Bold styling, a classy cabin and sharp driving dynamics have helped make the Citroen DS3 a surprise success in the premium supermini class. And with a number of Auto Express road test victories to its name, the stylish small car represents a stiff challenge for any potential rival.
It certainly steals the limelight in the styling stakes. Distinctive lines and neat details help the Citroen stand out from the crowd, while our DSport test car also gets eye-catching LED running lights and gloss black 17-inch alloy wheels. And if you want to be more extroverted, you can personalise your DS3 with a range of contrasting roof colours and garish exterior decals.
Citroen’s designers have taken an equally adventurous approach with the cabin. Stylish chrome-ringed dials, a range of dash colours and bold seat trim options help give it a bright and modern feel. And while the DS3 isn’t as carefully constructed as the Audi, the fixtures and fittings still feel robustly screwed together.
Standard equipment includes Bluetooth, climate control and a trip computer, while ambient lighting helps create an upmarket atmosphere in the dark. Unlike its rivals, the Citroen is a full five-seater, with the rear seats getting a trio of three-point belts.
It’s also the roomiest of our contenders for all occupants, plus it boasts a useful 285-litre boot. Fold the rear bench flat and the amount of usable space increases to 980 litres. Only the lack of cubby storage counts against the car – the pathetically small glovebox isn’t even big enough for the handbook, which has to live in the passenger door pocket instead.
We have no complaints about the DS3’s performance at the test track, though. The combination of a smooth 110bhp 1.6-litre diesel engine and the well chosen ratios of the six-speed manual box allows the Citroen to cover 0-60mph in 9.6 seconds, while in-gear pace is equally strong.
In the real world, the DS3’s advantage is even more clear-cut – it leaves the Alfa and Audi trailing in its wake. Slower traffic is dispatched without breaking a sweat and it breezes up motorway inclines that leave the MiTo breathless. It also has the upper hand through a series of corners.
Well weighted steering, strong grip and terrific body control make the Citroen an engaging and entertaining choice for a back road blast. Progressive brakes and a precise gearshift action add to this car’s dynamic superiority. What’s more, it combines agility with a supple ride and decent refinement.
However, there’s a catch. At £17,000, the Citroen is by far the most expensive car here. Plus, it suffers from the weakest residuals and is the most expensive company car, despite emitting less than 100g/km of CO2. Our test car was a pre-stop-start model, but still returned 41.6mpg, while a pre-paid servicing pack also claws back some of the extra outlay.
There’s no escaping the fact that the Citroen will make the biggest dent in your bank balance, so the question is, do these bigger bills cost the DS3 a shot at victory?
Chart position: 2WHY: Boldly styled Citroen is great to drive, has a roomy cabin and promises warm hatch-rivalling pace.