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?
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.
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…