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Car reviews - Citroen - DS3 - 3-dr hatch range

Our Opinion

We like
Sleek and unique styling, turbo engine performance, firm and responsive handling, sharp steering, tight chassis feel, premium interior design and ambience
Room for improvement
Gearshift too far back, some mirror wind noise, persistent dash rattle, tight pedal spacing, no turbo auto, no base manual, we didn’t drive the non-turbo (four-speed) auto-only model

6 Sep 2010

IT WOULD be easy to dismiss the DS3 as yet another Mini-mimicking European micro attempting to cash in on the growing demand for premium-priced prestige small cars, including Volkswagen’s Golf-based Beetle and Alfa’s Fiat Punto-based MiTo.

But that would seriously underestimate the first model to wear Citroen’s hallowed DS nameplate for 35 years, because the DS3 is much more than a stylish three-door hatchback body draped over the next generation of Citroen’s mainstream C3 five-door.

In fact, we’ll venture to say the DS3 is the best Citroen in as many years, thanks to unique French styling that’s clearly more upmarket than the small cars that went before it, combined with a well-sorted chassis that also makes it a cracking drive.

Delivering style and substance in equally convincing measures, the DS3 is no fireball but in turbocharged guise matches satisfying acceleration with a slick-shifting six-speed manual transmission to be a real surprise package.

We haven’t yet driven the C3 that spawned the ground-breaking DS3, but we doubt it will be this much fun to drive, because the first evidence of Citroen’s ambitious upwards march feels tighter, livelier and more refined than any mainstream French small car we can remember.

Disappointingly, nor did we get to drive the non-turbo entry-level model, which is yet to arrive in Australia but will be available exclusively as an automatic, so we can’t say how the same 88kW Mini that powers the base Mini performs in the cheapest DS3 with a four-speed self-shifter.

But we can say that, fitted as standard with a six-speed manual gearbox, the 115kW DS3 DSport is a willing performer, offering a solid midrange punch and revving crisply and cleanly to beyond 6000rpm after only a whiff of initial turbo lag from idle.

Yes, the pedal box is too tightly packed, making it easy to snag your left shoe on the aluminium-faced clutch pedal with every gearshift, and the gearshifter itself is set too far back on the centre console for our liking, but at least the pedals are not offset and the steering wheel offers a refreshingly generous range of both height and telescopic adjustment.

Combined with plenty of headroom and class-leading elbow room, the brilliant hip-hugging sports seats – clad in hard-wearing Alcantara fake-suede, which matches the exterior paint colour on the top-spec DSport – the DS3 will also suit all but the tallest of drivers, although the three-position rear seat is tight for legroom and will keep centre occupants cosy.

We loved the carbon-look dashboard feature of the black-roofed model we drove, and the white dash face in white-roofed models is equally classy, but at least two vehicles we drove came with an annoyingly persistent dash rattle on certain road surfaces.

Like many European models, the DSport’s 17-inch tyres were loud on coarse-chip roads and there was also some wind whistle from both wing mirrors, but overall the level of interior fit, finish and refinement is outstanding for a small car.

Even more impressive, however, is the DS3’s tight chassis feel, which combined with undeniably firm but reasonably compliant suspension and agile, communicative and superbly weighted electric steering, makes the DS3 a delight to throw into corners.

Naturally, the firmly sprung, short-wheelbase DS3 can pitch and bounce in bumpy corners like the ones on the launch drive between Sydney and the Hunter Valley.

But never did the chunky three-spoke steering wheel – with flat bottom and no remote cruise and audio functions, which are relegated to two column-mounted stalks – reveal even the slightest of kickback, rack rattle or torque steer.

Like the Mini, the DS3 is both decidedly well sorted and confidence-inspiring to drive quickly.

Returning to Sydney in peak-hour Monday traffic, the DS3 felt equally at home on the NSW capital’s pock-marked arterial roads, and attracted enough enthusiastic gazes from onlookers to remind us this accomplished French compact is also a looker.

Take it from us, the (turbo) DS3 has the go to match its considerable show and deserves to be put on the map of any premium small-car buyer.

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