Car reviews - Citroen - DS3 - DSport Cabrio
Unique styling, excellent gearbox, cabin design, in-dash air freshener, sharp steering
Room for improvement
Boot space and access, driving position, switchgear ergonomics, muted exhaust
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8 Oct 2013
Price and equipment
Citroen’s last attempt at a sort-of convertible didn’t end up being the success story that it probably hoped for, and that may have been partly due to the C3 Pluriel’s unconventional design – in terms of both styling and operation.
The Pluriel had a range of interchangeable body-shapes allowing hatchback, convertible or ute configurations, but it proved just a bit too far-out for consumers to embrace.
For it to work, Citroen’s latest foray in to chop-top motoring had to ride a tricky balancing act between unconventional and approachable.
At $32,990, the rag-top version of the DS3 comes at a $3250 premium over the standard DSport and features the same equipment found in the hard-top including front fog lights, cruise control, sports seats, seven speaker sound system with subwoofer, USB/Bluetooth connectivity and satellite navigation.
The Citroen DS3 DSport Cabrio is a European turbocharged convertible with a decent selection of equipment. Not bad for under $33K.
Before diving in let’s consider the exterior for a moment because, if we are to be honest, that’s what this car is all about. How it looks from the outside is almost as important as how it drives.
The Citroen DS3 manages to avoid looking like anything else on the road without resorting to cheap tricks or outlandish styling statements.
At the front, vertical strips of white LEDs form the running lights, which create a head-turning effect and set a theme of unorthodox styling throughout.
A body-coloured shark-fin protrusion in to the rear window is the styling signature of the DS3 and is accentuated by matte black roof pillars, which blend in to the canvas roof.
The way the DS3 looks is perhaps best summed up by the words of one interested passer-by who simply asked “is it a concept car.”
Unfortunately the clever and likable design of the exterior was not completely carried through to the interior.
The adjustable steering column failed to provide enough distance between the pedals and the steering wheel, resulting in an unavoidably short-legged and long-armed driving position for taller drivers.
In the event of a roll-over the thick A-pillar would provide good passenger protection but under normal conditions it obstructed the view of the road and surroundings.
The rearward view is also impeded by a small back window and it is completely obscured when the roof is open.
A largely fabric ceiling limited the locations for interior lighting and this became apparent at night with just one dim source for the whole cabin.
With two long-legged adults in the front seats, rear legroom is reduced to almost nothing leaving the back seats as little more than a gesture.
Moving back further still to the boot and more space problems became apparent.
At 245 litres the space itself is actually quite generous for a car of this size but its limitations stem from access rather than capacity.
To accommodate the roof system a clever hinge mechanism opens the boot hatch directly upwards, but the resultant void in to the boot space makes loading the Citroen more like posting letters.
Furthermore accessing the boot from inside the car is not possible unless the seats are folded whereas in a conventional hatchback the boot can often be reached by removing the parcel shelf.
However some good features do sweeten the interior – literally – An adjustable vent-mounted air-freshener adds a pleasant floral note to the cabin and sits amid a well laid-out dash.
As is typical with many current Citroens, the steering wheel is used only for turning the front wheels and sounding the horn - all cruise control and entertainment system functions are accessed via column-stalks or on the dash itself.
Engine and transmission
The DS3 Sport’s 1.6-litre engine is the same tried-and-tested unit found under a diverse range of bonnets including the Mini Cooper S, Peugeot 5008 and even BMW’s 316i.
A turbocharger ups the four-cylinder’s output to 115kW/240Nm, which in a small hatchback is adequate to have some fun but not quite enough to set the bitumen on fire.
At idle and low revs the exhaust note is bassy and satisfying but at higher RPM some of the sound becomes muted, discouraging the use of power towards the redline.
The DS3 Sport is only available with a six-speed manual gearbox, which is certainly in keeping with the sporty ethos and with a solid feel, the cogs are well matched to the strong turbo engine.
Tightly spaced but tall ratios allow both efficient motoring on the freeway and enthusiastic progress on the twisty bits.
Ride and handling
A firm but not uncomfortable suspension set-up has resulted in a chassis that can be pushed hard through corners with a good degree of feedback through the steering and just a little body-roll.
There is no doubt from the outset that this was a front-wheel drive car with all the torque and under-steer that one would expect from a front-engined front-drive, but not so much that the enjoyment of piloting a small turbo convertible is spoilt.
Standard 17-inch low-profile tyres certainly create the right look side-on, but a relatively skinny contact patch (205mm) limits the grip at pace, further accentuating the front-wheel drive characteristics.
Cruising on the freeway with roof and windows closed is relaxing thanks to decent sound insulation and the high sixth-gear ratio.
While Citroen has named the DS3 a cabriolet, it is not quite a full-fat convertible and when the roof is fully lowered the windows and doors remain unchanged.
The result is good protection from the elements but the experience isn’t quite the full panoramic sensation that a completely retracting roof provides.
The upside of the sliding/folding canvas roof design is that the mechanism doesn’t require a lot of space so the interior and boot volume isn’t greatly affected.
The design also allowed the roof to be operated at freeway speeds taking just 16 seconds to fully open and only adds 25 kilos to the weight over the standard DS3 hatchback.
Unfortunately opening the windows somewhat diminishes the impressive roof-down serenity and wind noise became intrusive and turbulent.
If the passenger seat was empty the seatbelt had an annoying habit of flapping and rattling around in the breeze.
Safety and servicing
The full height windows with frames may limit the roof-down experience but it does enable the fitment of curtain airbags in addition to the side, driver and passenger airbags.
All the usual ABS, EBD, ESP and ASR electronic safety systems found their way in to the little Citroen as did five three-point seatbelts – enabling the safe seating of three passengers in the back.
Every new Citroen gets three years capped price servicing which means owners won’t pay any more than $360 per year or every 20,000kmA three year/100,000km warranty also includes road-side assistance.
As an exercise in retro revival the Citroen DS3 simply can’t compete with the heritage of Mini and Fiat, but in some ways this has played to the advantage of the little Citroen.
Where its competitors had to honour the image of a yesteryear icon, the DS3 began on a blank canvas.
The result is a car that sacrifices a little practicality to be aesthetically modern and unique, and for motorists wanting something that breaks with convention, the Citroen DS3 Sport Cabrio will fit the bill.
Mini Cooper Cabrio ($36,682 plus on-road costs). It doesn’t have the punch and performance of the turbocharged ‘S’ but the Mini gets the front-drive handling recipe just right. It also has a full convertible roof for the complete topless motoring experience.
Fiat 500C Gucci ($28,739 drive-away). Fiat’s cheeky 500 has bags of charm and retro appeal but its low price comes at the cost of space. The little Italian can seat four but only just. Gucci version carries a premium price-tag over standard 500C but adds a dollop of fashion-brand chic.
MAKE/MODEL: Citroen DS3 DSport Cabrio
ENGINE: 1.6-litre turbo in-line four
LAYOUT: Front-engined, Front-wheel drive
TRANSMISSION: Six-speed manual
TOP SPEED: 214km/h
EMISSIONS: 135g/km CO2
SUSPENSION: MacPherson strut (f) Torsion beam (r)
STEERING: Variable electric
BRAKES: Vented disc (f)/ disc (r)
PRICE: From $32,990 before on-roads
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