road.

Inside, the design is equally glitzy. Piano-effect dash trim provides an upmarket feel, while the deep-set dials are extremely attractive. There’s a decent range of adjustment on the chunky leather-trimmed wheel, and while you sit higher in the Citroen than in the MINI, the driving position is comfortable.

Downsides include the fiddly stereo and some cheap plastics in less obvious places around the cabin. But although the DS3 can’t rival the MINI’s class-leading interior quality, it still represents a step up from the firm’s other small cars. Plus, it has the Brit hatch beaten on space.

The Citroen has the shortest wheelbase here, and legroom in the rear is tighter than in the back of the Alfa. Yet it trumps the MINI. And with a 285-litre boot and split-fold seats, the DS3 offers the biggest and most flexible luggage space of our trio.

Under the bonnet, the Citroen has the same 1.6-litre turbo as the Cooper S, but in the DS3 the output is a more modest 148bhp – that’s 33bhp down on the latest MINI. However, the car matches its rival for torque and is 40kg lighter – at 1,165kg – which helps to explain how the less powerful DS3 was one-tenth quicker in the sprint from 0-60mph at the test track, with a time of 6.7 seconds.

Longer gearing and less aggressive power delivery mean the DSport isn’t as quick to respond in fourth and fifth.

The Citroen’s calmer throttle action has some welcome benefits, though: the car doesn’t spin its wheels as easily as the MINI under hard acceleration. And it feels effortlessly fast on flowing B-roads, where it blends performance with refinement.

The cabin is well isolated from road and wind noise, while the suspension set-up isn’t as firm as the MINI’s. As a result, the composed Citroen soaks up the kind of rough surfaces that unsettle the Cooper S.

Yet while it’s fun, the DS3 isn’t as engaging as the MINI – it lacks its opponent’s constant stream of feedback and agility. The Citroen still feels lighter and quicker to respond than the Alfa, though, and only the slightly numb steering and overactive stability system really let it down. The six-speed box in the DSport has a far more positive shift action than the five-ratio unit fitted to less powerful models, too.

This Citroen performs even more strongly when it comes to price. At £15,900 it’s tremendous value and is loaded with standard kit. That makes the £17,895 Alfa look expensive, while a Cooper S with the Chili Pack costs £19,005.

Even without that desirable options package, the MINI still commands a £1,000-plus premium over the Citroen – so, whichever way you cut it, the DS3 flagship has cost on its side.

The firm has even launched its own MINI-inspired fixed-price servicing deal, with three years’ cover for £199. But will all this be enough to help the Citroen see off the scalpel-sharp Cooper S and distinctive MiTo Cloverleaf?

Ratings

Styling- 4/5 While the DS3 lacks the retro appeal of the MINI and the distinctive looks of the MiTo, it still turns heads. LED daytime running lamps are standard-fit in DSport trim, while 17-inch wheels and twin exhausts add a sporty edge.

Interior- 4/5 The cabin design is easily the best in a Citroen small car. It’s comfortable, and DSport models feature carbon-effect dash trim and drilled aluminium pedals. Add a decent boot and practical five-seater layout, and it’s the most flexible of the trio in this test.

Driving- 4/5 Quite simply the most dynamically accomplished Citroen we’ve driven for years. The DS3 is both fun and reassuring, and more comfortable than the MINI.  But it can’t match the Cooper S for steering sharpness and feedback.

Costs- 4/5 The DSport is the cheapest car here and comes well equipped. While higher emissions make it the costliest company choice and residuals can’t match the MINI’s, it suffers less depreciation than the Alfa.

Green- 3/5 As it’s the only car in this test without stop-start, the Citroen has the highest emissions and the lowest combined economy. Yet in our hands it just edged the 2009 model year MINI at the pumps, returning a reasonable 35mpg.

Details

Chart position: 1WHY: In flagship DSport trim, the DS3 features a six-speed gearbox and a powerful turbocharged petrol engine.

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