Can a car be a fashion accessory? A statement of form over function – something that says more about you than it says about itself?
Looking at the recently refreshed 2015 Citroen DS3 Cabrio – it would very much seem so!
With a new face and new engine, matched with added equipment and 21 combinations of paint and roof colour (nine on the car, three on the folding top), the $36,590 plus on-road costs Citroen is very much aimed at buyers who want to ‘arrive’ rather than just zip around town.
In some ways a modern version of the iconic Citroen 2CV, the DS3 Cabrio takes a simple format and ‘Vogues’ it with a combination of technology and Parisienne flair.
The headlights on the 2015 DS3 are a standout – and in fact, a world first. There are three LED modules and a xenon projector unit, as well as wrap-around LED running lights with strobing indicators, plus an extra set of LED running lamps in what would be brake vents… if the DS3 had need for them.
The rear lamps too have an almost three-dimensional depth to them, thanks to layered LED elements. Both front and rear lamp housings are accented with the DS logo.
The size and shape of the DS3 remains the same, at just under 4m long and 1.5m tall, and continues the funky, fat, half-height B-pillar and blackout turret.
The nine paint colours (you can even opt for two-tone at $800) allow you to really express yourself. Our test car is Noir Perla Nera (metallic black - $800 option) and the gear shifter and wheel inserts can be matched to the body colour.
The folding fabric top is standard in black, but is also available in a deep teal green or monogrammed DS logo (as per our car) for $800 extra.
It is all this little extra attention to detail that makes the DS3 stand out. Style leads at every opportunity.
Dare I say it, it’s not the most masculine car on the road, and for mine would be helped by a slightly aggressive lower front airdam. But it is pretty funky and easy to like.
Inside, the interior is equal parts typical French quality and WTF ergonomics.
You do get used to the switches hidden behind the steering wheel, the combination of rotary knob, D-Pad and other buttons on the radio, and explaining to passengers that the strange dial on the dash is for the air freshener (to the Citroen’s credit, it did smell lovely in there) – but for first timers, it’s all a bit ‘French’.
The leather seats ($2000 option) are comfortable but not super supportive, as there is no lumbar support built in. The armrest, which adds comfort, does make the hand brake a bit awkward to reach.
Back seats are fine for children – my six-year-old daughter was very happy there on the school run – but I wouldn’t want to be an adult on a long trip back there…
There are two ISOFIX car seat mounts and two built-in top tether mounts, along with a third top-tether mount (that looks to have been fitted by Citroen Australia as part of ADR) for the centre seat in the back.
In typical French fashion, the cabin storage isn’t really as good as it could be – there is a neat phone shelf below the radio, but the cup holder barely fits a take-away coffee, and actually forces the cup to tilt toward the gear shifter.
The high-resolution infotainment screen is a nice quality unit and has all the key features you would expect (navigation, Bluetooth, audio streaming etc.) and even offers a great three-stage trip computer (trip 1, trip 2 and instant data) as well as nifty nerd info like your altitude and current satellite sync status.
I agree that the last two are possibly functions that no DS3 buyer ever will notice...
Pairing a phone and getting around the various interfaces and controls (both on the dashboard and steering column) are not as intuitive or easy to use as you would expect – but then you remember it’s a Citroen so bizzaro ergonomics are forgiven (a bit).
There are lots of nice, stylish and well thought out accents that help the Citroen express a sense of quality and premium positioning – from the chrome bezels on the air conditioning controls, to the three aluminium pedals.
That’s right – the Citroen DS3 is available only as a six-speed manual (for now).
It may turn off a lot of buyers, but the stick-shift is a great thing for the car, as it reinforces the European city-car message, and makes the DS3 an awful lot of fun to punt around.
The revised 121kW (up from 115kW)/240Nm 1.6-litre turbo-charged petrol engine is punchy around town and claims excellent economy of just 5.6L/100km on a combined cycle.
Over our week of driving, which was mostly urban, we saw 8.6L/100km average (higher than the 7.1L/100km claimed urban cycle) but matched the claimed 4.6L/100km consumption on a sustained highway run.
It’s a very easy car to drive, the clutch point is quite high, but the movement is light and gear changes are smooth. The steering is also very light and it has an excellent turning circle – perfect for inner city driving.
Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) is now standard and will activate at speeds up to 31km/h. There were a couple of false-positives during the week (causing my coffee to spill…), likely caused by late but intentional lane changes in traffic. The sharp braking works… but was a bit unexpected and certainly caused the chap in the car behind to age a bit prematurely.
If you are a bit too heavy with the right foot, the zippy little Citroen can offer up a good amount of torque steer under acceleration – it is particularly notable if dashing around tight roundabouts.
The ride is firm, but not unpleasant, and standard urban obstacles such as speed humps are easily managed. It is a good mix - the DS3 feels sporty while being compliant and generally pretty comfortable.
Get the DS3 away from the urban sprawl and what felt like a sprightly city car on the way to the shops, now approaches hot hatch levels of performance and excitement. Alborz even took one to the racetrack!
That ride that felt a bit firm around town now translates into a direct and solid feel, but can be a bit skippy over uneven B-roads.
It hasn’t quite got the same level of punt-able confidence as a Mini Cooper, and the engine note isn’t quite as ‘tough’, but can comfortably carry speed through the bends and is actually pretty fast if you go for it. The brakes are good too – pulling up the 1165kg Citroen with ease.
Pushing a bit harder, the grip is there but the suspension feel tends to limit your bravery and serves as a reminder that parking outside Chanel is much more the DS3’s raison d’être.
Speaking of which, rolling about town with your top off is the added bonus of the Cabrio over the standard DS3 DSport (the cabrio is $2500 more than the hatch).
The electrically powered top opens in two stages – the first like a cloth sardine lid (do they even have them any more?), the second folding the glass rear window and roof fabric down onto the rear parcel shelf – for a bit more open air fun.
The open-top obviously increases cabin noise, but tootling about on a crisp Autumn Melbourne morning with the heater on and the skies clear was very pleasant and very cosy.
You can’t open or close the top from the fob, which is always a neat convenience feature… but that’s a small criticism.
It’s fair to say too that while the second stage opening state looks pretty cool, and lets everyone know you know what’s what about style, it basically just obscures the rearward vision completely, and needs to be moved back (electrically) if you need to open the boot anyway.
Oh yes, the boot. For a small city hatchback, the boot is hilariously useless.
The cargo capacity is actually not bad – 245L in the boot itself and 980L with the seats folded flat. It’s just the aperture to actually ‘put’ anything in there is tiny.
Think ‘posting a letter’. I had trouble getting Miss Six’s schoolbag through the gap. It’s fine for small stuff and shopping bags – as long as you put them in there one at a time – but good luck trying to get a small suitcase in there.
So all said and done, the 2015 Citroen DS3 is a fun, zippy, stylish little runabout. It might not be the most practical transport, but who cares. Plus it has the benefit of Citroen’s excellent six-year unlimited kilometre warranty.
At $36,590 (before on roads) it might seem expensive, but is actually cheaper and more powerful than the $39,990 Abarth 595 Convertible and the $40,350 Mini Cooper convertible (which is still the second-generation car).
If cruising the Champs Elyse with a topless French model is your idea of a good time, and form leads function in many elements of your life, then the DS3 might just be the fashion accessory you have been looking for.
It’s fun, cool and the best value for sporty, topless, stylish European motoring.
Click the photos tab for more images by James Ward and Tom Fraser.