DS 3 (2009-2019) review - Engines, performance and drive
Tidy handling and an impressive range of petrol and diesel engines, but ride and refinement are falling behind class best
Traditionally, Citroen (and DS) favoured comfort over outright driving dynamics. The DS 3 attempted to balance that out at launch with a decent blend of tidy handling and a reasonably composed ride. Unfortunately, astime has passed, the standard in the sector has risen.
The ride on most surfaces is pretty smooth, yet rough roads can cause it to crash and thud into bad potholes. Models fitted with 17-inch wheels are the worst culprits, while there’s also a sport suspension option. Both seem to have a marked effect on the ride quality, reflected in reader feedback from the Auto Express Driver Power survey. The 2016 facelift hasn't done much to rectify this. Road noise is also far too evident on all but the smoothest surfaces.
Similar criticisms can be levelled at the DS 3 Performance, although stiffer suspension is more forgiveable in a hot hatch. Still, it's firmer than a lot of its more entertaining peers.
As for handling, the DS 3 is a big contrast to the soft, rolly Citroens of old. It retains good body control in most situations, just without the last bit of driver-pleasing bite that characterises the MINI. Even so, it turns in neatly and the steering weight builds nicely when you press on, while the car’s overall balance and stability are feel-good and confidence-inspiring. Even if it can’t match it Brit-built rival, it’s arguably more fun than an Audi A1.
The manual gearshift has quite a long throw, however, while the steering feels a bit slow in small movements. No complaints with the EAT6 automatic though: this is a full torque converter and suits the DS 3’s luxurious character well.
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The DS 3 Performance builds on the existing car with the firmer suspension helping it feel taut and agile. The front differential keeps it very tidy in the corners with no understeer, while the steering is more direct than the regular car. It's definitely another level of driving fun, but there's some seriously competitive hot hatches around in the same price bracket.
Lower-end petrol engines used to be a bit of a weakness with the DS 3, but improvements in 2014 introduced the new PureTech engines that are a big step on. The BlueHDi diesel engine is also strong; it’s the latest-generation 1.6-litre unit offered in two power outputs.
There are three petrol engine and two diesel engine choices with the DS 3 and all but the basic 1.2-litre PureTech 82 are turbocharged. This 82PS engine is a relatively recent introduction and it’s smooth enough, but you’re better off with the 1.2-litre PureTech 110 which does have a turbo. This almost doubles its pulling power and nearly halves the engine revs at which this peak torque is produced; as such, it’s nearly three seconds faster from 0-62mph. It’s a striking step up for a relatively small price jump.
The PureTech 110 is the only DS 3 engine available with a self-shifting EAT6 gearbox alongside the regular five-speed manual. It’s a full automatic gearbox, rather than a more compromised automated manual – the effect on performance and fuel economy is minimal too.
The larger four-cylinder 1.6-litre THP 165 only comes with a six-speed manual but gives almost hot hatch-like performance: 0-62mph takes a swift 7.5 seconds and it will do 135mph. It’s not cheap, though, and you’ll have more fun with a Ford Fiesta ST for significantly less.
The full hot hatch experience comes with the DS 3 Performance's 204bhp 1.6-litre turbo. It boasts a healthy 300Nm of torque, and also gets shorter gear ratios to aid performance. It does 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds, and feels every bit as quick as that figure suggests.
The diesel choice is a single 1.6-litre turbo engine in either BlueHDi 100 or BlueHDi 120 guise. The more powerful engine is faster, by a reasonable-sounding 1.5 seconds to 0-62mph (it takes 9.3 seconds instead of 10.8) but peak torque isn’t that much greater. The biggest advantage to it may be in its motorway-optimised six-speed manual gearbox – the lower-power version only has five gears.
In this review
- 1DS 3 (2009-2019) reviewThe DS 3 is an upmarket rival to the MINI with posh aspirations, but it's starting to feel its age
- 2Engines, performance and drive - currently readingTidy handling and an impressive range of petrol and diesel engines, but ride and refinement are falling behind class best
- 3MPG, CO2 and Running CostsStrong fuel economy across the board equals low CO2. Insurance groups are a bit high on more powerful versions
- 4Interior, design and technologyStylish, fashionable interior is both customisable and upmarket - but awkward ergonomics and cheap plastics let it down
- 5Practicality, comfort and boot spaceBoot is a decent size and there's reasonable space, but it's three-door only and cabin stowage is poor
- 6Reliability and SafetyGood general reliability but the odd electrical niggle can still arise. Safety score was good in 2009