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

Our Opinion

We like
A genuine sense of style both inside and out with trademark Citroen elements Phenomenal low-rpm torque Excellent dynamics and sheer fun to drive factor Greater practicality than most rivals
Room for improvement
Some flawed ergonomic elements such as the fiddly, non-intuitive cruise control Coat hooks and bottle holders are nowhere to be found

18 Feb 2011

IF IT hadn’t been for Chrysler’s PT Cruiser, the Volkswagen New Beetle and BMW’s born-again Mini, Citroen might not have felt the need to make the extraordinary claim that the DS3 is ‘anti retro’.

The reality is that the model’s raison d étre is to remind us of Citroen’s heritage and especially that the DS that was the unquestioned star of the 1955 Paris Salon and remained the car of the future until somewhere towards the 1980s. ‘DS’ was a pun on the French for goddess and aficionados prefer Diesse as the model descriptor.

Although the DS3 is based on the new C3, this premium model preceded it to market. The DS3 would be an interesting car if only because it reveals how Citroen wants to be perceived, namely as a style-leader with deep credentials.

Fortunately though there is abundant substance to accompany the in-your-face funkiness.

There is a wide range of DS3 variants available in Europe, all the way from an entry-level 70kW 1.4-litre model through to the 149kW DS3 Racing, neither of which is available locally. Between these extremes come the 88kW DS3 DStyle and the 115 kW DS3 DSport, both of which are available here.

This is one new car that immediately stands out from the crowd of lookalikes and does so in a refreshing way: few will call it ugly. A huge range of striking two-tone combinations is available and, usually, the colour of the lower body is contrasted with the roof.

One imagines many customers finding the range of choice too challenging and it’s certainly unusual in the price range, being more like the treatment you expect if you buy another brand imported by Ateco, namely Maserati.

The key fob is colour-keyed and the elaborate DS3 badge is magnificent. GoAuto’s test DSport variant was metallic black with matching alloys, and a white roof and fascia. We liked it but share Ateco boss Neville Crichton’s preference for bright yellow and black with faux carbon-fibre dash. Yellow seats complete our package.

Joyous details abound. The Sport variant has radical LED strips down the outside of the front bumpers. Chrome highlights are generously splashed around. The ‘floating’ roof and the ‘Shark Fin’ B-pillar also suggest both 1950s heritage and a futuristic vision: the ‘DS’ moniker received visual justification. The DSport has especially handsome 17-inch alloy wheels.

The DS3 Sport’s emphatic aesthetic statement is backed by sybaritic levels of equipment. Climate-control air-conditioning, cruise control, plush seats with Alcantara highlights and an air freshening system operated by a round chrome knob of utterly retro design are all included in the recommended retail price of $35,990 (plus on-road costs).

Nice touches include a cooled glovebox and an oil level readout. The usual multitude of safety features including electronic stability control reflect the French company’s commitment to the issue (as evidenced, for example, by the former flagship C6’s pedestrian-friendly bonnet).

While the radical exterior appearance may go some way towards justifying that strange ‘anti-retro’ advertising line, the interior has something of a 1960s flavour despite the 21st Ccentury specification.

There is an appealing sense of airiness. The white plastic dashboard is a pleasing point of difference from the mainstream. Finish is to a higher standard than other Citroens apart from the premium C6 and the second-generation C5.

It is a spacious cabin, too, far more so than a Mini’s. Behind the split/folding rear seat is a well shaped boot which can swallow 980 litres or 285 when the seats are in place. But imperfect ergonomics constitute an irritant for the journalist who is always swapping vehicles, even if owners are unlikely to complain.

Particularly challenging to the uninitiated is the combined cruise and speed control. If you can master these without resorting to the owner’s handbook, you’ve done exceedingly well! While the steering wheel offers the ideal location for cruise control tabs or buttons, the designers might have judged this one too elegant for further compromise beyond audio controls.

It’s harder though to justify the absence of either a coat hook or drink bottle holder, as GoAuto’s tester discovered when rushing out one morning with briefcase, jacket and bottle. The line ‘putting funk before function’ did leap to mind.

The DS3 DSport gets a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine which makes 115kW of power backed by 240Nm of torque which is on tap all the way through from 1400 rpm to 4000rpm.

Torque is the key to the DS3 Sport’s urgency. Even when driven gently, this small car has an effortless tractability more usually associated with larger-engined machines. Zero to 100 km/h takes just 7.3 seconds.

The car is available only with a six-speed manual transmission, the upper three ratios of which are quite tall, contributing to exemplary economy. On test this distinctly sporty hatch used little more than 5.0 litres per 100 kilometres on the highway. Carbon dioxide emissions are just 155 g/km. (Choose the standard DS3 and you get a four-speed automatic transmission with no choice of a manual.)

Dynamics would deserve the adjective ‘brilliant’ but are let down slightly by (electric) steering which delivers less feel than enthusiasts expect, although turn-in is instant and steering response precise. The DS3 is a superb handler without too much of the ride comfort compromise found in some rivals and most notably the Alfa Romeo MiTo.

Some owners might find the advice about when to change to the next gear useful. The tall sixth gear (at 100km/h the engine spins at just 2250rpm) makes for quiet progress and exceptional open road economy. Judicious turbocharging of a small petrol engine begins to look like a good alternative to a turbo-diesel.

In summary, the DS3 deserves its moniker. Genuinely individual, this charismatic little Citroen is as much fun to drive as it to look at and sit in.

The entry-level DStyle model offers a less compelling value for money proposition at $32,990 with just 88kW and an outdated four-speed automatic than the $35,990 DSport.

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