By Andy Enright
There's nothing more reassuring than to see a car manufacturer that's been bumping along in the doldrums come racing back to form. Take Citroen for example. It wasn't too long ago that its range was swollen by dull but worthy try-hard models that lacked anything that would really cause you to deviate towards a dealership. Only the sportier Saxo models were in any way class competitive. These days, Citroen is on a roll. The C4 was the first sign that the company was getting its mojo back and this was followed by the bold C6, the classy C5 and clever tie-ins such as the C1 and the C-Crosser, all helping to rehabilitate the brand. The DS3, its fair to say, has attracted a whole new customer demographic who may well have avoided the marque altogether in the not too distant past.
A confident and sporty three-door supermini, the DS3 has sold extremely well so you won't be scratching around for used stock when the time comes to buy. Here's what to look out for.
Citroen has clearly been paying very close attention to the way other car makers have split certain product lines. Ford has done so with Focus, developing C-MAX models so that the standard car can be that much more dynamic and thrusting. It's followed a similar tack with its C3 range. Rather than try to make the C3 all things to all people, the C3 is a wholly practical proposition, freed from its dynamic pretensions by the development of the DS3.
The first clues as to what the DS3 might look like were revealed at the 2009 Paris Motor Show when Citroen unveiled the DS Inside, a bold concept car which pointed the way towards a production model. Few realised at the time quite how overt the clues were, the show car being almost indistinguishable from the DS3 that was to roll into dealerships at the start of 2010. Since then the range has been augmented with Black and White special edition models in 2010 and the summer 2011 addition of the firebrand DS3 Racing, a 207bhp turbocharged flagship with no shortage of extrovert detailing. At the same time, Citroen announced a high-spec edition, the DS3 by Orla Kierly.
What You Get
The DS3 doesn't make a very good fist of hiding its light under a bushel. The basic shape of the car is traditional supermini with gentle curves marking its extremities and the wheels pushed out to the corners producing a squat, purposeful stance. The real drama, however, is in the detail. From that 'shark fin' B-pillar and the contrasting roof panel to the vertical strips of LED running lights that flank the front grille and the distinct sill line connecting the wheelarches, the DS3 is ferociously unconventional. It has the look of a concept car but Citroen has built it and you can buy it.
For a modern supermini, the DS3 is relatively compact. It's 3950mm long and 1710mm wide, which is similar to the Ford Fiesta, but Citroen has worked hard to maintain plenty of interior space. The manufacturer claims there's room for five adults with legroom in the rear enhanced by the slender backs of the driver and front passenger seats. In the tail, the boot is 285-litres which is large for the supermini class and 60:40 split rear seats give options for extending that capacity.
The design of the cabin sets out to reflect the cutting-edge exterior and there are upmarket materials in evidence throughout. The two-tone dashboard mirrors the contrasting roof and bodywork outside and the instruments are set into a trio of circular dials, in a motif that appears again in the round clusters of ventilation controls on the centre console.
What to Look For
The DS3's petrol engines were all co-developed with BMW and are excellent powerplants with great reliability records. You'll find versions of the THP engine in cars such as the Peugeot 207 GTI and the MINI Cooper S, so it's tried and tested tech. There have been reports of sticky rear door hinges and Citroen issued a recall to some DS3 models to check front axle fitments. Otherwise it's a clean bill of health.
(approx based on a 2010 DS3 1.6 VTi) Parts prices won't break the bank, with a set of replacement front brake pads costing £48 with rears retailing at £32. A set of front brake discs will set you back £85. An air filter is £12 and an oil filter £14.
On the Road
There's the feel of a sporty hatchback about the DS3 that comes from firm suspension, which may be a touch busy for some tastes, and direct steering. The chassis provides high grip levels with taut body control and the DS3 can be a hoot on twisty roads where the opportunity to make the most of that engine arises.
The gearbox is the slickest unit Citroen has come up with for a long time. Even though it's slightly notchy, there's good weight and a positive feel to the shifting action. Although the driving position may not suit everyone with its widely spaced and slightly offset pedals, the wide scope of adjustment offered by the steering column and seat should accommodate most body shapes.
If you really want to see the DS3 at its best, forget about the diesels and head straight to the 1.6 THP engine. The 1.6-litre capacity and multi-point fuel injection system help give rise to a 155bhp power output in the DS3 1.6 THP. That's enough to take it through 60mph from a standing start in 7.3s and onto a top speed of 133mph. Like the best of the modern turbo petrols, there's barely a hint of turbo lag with the performance surging forth from low revs. This DS3 sounds less charismatic than the MINI Cooper S which uses a 184bhp version of the same unit and the engine note grows boomy at the top of the rev-range, but the strong pulling power through the gears is great fun. The DS3 Racing is even more focused and it'll get from rest to 60mph in just 6.3 seconds which puts its performance firmly in the first division for hot hatches. Maximum torque also steps up from 240Nm to 275Nm and is available over a wider range to improve acceleration and engine flexibility.
Get under the DS3 Racing's skin and you'll find bespoke suspension settings and dampers, front and rear tracks widened by 30mm and the ride height dropped by 15mm to give it a hunkered down stance. Braking has also been uprated, with four-piston callipers acting on higher spec discs at the front. A switchable ESP stability control system gives enthusiastic drivers more room for manoeuvre. Superb damping and a noticeable lack of torque steer are further dynamic high spots.
The DS3 has done more than any Citroen in recent times to bring customers back to the French marque. Don't get too hung up on the naming convention, as this car has nothing to do with the classic DS, but just enjoy the car for what it is, namely a hot hatch with a welcome touch of class and swagger to it.