Driven : DS 3 Prestige BlueHDI 120

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Once upon a time, Citroën launched the DS3, and found it had a huge hit on its hands. But then its parent company, PSA, decided the DS name was so good that a new range of cars should be spun around it – and the DS3 became the DS 3. It’s still appealing, but is it worthy of the baggage that comes with its name?

DS3 (1)

Handling your heritage can be troublesome. Take Citroën… It’s produced some mighty cars in its past – but, in recent years, the modern-day manufacturer has had an uneasy relationship with days gone by. It’s not as if the post-PSA Citroën wasn’t adept at building innovative cars – just that they did so without looking back. There were some exceptions, of course, but the heritage strain was only switched on recently.

But it’s here now – and not as we’d have expected. The original DS is arguably the greatest car made by Citroën and, to celebrate this, PSA created the upscale DS Automobiles brand in June 2014 with a ready-made range spanning the DS3–DS5 – all originally badged as Citroëns. And what a great foundation, because the DS3 has proved to be uncommonly good, and a huge commercial success, to boot. But is it enough that the C3-based MINI rival is good – can it spearhead PSA’s new premium division?

Inside, the DS 3 is certainly appealing. It might be tight for space in the back, but does that matter if you’re an aspirational empty nester? The driving position is what we’d describe as commanding, while the driving seat is supportive and surprisingly soft (for a modern) – for which, we’re eternally grateful. Just once, it’s nice to sit in a seat rather than on it.

We like the way the DS 3 works – it’s well styled inside, but the control set works really well. The instruments are less fussy than those of the MINI, and are all perfectly legible, while the heating and ventilation controls are logical and work efficiently. There’s no touch screen-silliness here for major controls, like you get on the C4 Cactus, although don’t be surprised to see them rolled out for the next DS 3.

The infotainment controls are a bit of a mismatch, though – the stereo controls are scattered between the touch screen and on a set of buttons positioned low down on the centre console. Then there’s also a remote control stalk behind the wheel. This should be simpler – although, once you’re used to this set-up, chances are you won’t think anything more of it. The Prestige version is fully loaded, and comes with a sat-nav which has a 7in touchscreen, LED vision Xenon headlamps and 17in alloys – and the only options fitted are the reversing camera and carbon kit. That little lot lifts the price from £19,795 to £20,095.

Considering it’s been around for a while (as a Citroën , the DS 3 still looks pretty fresh, and the facelift – and rebrand – from 2015 has done it no harm at all. Firing it up, with a conventional flip key, and releasing the conventional handbrake, it takes off with a fair amount of gusto. DS claim the 118bhp 3 will do 0-60 in 9.3 seconds and make 118mph, and they’re believable figures – which is astonishing, considering the claimed combined fuel consumption of this Euro 6-compliant 94g/km model is 78.5mpg. During our time with the DS 3, we averaged 65mpg.

DS3 (2)

As a warm hatch, the DS 3 does everything that’s asked of it dynamically. It’s well damped and rides reasonably compliantly, but keen in the corners, although the steering at 3.1 turns from lock-to-lock is a little on the slow side, and it lacks weight or feedback. It’s well set-up for town use, though, but slightly disappointing considering it’s from the same company that once brought us the Citroën AX GT.

Other important points are the sweet-shifting six-speed gearbox, which is tied to a wonderfully long top ratio that sees the 70mph achieved with less than 2000rpm on the tacho. Also, the brakes are deliciously keen, and full of feel. So, it’s a driver’s car of mixed – but mainly positive – ability. Strangely, it feels bigger on the road than it actually is – a function of the high seating position, wide A-pillars, and poor visibility all round.

However, the conventional wisdom is that if you want a driver’s car in this sector, go for a MINI. And we’d not necessarily argue with this. That said, as an ownership proposition, the DS 3 should be satisfying in the long term – it’s reliable in service and extremely economical. We just hope the dealers have raised their game from the bad old days of the Citroën ‘happy deals’.

Overall, though, it’s a good bet – and one that will have lasting appeal. the DS 3 looks nice, is well kitted out and the interior feels like a quality place to spend time. Yes, it’s not as fun to drive as a MINI, but equally it could be argued that PSA’s four-pot diesel is less offensive to listen to than BMW’s three-cylinder effort. Here’s the rub: as a Citroën, the DS3 made a lot of sense – even if UK buyers could never see that brand as being one they’d pay a premium for. However, as a DS, we don’t quite understand what the 3 stands for – it’s nice, but what does DS mean to its targeted buyers?

Mind you, that’s a traditionalist’s view. We suspect that young people really won’t care that much. What they’ll see is a good-looking hatchback that fits in with their life – and, as such, we can see why the DS 3 has been a big international hit. Is it better than a MINI? If looks are important, then yes – in fact, for BMW, this should be seen as a big shot across the MINI’s bows…

DS3 (3)

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

9 Comments

  1. I had a 12 plate DS3 DSport and in the main I loved it. How was the ride Keith? The ride quality on the DSport version was a killer on my back and when the 3 year lease was coming up it was the main reason why I decided not to pay the balloon payment to keep it. The car always attracted a lot of attention but personally I’m not convinced by PSA’s decision to spin off DS as a separate brand. The residuals were disappointing overall (another reason for not paying the balloon payment) and this is one reason why MINI tend to have the small premium hatchback market sown up.

  2. I’m overcome with nostalgia about the Citroen AX, I couldn’t aspire to the AX GT at the time but my late wife and I were trolling around Basingstoke’s Citroen dealer when we came across one of the special editions that the company were so keen on in the late eighties, this was the AX Nighlife which was basically an AX10RE with the 954 petrol engine and four speed box, what made this “special” was gleaming black paintwork with Nightlife decals plus pink and grey stripes down the side plus a tilt/slide sunroof,on the inside the seats were covered in a black Dralon style material with small magenta spots in it and to round it off was a radio cassette player. The AX was great to drive very light and pretty agile considering it only had 45BHP under the bonnet, so lightweight was the construction that if you drove over a or pothole the fascia would jump about four inches still it was a great little car to drive and it gave us great fun while we had it.

  3. Nope… DS as a separate brand no no no. A Citroën in drag. It’s all smoke a mirrors with this lot, looking at their dealers makes me wonder if that’s what MG Motor aspires to be (which is worrying as I’m currently trying to buy a GS if MG UK ever decide to import one for me). I got burnt on a Citroën C4 at the time I worked for PSA for many years and had no support when things went wrong either as a dealer or a product owner my partners Peugeot rcz is also typical of modern day PSA (a load of hyped up rubbish) how PSA survives in the UK is beyond me I just don’t get who their ‘typical’ customer is anymore aside from motability.

  4. Infotainment – surprised they didn’t put the controls/CD player vertically between the seats like on a CX….
    It seems a bit odd that there isn’t a DS3 five door.
    I understand that Peugeot and Citroen both recognise that they need to go back to their roots – the new C3 looks promising but the just announced new C4 looks a bit anonymous?

  5. Spot on Keith
    With time you get used to the electric steering(it still works when the stop start turns the engine Off)
    Stability at speed along with good refinement makes it eat miles.
    What sold it for me was the large boot.

  6. I recall Citroen as the leading innovator in motor vehicles, the 2CV, the Traction Avant and the 1950 DS.

    This DS is not worthy of the name of Citroen.

  7. I’m a big Citroen fan, and have been an owner of an AX 11RE and Visa GTi, as well as the current custodian of a C6. I despise what PSA has done with the creation of the DS brand so far and the implicit demotion of Citroen to … what exactly? “Fun” is a word much abused by Linda Jackson in this connection which is just wrong. Citroens may have been fun in the past, but usually as a result of innovation in engineering and clarity of thinking about concept. The DS remains one of the most breathtaking designs in automotive history – I use the word design to incorporate styling and engineering – and was the zenith of what Citroen was about, a product of the brilliantly entitled bureau d’etudes. I’ve given up, now, on anything worthy coming out of PSA … I had momentary hope that the Cactus signalled an interesting new path, only to end up disappointed on closer acquaintance.

  8. Seems a good-enough car in modern context, probably deserving of it’s success and I’d certainly have one over a BINI and indeed most other ‘fashion’ hatches.

    Agree with other posters though that the ‘DS’ brand idea is misguided – first thing I’d have to do is rip-off those larger ‘DS’ badges front and back and replace them with at least one double chevron…

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