Citroen DS3 review – DSport e-HDi 115 Airdream

31 January 2013

Citroen DS3 front view

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Good: Quirky style, eager engine, low CO2
Bad: Noisy, harsh ride
from £17,610
When the DS3 first rolled out in late 2009, it was obvious that Citroën had taken a long and envious look at BMW’s Mini. Boasting a contrasting roof, a long list of options, a sporty stance and upmarket materials, the DS3 arrived as a Mini-clone but with one important difference – a distinct lack of throwback styling.

Details like the shark-fin centre pillar may have sharply divided opinion, but most initial doubts centred not on the style but on Citroën’s credibility in rivalling a BMW-built icon. Remember that the French company was scrabbling among the bargain bins at the time. But doubts quickly faded as the little Citroën won customers over and positively zipped out of showrooms – this year will see production at the French factory break the quarter-million mark, and there are currently more than 30,000 DS3s bouncing along UK streets.

I say bouncing along because one other thing that the Citroen DS3 purloined from Mini is a very involving ride. I certainly feel involved with the frost-damaged tarmac under my wheels as we hop, skip, wiggle and jiggle over the broken surface.

Citroen DS3 rear

To be fair, I doubt that all DS3s feel quite this skittish. The edition I’m testing is in DSport trim – as the name suggests a sport-orientated affair fitted with striking 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped in a wide black ribbon of rubber. Grip is suitably abundant in the corners, but there’s not much give in the sidewalls. If you want to whip around corners as if your hair’s on fire, this is a good car to choose, boasting quick steering, little bodyroll and not much in the way of understeer.

If, by contrast, you want to arrive feeling rested and unruffled, you might want to choose something entirely else.

The steering could do with a little more weight to match the frantic ride, and I’d definitely like less of the wheel to be made of shiny, slippery mock-metal. It looks nice enough, in a spangly sort of way, but I could use a bit more stitched leather to hang onto – particularly during those sweaty-palmed moments when a corner turns out to be much sharper than it looked on approach.

The globe-topped gearlever is similarly overstyled, but happily connects to a six-speed gearbox of cut-glass precision – a joy compared to the ball of rubber bands I’ve sampled in some other Citroëns.

Citroen DS3 interior

Up front today is the more powerful of the DS3’s two diesel options, a 1.6-litre “Airdream” engine offering 115 horsepower, no shortage of torque, and a 99g/km official CO2 rating (the lower-power, 90bhp diesel drops as low as 91g/km). That of course means low tax for company car users, a free tax disc, and the option to slip into the London Congestion Zone without charge (for now). The official combined-cycle fuel economy figure is an impressive 74.4mpg.

Despite its frugality, the Airdream engine has little trouble flinging 1,256kg of DS3 up the road. While not sports-car quick, it is much more rapid than most other 99g/km cars I’ve tried with a 0-62mph score of 9.7 seconds.

Happily, there’s little in the way of shake or rattle from the oil-burner under the bonnet. There is a generous helping of noise in general, however – this car will seem quiet only if you typically turn your stereo up to 11.

Citroen DS3 dashboard

Take your pick between a growl and a roar, according to pace, because you won’t often hear this diesel DS3 purr. Partly that’s because it shuts down with auto stop-start at a standstill. And partly that’s because at cruising speeds, on faster roads, tyre roar beats engine drone in the battle to see which can make the loudest din.

Earplugs in, I’m a big fan of the DS3. I love the styling – even if you can’t see the trademark shark fins from the driver’s seat – and the neatly abrupt tail end is now enhanced with smart LED lamps across the range.

Citroen DS3 lamp details

The interior is equally appealing, delivering sufficient quality to spar on level terms with the Mini. You’ll either love or loathe the fake carbon-fibre dashboard, but most of the remaining surfaces look and feel top drawer.

Deeply dished instruments are especially eye-catching, managing to deliver a dollop of quirky style without becoming unreadable in the process. I much prefer them to the Mini’s daft dinner-plate arrangement. The white-lit digital area to the right of the DS3’s cluster provides gearshift hints that are highly visible but not intrusive.

Citroen DS3 instrument cluster

The seats feel very supportive and quite low slung for a modern hatchback. In my test car the chairs have been treated to a generous swathe of high-quality perforated leather – via a £1,095 Plus Pack that includes chrome mirrors.

The car as a whole costs from £17,610 in DSport 115 Airdream trim. The same engine, complete with its 99g/km rating, can also be chosen in the super-plush Ultra Prestige edition of the DS3 for a say-it-quick outlay of £21,480.

All told, this version of the DS3 offers plenty of appeal for people who want a bit of sporty style, decent economy and a fair bit of pace – and who don’t mind the absence of peace.

Citroen DS3 side view

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