The DS3 is the first of Citroen’s new DS models – and it has already impressed our road test team. The flagship DSport model driven here won an Auto Express group test in Issue 1,107, and its 1.6-litre engine is the same as the MINI’s, but with one significant difference.
Despite undercutting its British rival on price, the Citroen comes with a more powerful turbocharged version of the Cooper’s engine. And that’s not all: the DS3 looks the part, too, as the French firm has given its new supermini a thoroughly modern style. It compares favourably with its retro rival, and makes the A1 appear safe and predictable in comparison.
Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Citroen DS3
Buyers can choose from a huge range of cosmetic extras, including contrasting roof colours, a selection of decals and various wheel and trim options. Get it right and the DS3 is a sporty and attention-grabbing supermini – although we’re not fans of the distinctive LED daytime running lamps. The vertical strips on either side of the bumper give the car an ungainly upright stance.
Inside, the cabin borrows heavily from the C3 supermini, but that’s no bad thing, as it looks good. Glossy trim on the dashboard and smart climate control switches give the interior a classy feel, while the neat chrome-rimmed dials are in keeping with its youthful design.
The cabin is also the most spacious on test, and has three seatbelts in the back. However, the button-heavy stereo is fiddly to use, unattractive to look at and positioned too low on the centre console. And the interior lacks the high-quality finish that identifies both of its rivals.
There’s nothing wrong with the materials; it simply doesn’t feel as well screwed together as the MINI or A1. The ill-fitting lid for the tiny glovebox – which is so small that it doesn’t even hold the handbook – is a prime example. This isn’t a deal breaker, though, as the DS3 represents much better value for money – it sits between its rivals on price, despite dominating them on power.
The 1.6-litre THP engine develops 148bhp and a useful 240Nm of torque, making it easily the fastest choice. It blasted from 0-60mph in 7.3 seconds, which was more than two seconds quicker than the Cooper. In fact, the Citroen is a genuine hot hatch. It delivers impressive pace and the positive action of its light six-speed box makes using its performance genuinely enjoyable.
Plus, the chassis doesn’t disappoint, either, as the Citroen is great to drive. It’s more agile and responsive than the A1, yet more comfortable than the MINI.Perfectly placed pedals and a decent driving position add to the appeal, although it doesn’t turn into bends with the immediacy of the Cooper.
Where the DS3 struggles to convince is on paper, as it costs more than the Audi, has higher emissions and won’t hold on to its value as well. But what price do you put on sharp looks and an engaging character?
Chart position: 1WHY: The DS3 is the young upstart of the upmarket small car sector. It’s slightly more expensive than the A1, but offers more power and kit than either of its rivals.