The 2015 Citroen DS3 range delivers much of what one might expect from a light European hatch and cabrio. Both are zippy, stylish and somewhat practical, though also rather pricier at base level than before.
Citroen says the DS3 is actually a warm — rather than conventionally hot — hatch, but considering its performance, it would be fair to say the DS3 sits somewhere in between.
The updated DS3 range gets a slight revision to its exterior with new headlights and wheels, but the real change is under the bonnet, with an improved 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine now delivering 121kW of power and 240Nm of torque available between 1400-4000rpm (down from 1600rpm previously).
Citroen has changed the turbocharger itself to deliver the extra oomph.
That all means the DS3 is a bit livelier lower in the rev range, and the engine will move its 1140kg kerb weight from 0-100km/h in 7.5 seconds. Performance-wise it all sounds pretty good for a hatch that small, but here comes the price…
From $33,990 plus on-road costs, and that’s for a manual hatch. The cabrio version is $36,590. These figures are $4250 and $3600 pricier than before, respectively.
As reported in our Citroen DS3 pricing and specification article, there’s also up to a claimed $5500 extra value to counter the price jump, so it’s not all bad.
Citroen Australia says that previous buyers of the DS3, of which there were 134 in 2014 (down 34 per cent), mostly paid around $32,000 once options were applied, so it has logically just dropped the base model and gone for a one-size fits all high-spec variant that it expects will appeal to the majority of its buyer group.
Despite the re-positioning, there’s no denying the DS3 is not the most affordable European (very) warm hatch around. Its new starting price may also discourage some that would’ve otherwise had a look at the French model and fall in love, but will now dismiss it out of hand.
So, then, it’s my job to tell you why the DS3 is an excellent European hatch, because it truly is.
For the local launch we headed up Brisbane’s Mount Glorious and Nebo and ended up taking the DS3 around Kingston Park raceway’s go kart track because… why not?
Citroen Australia is right about one thing, if you’re going to buy a DS3, you’re going to buy a DS3. It’s so French from the outside that it makes the Audi A1 look, well, German. It’s everything a European hatch should be, adventurous in its styling while remaining classy.
The French may not be known for making the most reliable cars in the world, but they have absolutely nailed the DS3’s exterior and even interior styling. Our bright yellow test car got plenty of looks wherever it went and considering you can order the DS3 in up to 200 different colour combinations (roof, exterior, interior and mirror colours), there’s one to suit even the most individualist buyer.
Then there’s the driving dynamics which are, not surprisingly, excellent, but it does have some tough competition from the likes of the Mini Cooper S and the less expensive Volkswagen Polo GTI and Ford Fiesta ST.
The good news is the DS3 is superb. It’s hard not to expect such a feat from a brand that has won more modern World Rally Championship titles than anyone else.
Around the windy roads of Mt Nebo the DS3 felt alive and playful and, even on the limit, tended to give you a bit of controllable lift off oversteer rather than just understeer.
Perhaps the only criticism we have of its drivetrain is the high clutch uptake position of the six-speed manual gearbox (no auto for now). Thankfully, the actual gearbox itself is super smooth with decently short throws between gears.
The most enthralling aspect of driving the DS3 hard (at the speed limit, of course…) was how well the electronic traction controls behaved. Hardly did the system intervene even at the limit and the level of mid-corner grip was extraordinary from the Michelin pilot sports (205/45/R17).
Given the car’s minimal weight, the French have managed to create something truly fun to drive. It’s not too fast but it’s definitely fast enough to challenge you on a winding road and provide hours of entertainment.
Speaking of which, the brakes took hours of punishment without fade and the power steering system was a joy to use. Around a tight bend you could further tighten the steering wheel and attempt to upset the balance but the DS3 remained largely composed, simply pulling in tighter at the front or letting the back slip a tad to compensate. It inspires plenty of confidence, pushing you to go faster.
But while the mountain runs will no doubt be an occasional sport, the DS3 being a city car means it will spend a great deal of time in traffic. Which is why its new active city safe feature is a great addition.
From 0-28km/h the DS3 can automatically brake and prevent you running up another car’s backside if you’re not paying attention. At speeds from 28-31km/h, it’ll do its darn best to do the same, albeit without guarantees on a full avoidance. The system turns itself off at 32km/h and above.
There are also parking sensors and a reversing camera now standard, which come in handy given rear visibility isn’t exactly great. Add six airbags and all the electronic nanny aides you can think of to the package and you’ve got yourself a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating.
Ride comfort over poor roads isn’t as bad as one may expect from a European hatch, and though we didn’t get to fully test it on poorly surfaced roads, we found the DS3 a comfortable place to be for a four hour drive through Brisbane.
Inside there’s a sense of ‘old-school’ about the instrument cluster and the switchgear but in proper French fashion, the designers have applied some really nice quality material to make it look far more upmarket than it really is. Compared to say, an Audi A1 or even a Mini Cooper S, we think it looks the best inside.
Nonetheless, the same can’t be said about its infotainment and navigation system, which is also very French. The front seats are plenty comfortable with good lumbar and side support but the back seats are best kept for short trips or kids. It can technically seat five, but it won’t make for happy commuters in the process.
Overall, the Citroen DS3 is an excellent choice if a European hatch with flair, enthusiasm, style and dynamic capability is what you’re after. Sure, it’s not an Audi A1 – which is an excellent (yet comparatively common) car — but that may just be a reason to buy one.
In case you’re wondering about reliability, don’t. Citroen offers a six-year warranty that is double that of Audi and Mini just to prove its credentials, so even if something was to go wrong, it will be fixed.
In saying all that. It’s $33,990 plus on roads, which is a lot of money for a car its size and while Citroen’s DS has plans to take on its German rivals in the future, it’s already charging similar coin and that in itself will limit sales of what is otherwise an excellent car.
Something worth watching: Citroen Racing Experience : Circuit d'Issoire, France