By Jonathan Crouch
The DS3 Cabrio is anything but a conventional convertible - but then, that's exactly why you might buy one. You don't get a full-blown folding roof, but then neither do you get the usual compromises in rear seat and luggage space - and there are no speed restrictions on soft top use. If you thought you could neither justify or afford a cabriolet, then this car aims to make you think again. Between 2013 and 2015, this car was badged as a 'Citroen': does this design represent best used market value in this form?
The small affordable cabriolet. It's a lovely idea in principle, inexpensive open-roofed motoring for those rare occasions when the sun makes an appearance. In practice though, there are often frustrating compromises to be made in a car of this kind. Here's one though, that doesn't require you to make too many: the DS3 Cabrio.
This model was originally launched with a 'Citroen' badge back in 2013 and instantly made sense as an affordable open-topped model for the real world, where it suited buyers asking questions like these: 'Wouldn't it be nice if a model of this sort didn't buffet you roof-down and shimmy over bumps?'; 'Wouldn't it be neat if you could react instantly to the weather and retract its top at almost any speed?'; and 'Wouldn't it be good if you could actually fit three people in the back if need be - and more than a token amount of luggage?' None of the cars which most readily come to mind as affordable open-tops - say the MINI Convertible, the Fiat 500C or even the Mazda MX-5 - can satisfy on all these counts.
This one can. No, it's not a full-blown convertible - but then at launch, Citroen argued that to be a good thing, the resultant design better suited to enjoyment of our testing roads and changeable climate. This model was updated in 2014 with the option of smarter LED front headlights and BlueHDi diesel power. It then sold with Double Chevron badges on the bonnet until the end of 2015. For 2016 though, it was re-branded as a full 'DS' model.
What You Get
You'd be forgiven for not realising this to be a Cabrio at first glance. After all, the profile of this model is identical to that of its fixed-top counterpart, which means you get the same cool 'shark fin' B-pillar, the same 'floating' two-tone roof and the same sculpted front end with its distinctive LED light signature. Unique to this model from the 2013 to 2015 era are lovely 3D rear light clusters made up of 31 LEDs with semi-reflecting mirrors. What you don't get is a lot of unwanted extra ballast: rival small cabrios usually have up to 100kgs of it to try and stop the body shaking over bumps, something this DS3 simply doesn't do thanks to its fixed side panels. What stiffness is lost to the canvas top has been regained by replacing the hatch model's flimsy rear parcel shelf with steel braces that have added a mere 25kgs to the overall kerb weight.
The soft top design itself, a joint effort between Citroen and specialists Webasto, is a bit more complicated than it looks, made up of over 180 different parts and electrically operated by a button on the overhead console that works to three main settings - 'intermediate', 'horizontal' and 'total' - all of which, impressively, are accessible at any speed up to 75mph. Prodding the button once will slide the canvas back so that it concertinas like a busker's accordion above a rear screen which, if you continue to press the button, will hinge forward to lie on the parcel shelf, before the folded canvas sandwich motors back to take its place. As with the folding tops provided by most rivals, you'll find that when retracted, this one almost totally blocks rearward vision - hence the standard parking sensors. The roof acrobatics take only 16s from start to finish and when the whole thing's open, there's a pop-up wind deflector that springs out of the top roof rail to quell the worst of the turbulence.
Of course, when you do have the roof down, you don't want it to take up so much space at the back that there's no room for people or packages. In this DS3 it doesn't. Take rear cargo space, accessible via a cantilevered bootlid that rises neatly outwards and upwards in a circular motion that means you can open it even when parked close to obstructions. It's unfortunate that once it is open, the aperture available is pretty small, though actually, the capacity on offer is greater than it first appears - 245-litres in all, just 40-litres less than you'd get in the ordinary hatch version. That's 30% more than you'd get in a rival Fiat 500C and twice as much as you'd find on a rival MINI Convertible. Plus you can extend it by folding down the same 60/40 split-folding rear bench you'll find on the DS3 hatch, revealing up to 980-litres.
Even more impressive, given the size of this car, is the rear seat space on offer. Getting into the back isn't quite as easy as it would be in a full-blown soft-top like a MINI Convertible because you have to duck under the roof pillar as you would in any three-door hatchback. Once you're there though, there's an unusual bonus. This is the only model its class - and one of the very few convertibles you can buy - that can actually take three people across the back seat. True, space is fairly tight in the back, but it's OK for short journeys and fine for kids.
At the wheel, you get the same high quality cabin that's done so much to promote sales of the standard DS3 hatch, with its piano black finishes and cool white lighting. The instruments are set into a trio of circular dials, in a motif that appears again in the round clusters of ventilation controls on a centre console that original buyers could colour-match to your own personal choice. With the exception of an armrest that slightly impedes the handbrake, the control layout is pretty faultless with an upmarket feel and a small, grippy leather-covered steering wheel that feels good to hold.
What to Look For
We should start by pointing out that as a whole, DS3 owners are a very happy bunch. If your perception of Citroens corresponds with unreliability, then it's time to change your perspective. The later post-2014-era DS3 Cabrio range we'd suggest you try and focus on comes from a time when most of the issues from earlier DS3 models had been sorted out. All that having been said, there have been faults reported and we found a number on our various surveys: you might want to look out for these on the used market.
There have been reports of sticky rear door hinges and Citroen issued a recall to some DS3 models to check front axle fitments. A few owners have reported minor electrical faults, some connected to the wiring harness. One owner we came across had a windscreen wiper fuse blow. Another had experienced fuel sensor and fan cooling issues. Watch out for trim rattles, particularly in areas like the exterior rubbing strip. And a few petrol models have reported issues with light and temperature sensors, turbo pumps and cam chains. Not that there's any real issue with the turbo THP petrol engine that sustains pacier models. It was co-developed with BMW and is an excellent powerplant with a great reliability record. You'll find versions of this engine in cars such as the Peugeot 208 GTI and the MINI Cooper S, so it's tried and tested tech.
(approx based on a 2014 DS3 Cabrio 1.6 e-HDi 90) Parts prices won't break the bank, with an air filter priced in the £17 to £25 bracket, while a fuel filter costs around £30 and an oil filter costs in the £5 to £7 bracket. A water pump will be priced in the £40 to £55 bracket, while an oil pump is around £90. On to brakes. A set of pads tend to retail in the £11 to £30 bracket, though you can pay up to around £50 if you go for a pricier brand. Brake discs retail in the £40 to £65 bracket, though you can pay up to around £180 if you go for a more expensive brand. Brake callipers retail in the £150 to £175 bracket. Now let's move onto lights. For a headlamp bulb, you're looking at around £15, but if you smash a headlamp and need a replacement, you'll be looking at around £110. For one of the Daytime Running Light strips, you'll be looking at around £125, while a front foglamp will be around £28.
On The Road
On the Road
We can't really understand why anyone would criticise this car for not being a 'proper' convertible. And if you did, then we'd wonder whether you'd really ever properly driven a small, affordable four-seater cabriolet with a completely open soft-top design - say a MINI Convertible for instance. Those that have will know that there simply isn't enough bulk in something as small as this to fully eradicate all the shimmys and shakes that have long afflicted cars of this sort. You don't feel them too much in a brand new model but believe us, they get much worse as it grows older. All of which, in this part of the convertible market at least, for us makes this Citroen's 'retractable ceiling' approach a much better way to go.
On paper, you might be tempted to view this kind of folding soft top as little more than a giant sunroof, but in practice, it's much more than that. True, you never get the full 'wind in the hair' feeling that you would in a classic conventional cabriolet lacking this car's fixed side panels but there's quite enough exposure to the elements in this fully open position to give you that real cabrio feeling, though buffeting is reduced because you're better hidden from the blustery conditions. We should also point out that, as with any proper convertible, rearward vision with the roof down is pretty awful, hence the standard fitment here of rear parking sensors.
Our favourite feature though, relates to the way - unique in our experience with convertible cars - that this roof allows you to instantly react to the conditions you're driving in. Say for example, you're roof-down on a motorway in a rival Fiat 500C or MINI Convertible and the heavens suddenly open. Well, just as you would in pretty much any drop top, you're going to get wet. The Fiat's roof only operates at speeds below 37mph, while the MINI's only works below 20mph. Which means in these cars that putting up the top either has to wait until you reach the next junction, wet and frustrated. Or you've to stop in a potentially dangerous position on the hard shoulder and wait for the roof mechanics to do their thing as the raindrops pound upon your head.
With this Citroen, there's none of that. Press the little button on the overhead console and you can open or close the roof in just 16s at any speed up to 75mph. With the roof closed, refinement is near-on as good as it is in the fixed top DS3. And when things brighten up a bit or you find yourself on a slower road, another jab on the roof button can open things up again to one of three fixed positions - or anywhere you like in-between. As the roof opens, a standard pop-up deflector at the front of the windscreen flips up to reduce turbulence in the cabin, this a feature first introduced on Mercedes' E-Class Cabriolet, a car twice this one's price. And you can go further still by fitting an air deflector net.
Enough on the roof. What's this car like to drive? Vaguely sporting like a four-seater MINI Convertible? Or actually sporty like a two-seater MINI Roadster? You probably won't be surprised if we tell you it's somewhere between the two. That's probably the right balance for the majority of buyers, but it's a little frustrating if you're an enthusiast, for the whole thing could actually have been really great were it not for the slightly vague steering. Almost everything else, after all, is spot-on. Check off a great driving position, loads of grip, a decent ride and handling balance that keeps roll in check through the corners without crashing over the bumps in the town - oh and a slick manual gearbox with six speeds on the turbo THP model.
A yes, engines - we were coming to those. Thanks to this Cabrio's very marginal weight increase over a standard DS3, the performance figures on offer are pretty much the same as they are in the fixed-top version. In the top petrol THP 155 variant, rest to sixty two mph occupies 8.2s en route to 132mph. If you don't need to go quite that quickly, then you can get the same engine with 35bhp less in the normally aspirated VTi 120 model, a car that manages 62mph in 9.9s on the way to 118mph.
But of course many potential buyers will be largely disinterested in figures like these, prioritising style rather than speed. For these people, there's a more lethargic 4-speed automatic version of the 1.6-litre VTi or an entry-level three cylinder 82bhp 1.2-litre VTi petrol variant that's impressively efficient but takes nearly fifteen seconds to get to the 62mph benchmark. That leaves only the sole diesel option that was offered from launch, the e-HDI 90 Airdream, with a 1.6-litre HDi unit game enough to propel the car to 62mph in 12.5s.
We live in a country where it can rain for 200 days in a year. Even if you can make a rational argument for owning a convertible in such a climate, it might be difficult to justify carting around the heavy, bulky cabrio roof that such a car will need, a top that when folded will minimise both bootspace and rear passenger room. With this DS3 Cabrio though, the downsides have been minimised. Here's a convertible that makes real sense for the part of the world we live in and it makes affordable sense if you can find one of the original 'Citroen'-badged versions.
Of course, it's not designed to suit someone really intent on getting the full al fresco experience. The looks don't shout 'convertible' and there are still door pillars to look past. But if you're okay with that and just want to feel the sun once in a while without the wobbling bodywork, practical compromises and awkward styling of most small cabriolets, then this car could be exactly what you've been looking for.