Citroen DS3 DSport

Striking hatch is our current class leader, and will take some beating here

The Citroen DS3 has been on sale for more than a year, so it’s becoming a familiar sight on our roads. However, that hasn’t stopped the distinctive French hatch from turning heads.

The bold nose features a chrome grille that incorporates Citroen’s double-chevron badge, which is designed to make a real impact. And in profile, the distinctive kink in the B-pillar and subtly flared wheelarches help to give the supermini a purposeful appearance.

Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Citroen DS3

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Inside, the DS3’s design is equally bold, although the striking blue dashboard (£150) and two-tone leather sets (£850) seen in our pictures don’t come as standard. Instead, these give a flavour of the extra-cost add-ons that are available. While the cabin won’t be universally popular, there’s no doubt that it has character. One thing which is missing, though, is the over-riding sense of quality 

that marks out the Audi.

The upper part of the dash is smartly designed and the deep-set dials are attractive, while the chrome-ringed switches and standard mood lighting all aim to provide an upmarket atmosphere.

Yet the A1 has a definite edge here, and the contrast between the Citroen’s fiddly stereo controls and the logical Audi system couldn’t be more pronounced. In less prominent areas such as the lower dash and door panels, you’ll find some brittle plastics, too. 

The fact that the French manufacturer hasn’t bothered to move the fuse box in the conversion to right-hand drive also smacks of cost cutting. As a result, the glovebox isn’t even big enough to accommodate the vehicle’s handbook.

It’s not all bad news, though, as the DS3 has the upper hand when it comes to passenger space. Unlike the A1, it can seat driver and four passengers in total and, while getting three adults across the back seat is a tight squeeze, the Citroen also has a bigger boot than its German counterpart.

For many premium supermini buyers, performance will be just as important as practicality, and although the DS3 can’t rival the Audi’s quality, it is more than a match for the A1 on pace. With the added flexibility of a six-speed box and an extra 20Nm of torque, it’s quicker to respond at any speed.

Also, there’s no mistaking the Citroen’s smoother engine, which serves up better refinement. At idle and low revs, there’s noticeably less clatter. Above 4,000rpm this smoothness begins to ebb away, but the HDi unit still has the upper hand.

On twisty roads, the DS3 turns into corners eagerly and is keener to respond and more engaging than the A1. However, the light steering lacks feedback. 

Body control is excellent but you run out of grip sooner than in the Audi, at which point the stability control intervenes with an unpleasant ferocity. In addition, despite producing decent stopping distances, the brake pedal is soft under foot.

When travelling at motorway speeds, there’s more road and wind noise than in the refined Audi, and on rough surfaces the suspension doesn’t prevent crashes from entering the cabin. But the Citroen is still a highly entertaining and capable supermini. So, does its more engaging driving experience secure it first place here?

Details

Chart position: 2WHY: The DS3 is the pick of the Citroen range. Talented and sharp-looking hatch has established the French firm’s DS brand.

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