Car reviews - Citroen - DS3 - Cabrio
Style, value, terrific turbocharged 1.6-litre unit in DSport, ease of cabrio operation, top-quality cabin
Room for improvement
Naturally aspirated 1.6 and ancient four-speed auto in DStyle, vague steering, tiny boot opening
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15 Aug 2013
SINCE local distributor Sime Darby took the reigns of Citroen earlier this year, the French brand has been open about its plans to boost brand awareness and grow sales in Australia.
While its C-Line models, including the C3 and C4 hatch ranges and the C5 mid-size offering, have shed sales this year, its more upscale DS line of vehicles, particularly the DS3, is finally gaining traction.
But Citroen’s latest addition, the DS3 Cabrio, is unlikely to single-handedly restore the company to its 2007 sales high when it shifted 3803 units in Australia.
This is not because the car isn’t worthy of selling in decent numbers, but because Citroen’s local arm could only get its hands on 90 cute cabrios after experiencing unexpectedly high demand in other markets.
The cabrio joins the DS3 hatch that arrived in Australia in 2010 and will sell as two variants - the entry-level DStyle from $30,990 and flagship DSport from $32,990 before on-road costs.
This marks a $3250 premium over the equivalent hatch variants and places the fashion-forward Cabrio smack-bang in the middle of its main rivals.
Fiat’s 500 Cabrio range now kicks off from $17,900 and ends at $22,700, following a price cut earlier this year, while the Mini Roadster ranges between $37,500 and $45,500 and the Cabriolet starts from $40,350 before topping out at $48,800.
Citroen can’t beat the value of the Italian drop-top, but you get more metal for your money with the DS3. It features a similar level of spec to that of the Mini Roadster, for a few grand less.
In DStyle guise, Citroen offers standard gear such as leather steering wheel, aluminium pedals and Bluetooth connectivity and the DSport adds sat-nav and a carbon-fibre effect dash.
The DSport’s premium over the DStyle also affords it a more powerful and fuel-efficient powertrain.
A naturally aspirated 1.6-litre four-cylinder unit producing 88kW/160Nm propels the DStyle, while the DSport better reflects its name with the sweet PSA/BMW 1.6-litre turbocharged unit pumping out 115kW/240Nm.
This powerplant, in different degrees of tune, is found under the bonnet of a number of models from BMW Group and PSA, including the Peugeot RCZ (147kW/275Nm) and the Mini Cooper S Cabriolet and Roadster Cooper S (135kW/240Nm).
While its reputation for designing high-quality interiors is not quite as strong as German car-maker Audi, Citroen is still very capable of building beautiful interiors. The recently discontinued C6 flagship and even the C5 mid-size range feature plush, well-appointed cabins with interesting styling quirks throughout.
The DS3’s cabin doesn’t include the quirks that would immediately identify it as a Citroen, aside from the built-in air freshener, but it is a classy cabin with high-quality materials nonetheless.
Black gloss panels on the centre console are a nice touch, soft-touch materials on the dash feel great and there is chrome throughout, adding to the premium Euro leanings of the car.
As with some other French car-makers, Citroen houses controls for audio and cruise on two stalks sitting behind the wheel, as opposed to on the wheel itself. This seems a little behind the times, but it only takes a couple of drives to get used to them.
Citroen says that the DS3 is a “real” five-seat Cabrio and after a brief stint in the rear bench, we can confirm that all five seats are indeed real.
Children, smaller adults and dogs will actually find the rear seat head- and legroom more than adequate, but any larger humans will quickly tire of the lack of head-room, especially as it becomes difficult to look out the rear side windows, and the bench itself is quite flat.
Not so the front seats. There is ample support for both driver and passenger and the cloth trim is acceptable, but the seats are slightly narrow and larger occupants may find the side bolsters intrusive.
The chunky A-pillar and small rear window mean visibility is not great, and with the top in place is even worse. But the two rear side windows are huge and good for checking to see what is behind you.
The canvas roof lowers into three positions, including intermediate, which is like a sunroof, horizontal which opens it up for rear passengers, and fully open.
At just 16 seconds, operation is quick and easy and it can be lowered at speeds of up to 120km/h, providing a lovely open-air experience.
Through soundproofing and acoustics engineering, Citroen has kept noise in the cabin down, although we noticed the occasional bit of noise from passing traffic sneaking in through the canvas roof.
The cabrio was never going to be as quiet as the hatch, but it’s a good job on Citroen’s part.
Citroen claims to have the biggest boot in its class, and its clever lift-up panel operation means the cargo area can open even when parked up against a wall, but the opening itself is tiny.
One journalist noted the height of the opening wasn’t large enough to fit a case of champagne. Luckily the DS3 has 60/40 split fold rear seats for storing anything larger.
The 88kW/160Nm 1.6-litre engine in the DStyle is matched with an old-school four-speed automatic transmission, and for folks who will use the DS3 Cabrio as a city runabout, that might be all you need.
But buyers wanting a bit more performance out of their drop-top should look elsewhere as lack of power in the DStyle means it struggles, especially when faced with a hill or incline.
The auto transmission is out of its league, regularly holding second gear for far too long as well as searching for the appropriate ratio when pushed.
But it wasn’t just hilly areas the DStyle was uninspiring on flat roads in a straight line, and around town.
Citroen claims the DS3’s power steering was enhanced for more precise, but we found it to be vague and indirect, unlike rival Mini’s Roadster.
There was some body-roll on corners but not enough to cause annoyance and the suspension was nicely balanced to soak up bumps and pot holes without being too soft.
While the DStyle is available only with the four-speed auto, the DSport comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission matched with the turbocharged 115kW/240Nm 1.6-litre engine.
This combination provides a much more entertaining drive and is a giant step up from the DStyle.
The punchy little engine is more capable of climbing hills than its fashion-conscious sibling and helps the DS3 dart around corners and bends with ease.
With sharp changes and a lovely light clutch, the sweet six-speed box works a treat with this engine.
The DS3 did get a little skittish over loser surfaces, highlighting the fact that this is not a rally car, but overall the ride and performance of the DSport gave us more than a little joie de vivre.
Citroen’s official fuel figure for the DSport is 5.9 litres per 100 kilometers and we recorded 6.2L/100km, while the DStyle averaged 7.7L/100km, up from the official combined figure of 6.7L/100km.
Citroen says that between 60 to 70 per cent of buyers will opt for the manual DSport model, and we think that makes sense.
While many people will be attracted to the keen entry price, elements of French flair and style of the DStyle, buyers who to pay the extra $2000 for the DSport will be rewarded with a much more engaging, fun and economical drive.
Citroen may only be able to sell 90 DS3s this year, but we think they might need to get onto HQ and up the allocation for next year.
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