Citroen\'s answer to the Mini is one of the best French cars currently on the road.
The Citroen DS3 was the first of the French brand’s new breed of premium cars paying homage to the famously innovative ‘Diesse’ sold from 1955 to 1975.
But there’s no longer much of a ‘premium’ price tag attached to this city car.
After launching in 2010 with starting prices of $32,990 and $35,990 for the two trim levels, DStyle and DSport, successive price cuts in 2012 see the entry model Citroen DS3 become available for just $24,990 and the sportier version just $27,990, both driveaway.
That’s a saving of more than $10,000 on each – great news for budding buyers but bad news for resale values of those purchased previously.
Some might call it a slightly Machiavellian move from current Citroen importer Ateco Automotive, which is expected to pass the brand to the company responsible for its sister brand, Peugeot.
The price change – which is unlikely to remain in place too far into 2013 – makes the Citroen DS3 an even greater bargain compared with BMW’s little cash cow, the Mini hatchback.
Our test is of the DSport variant that actually shares its 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo engine with the Mini Cooper S – though with slightly lower outputs of 115kW and 240Nm.
With a 0-100km/h claim of 7.3 seconds it’s not as quick as its rival, and it doesn’t feel as punchy.
This is still a delightful unit, though – responsive from idle, and providing a strong, linear delivery from a couple of thousand revs.
There’s only a six-speed manual available – the DStyle comes with auto mated to smaller, 1.4-litre engine – but it’s a good one, avoiding the sloppiness that has plagued many Peugeot-Citroen models in recent years.
The drivetrain encourages you to have fun in the Citroen DS3, but if you stay on the sensible side then you’re more likely to match the official fuel consumption of 6.7 litres per 100km.
Venture onto winding roads and the DS3 proves to be the best-handling Citroen for eons. The steering is accurate and linear, if no match for the speed of the Mini’s tiller, and there’s a delicate balance to the way the DS3’s chassis sets itself up for each change of direction.
Head back into the city, and the suspension can be a touch noisy – with some tyre roar thrown into the mix - and isn’t quite able to make a fuss-free passage across big potholes, but the DS3’s ride is generally comfortable and absorbent.
The front seats are relaxing enough for general driving and offer good support for more enthusiastic punting.
The Citroen DS3 has more distinctive styling than the C3 on which it’s based, with the notable shark fin bodywork that rises out of the rear bodywork in a Jaws-like fashion.
Blacked-out windscreen and door pillars also create the ‘floating roof’ effect that may be a blatant rip-off of the Mini but is equally effective.
The roof, too, is available in contrasting colours, with optional decals, while the main body can be subtle or loud with a choice of conservative colours (such as white) or bright hues (such as yellow). (Same with the interior, where it’s possible to match seat colour to body colour.)
Yet without the baggage of a famous lineage, the DS3 is also free to be refreshingly anti-retro.
Fancy-looking Y-spoke 17-inch alloys help to fill the wheel-arches, and the double-chevron-topped grille is flanked by standard LED daytime running lights and foglights.
There’s not as great a differentiation between the DS3 and C3 interiors alas, with similar interior design. So the perception of quality, as well as fit and finish, could be higher for what is positioned as the more premium model, though soft-touch materials are used for main connection points between occupants and car.
The Citroen DS3 also offers more practicality than a Mini.
There’s more boot space and adults will find a greater semblance of legroom in the back seat (although it's still on the tight side).
Good luck finding a cupholder, though.
Leather upholstery, Bluetooth connectivity and upgraded audio are among the few options available, which don’t include rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone climate or electrically adjustable front seats.
The spec sheet isn’t spartan, though, with stability control, six airbags, sports seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and trip computer also in the features line-up.
Also, metallic paint and rear parking sensors were added as standard as part of the most recent price tweak.
We have yet to test the DStyle and its new drivetrain, but it’s still decently equipped with leather steering wheel, sports seats, foglights, power windows and mirrors, cruise control among its features.
The Citroen DS3, then, smashes the Mini for value, at least for now.
We’ll aim to avoid using the clichéd Q-word that rhymes with turkey, but this is another Citroen that goes a different way to the mainstream in terms of design.
Yet despite its quir… sorry…. slightly left-field nature, the Citroen DS3 is a car that should have broad appeal – to both buyers looking for a city car with urban chic, and keen drivers looking for an affordable hatch with solid performance and style.
Citroen DS3 DStyle $24,990 driveaway
Citroen DS3 DSport $27,990 driveaway