Citroen DS3 Cabrio Review

Rating: 7.0
$30,990 $32,990 Mrlp
  • Fuel Economy
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That wind-in-your-hair feeling returns to the French brand's line-up with the introduction of the Citroen DS3 Cabrio.
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The Citroen DS3 Cabrio reintroduces the option of open-air motoring to the French car maker's line-up.

The DS3 Cabrio is Citroen's first convertible since the removable-roofed C3 Pluriel was discontinued in 2010, and arrives three years after the DS3 hatch lobbed.

At $30,990 for the DStyle auto and $32,990 for the DSport manual, a $3250 premium over the three-door hatch, the Citroen DS3 Cabrio splits the middle between its key pint-sized drop-top rivals; including the smaller Fiat 500C ($17,900-$25,650) and the pricier Mini Cooper Cabrio (from $40,350).

Like the little Fiat but unlike the Cooper and every other convertible on the market, the DS3 Cabrio features fixed side panels identical to the hatchback, with the concertina-style canvas roof contracting and expanding in the place of the standard roof panel.

It’s a cheaper and less complex construction to develop and produce than a full-blown convertible roof, though with the side panels intact it doesn’t quite deliver the same liberating sense of airiness and freedom.

The electrically folding roof can rest in three positions: partially open over the heads of the front passengers; open over all five seating positions with the glass rear window in place; and fully open with the rear windscreen and roof stacked above the boot. Rear-view mirror visibility is almost entirely inhibited in this third position, however.

The design of the tailgate and boot is smarter; the former’s compact flip-up opening mechanism making it perfect for parking in tight spaces, while the latter retains the volume of the hatchback (245L) as well as its 60:40 split-fold rear seats. A tiny opening restricts access to the boot, however, making loading in suitcases and shopping bags awkward.

At 1208-1231kg, the Cabrio is just 25kg heavier than the fixed-roof model, ensuring minimal extra strain on the two available drivetrains.

First is the Citroen DS3 DStyle Cabrio, which features a naturally aspirated 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine producing 88kW of power at 6000rpm and 160Nm of torque at 4250rpm. It’s a modest but capable performer, though is done few favours by the dated four-speed automatic transmission that is its sole companion in local spec.

The auto is forced to hold gears longer than feels comfortable under steady acceleration. Downshifts send revs flaring, though the refined engine never sounds thrashy, even on the approach to 6000rpm, and its note is well insulated from the cabin.

Citroen lists its combined cycle fuel consumption at 6.7 litres per 100km, and we managed 8.2L/100km at the DS3 Cabrio’s Gold Coast launch that included a mix of city, suburban and winding mountain roads.

The DS3 DStyle Cabrio is the model for those who can’t drive a manual or who need the cheapest one they can get their hands on.

For all others, the DS3 DSport is a no-brainer in the Cabrio line-up.

The DSport features a turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with 115kW and 240Nm, the latter produced between a highly usable 1400-4000rpm range. It is paired exclusively with a six-speed manual transmission that feels smooth in your hand and clicks satisfyingly into gear.

With 50 per cent more torque, it’s significantly punchier than the DStyle, and while it won’t scare any serious city-sized hot-hatches, it’s a versatile unit that surges encouragingly from well below 2000rpm and remains polished at higher revs. There’s also a brawnier sound from the engine and a deeper note from its dual-outlet exhaust system.

Despite being more powerful, the manual gearbox helps keep fuel consumption to 5.9L/100km, a claim we almost matched at the launch with our recorded 6.0L/100km average (though this time heading down the mountain rather than up).

The turbocharged engine and six-speed manual transmission alone justify the $2000 premium for the DSport over the DStyle, though the addition of satellite navigation, an upgraded audio system and larger 17-inch black alloy wheels also make it the obvious value choice of the pair.

Those bigger alloys (the DStyle gets 16s) do the DSport few favours from a ride perspective, however, which is firmer and fussier than the already busy base model and transfers more vibration into the cabin. While decent on good quality surfaces common to city and suburban driving, both model grades jiggle over rougher roads and meet harsher potholes and surface joins abruptly.

The steering likewise performs best in the city, where it’s light and effortless, but is let down by a vague feeling around the straight-ahead position.

While it can’t match the Mini for handling, the DS3 Cabrio feels light and agile, sits reasonably flat through corners, and is largely free from the chassis instability and scuttle shake that plagues some convertibles.

All three pedals are curiously set at different heights, and the combination of their varied positioning and the short base of the driver’s seat means many behind the wheel will find their knees floating and wanting for more under-thigh support. The side bolstering of the seat base may also make it a tight squeeze for bigger-boned drivers.

The interior has a premium look and feel, however. Polished metal, piano black and carbonfibre-look surfaces make it stand out from most in the city-car class, and there’s also a nice tactility to buttons and dials. The steering wheel is free of controls, with Citroen preferring to fit stalks operating cruise control, audio and phone functions behind the wheel.

While the boot is big, the cabin isn’t as generous with its storage options, lacking a lidded centre console and offering only small door bins and a tiny glovebox.

The DS3 is well equipped overall, however, coming standard with LED daytime running lights and front fog lights, rear parking sensors, climate control leather-wrapped steering wheel, aluminium pedals, AUX/USB inputs and Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming.

Adding peace of mind is Citroen’s fixed-price servicing program, which caps the cost of the first three services (completed at 12-month/20,000km intervals) at $360.

Citroen Australia has secured 90 DS3 Cabrios for the remainder of 2013, and unsurprisingly expects more than 60 per cent of customers to opt for the DSport, which is the sweet spot from a value and performance perspective.

While it has limitations in terms of dynamics and practicality, the Citroen DS3 Cabrio is $10K cheaper than the Mini Cooper Cabrio, and as such is an attractive option in the niche convertible city-car segment.