Car group tests

DS 3 vs MINI Cooper vs Audi A1

With a new look and new engines, the DS 3 is aiming high as it meets posh small car rivals from MINI and Audi

Ever since BMW’s all-new MINI landed in showrooms at the start of the 21st century, makers have been battling to produce the most upmarket supermini of them all. Citroen joined the party in 2010 with the DS 3, and now that the DS models have been packaged into a separate premium brand, the smallest car in the range has been given a makeover to keep it at the front of the pack.

Best superminis to buy right now

The updated DS 3 has a new nose, a revised engine range and a more upmarket cabin, but is this enough, especially in the face of the latest MINI, our Car of the Year in 2014?

To find out, we’ve lined up a DS 3 Prestige, powered by the firm’s 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo engine, which has been reworked to produce 128bhp. That’s a little behind the 134bhp MINI Cooper, but with a similar price tag and a range of personalisation options to match, it will be an interesting battle.

Of course, no premium supermini fight would be complete without the Audi A1, so we’ve invited the 1.4 TFSI S line model along to give the new DS 3 an even tougher match. It’s unique in this test because it’s powered by a four-cylinder engine; does that give it an advantage over its three-cylinder rivals?

Head-to-head

Personalisation

All three cars have a bewildering range of styling options. The new DS 3 offers metallic paint with a choice of contrast roof colours for prices between £250 and £980, while roof graphics can be added for £250. You can upgrade lower-spec models with big alloys for £200-£400, or change the wheels on a Prestige model for no cost.

On the MINI, a contrast roof is a free upgrade, bonnet stripes are £80 and chrome mirror caps £65. Plus, you can replace the tiny 15-inch wheels with alloys ranging from 16-18 inches in diameter for £520-£1,595.

Audi offers a contrast roof on the A1 for £400, or contrast door pillars for £350. S line models can be upgraded to diamond cut 18-inch alloy wheels for £945.

Engines

In the race to downsize, the DS 3 and MINI feature three-cylinder turbos, while the A1 comes with a regular four-cylinder engine. Surprisingly, the MINI was quieter and more refined than the Audi, with less vibration and engine noise across the rev range.

Verdict

First place: MINI Cooper

It’s a previous Auto Express Car of the Year, and the MINI has come out on top again. The three-door looks just right when compared to the other MINI bodystyles, while the Cooper is arguably the sweet spot in the range. It delivers fantastic handling, great performance and excellent economy, and you can spec one up with a decent amount of kit and still undercut the DS on price. 

Second place: DS 3

There’s been enough of an update for the DS 3 to remain competitive with the MINI, and the revised range has an upmarket feel with plenty of personalisation on offer. The engine is punchy and refined, while cabin space in the back is the best here. The car sacrifices handling for comfort, although it’s not far enough ahead of the MINI to deliver a knock-out blow.

Third place: Audi A1

It’s still a desirable and upmarket supermini, but the gap between the A1 and its rivals has grown a little. While the cabin is well built, it looks dated when compared to newer Audis, plus the 1.4 TFSI engine isn’t as refined, powerful or efficient as its opponents’. Still, rock-solid residuals appeal, and it’s an understated choice for buyers wanting a subtle, upmarket supermini.

Other options for similar money...

New: Alfa Romeo MiTo 1.4 TCT QV Line

Price: £18,460Engine: 1.4-litre 4cyl, 138bhp

Want some Italian flair from your supermini? The MiTo is getting on a bit, but the QV Line has a sporty edge, while the 1.4 MultiAir engine with a twin-clutch gearbox claims 0-62mph in 8.1 seconds. It emits 124g/km, though. 

Used: 1972 Citroen DS23 Pallas

Price: £19,000Engine: 2.3-litre 4cyl, 141bhp

Classic car prices are going through the roof, but with a bit of hunting you could get the keys to a genuine Citroen DS for the same price as the DS 3. A late fuel-injected model is just within reach; but put plenty aside for running costs.

Figures

 MINI Cooper (Pepper/Media) DS 3 1.2 PureTech 130 PrestigeAudi A1 1.4 TFSI 125 S line
On the road price/total as tested£18,745/£21,250£18,795/£21,275£18,900/£18,900
Residual value (after 3yrs/36,000)£9,185/49.0%£7,706/41.0%£10,830/57.3%
Depreciation£9,560£11,089£8,070
Annual tax liability std/higher rate£652/£1,305£675/£1,349£754/£1,508
Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)£1,335/£2,224£1,648/£2,746£1,405/£2,341
Ins. group/quote/road tax band/cost18/£529/B/£2023/£652/B/£2021/£480/C/£30
Servicing costs£349 (5yrs/50k)£449 (3yrs/35k)£289 (5yrs/50k)
    
Length/wheelbase3,821/2,495mm3,948/2,452mm3,973/2,469mm
Height/width1,414/1,727mm1,483/1,715mm1,416/1,740mm
Engine3cyl in-line/1,499cc3cyl in-line/1,199cc4cyl in-line/1,395cc
Peak power/revs134/4,400 bhp/rpm128/5,500 bhp/rpm124/5,000 bhp/rpm
Peak torque/revs220/1,250 Nm/rpm230/1,750 Nm/rpm200/1,400 Nm/rpm
Transmission6-spd man/fwd6-spd man/fwd6-spd man/fwd
Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel40 litres/£6550 litres/sp saver45 litres/repair kit
Boot capacity (seats up/down)211/731 litres285/980 litres270/920 litres
Kerbweight/payload/towing weight1,160/480kg/N/A1,090/395/1,150kg1,080/485/1,200kg
Turning circle11.0 metres10.2 metres10.7 metres
Basic warranty (miles)/recovery3yrs (unltd)/3yrs3yrs (60,000)/3yrs3yrs (60,000)/3yrs
Service intervals/UK dealersVariable/14812k miles (1yr)/196Variable/121
Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos.16th/10th20th/9th13th/25th
Euro NCAP: Adult/child/ped./stars79/83/63/4 (2014)87/71/35/5 (2009)90/79/49/5 (2010)
    
0-60/30-70mph8.2/8.1 secs8.9/8.8 secs9.1/8.7 secs
30-50mph in 3rd/4th5.1/6.4 secs3.5/5.1 secs4.4/6.1 secs
50-70mph in 5th/6th9.3/12.4 secs7.5/10.0 secs9.4/12.2 secs
Top speed/rpm at 70mph130mph/2,200rpm127mph/2,400rpm127mph/2,300rpm
Braking 70-0/60-0/30-0mph52.6/36.0/10.0m51.4/34.8/9.1m56.3/37.3/9.5m
Noise outside/idle/30/70mph65/46/63/71dB65/41/63/72dB64/43/65/72dB
Auto Express econ (mpg/mpl)/range42.1/9.3/370 miles34.1/7.5/375 miles40.0/8.8/396 miles
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined49.6/74.3/62.8mpg52.3/70.6/62.8mpg43.5/68.9/56.5mpg
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined10.9/16.3/13.8mpl11.5/15.5/13.8mpl9.6/15.2/12.4mpl
Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket155/105g/km/18%191/105g/km/18%163/117g/km/20%
    
Airbags/Isofix/park sensors/cameraSix/yes/£260/£255Six/yes/yes/£200Six/yes/£345/no
Auto gearbox/stability/cruise control£1,270/yes/yesNo/yes/yes£1,540/yes/£225
Climate control/leather/heated seats£325/£1,305/£215Yes/£800/no£330/£1,250/£215
Met paint/xenon lights/keyless go£475/£670*/£215£495/yes/no£390/yes/£390
Sat-nav/USB/DAB radio/BluetoothYes/yes/yes/yesYes/yes/yes/yes£570/yes/yes/yes

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