Citroen rediscovers style and class

The success of the Mini and the Fiat 500 has led car manufacturers to examine how they could grab a slice of the growing market for ultra-chic superminis. One of the latest to aim for a slice of the action is Citroen with the launch of the DS3.

In recent years Citroen has been putting much of its effort – at least in the small car sector – into competing on price. The result is a series of worthy but perhaps unexciting small Citroens.

Citroen DS3

I made the mistake of pre-judging one of their models when I drove the Citroen C3. I approached it with a preconception that it was price-led and therefore unlikely to be enjoyable. As I found the reality was rather different.

So how do you get the best of both worlds? How do you maintain your sales in the price-led market for practical daily transport and carve a slice of the style-conscious market at the same time.

Citroen has, like the others, looked to its history. But where Mini and Fiat developed retro designs that evoked the iconic cars from their past, Citroen has chosen only to take a model designation from the pages of their history book.

They have chosen the initials DS. Anyone of a certain age will undoubtedly remember the Citroen DS which was produced 1955 and 1975.

It was an unbelievably advanced model for its time, with styling that looked as though it was straight from a Dan Dare comic, hydro-pneumatic, self-levelling suspension, hydraulic powered brakes, steering and clutch. Some later models even had that recent re-invention – lights that swivelled to look round corners.

Their intention is to create an up-styled, upmarket range of DS models to run in parallel with Citroen’s mainstream. So, just as first of the new DS models, the DS3 lines up as the alternative to the C3, so a forthcoming DS4 will provide the same counterpoint to the C4 and DS5 for the C5.

So, without retro styling does the Citroen succeed in looking chic, exciting and desirable. The short answer after a week of stares, eyes following and kerbside questions is: “yes”. The test car was eye-catching, red with a contrasting white roof – very Mini Cooper!

I do like the way the styling is bold and different, yet it looks right. It would have been so easy to mess up a design like this with over-fussy detailing. Yet, despite very different design features, like the rear windows that sweep up forward from the waistline to the door pillar, the DS3 looks distinctive but ‘right’.

I do like the daytime LED running lights at either side of the front. They look up-market and, of course, are a great aid to visibility in all conditions.

Inside too, I reckon the design team have hit the right note. The DS3 looks welcoming and a bit special, particularly with the optional leather upholstery and “shiny black” dashboard finish. There is good space in the rear seat for children or smaller adults, but (as you would expect on a smaller hatchback) taller adults will have to ‘horse-trade’ with front-seat occupants for knee and leg room.

Citroen DS3

So, the DS3 passes the ‘eye’ test, but will it pass the driving test?

Like the Mini, the DS3 complements its cheeky looks with a cheeky driving style. It has a responsive, agile chassis which I actually found quite reminiscent of the Mini (I guess they probably benchmarked the DS against the Mini driving style). It manages to be light enough to be easy to manoeuvre, but also to retain enough weight and feedback to be involving for the driver.

The particular model I drove was the Citroen DS3 DSport 1.6i 16V THP 150. Ironically the turbocharged engine under this bonnet is virtually the same as the one you will find in a Mini Cooper S. In this car it produces 155 bhp and propels the DS3 0-62 mph in 7.3 seconds.

The combined fuel consumption is quoted at 42.2 mpg and my real-time average across town and country driving was 31 mpg. Carbon dioxide emissions are 155 g/km.

Citroen DS3 interior

The Citroen DS3 range starts at £11,700 – slightly higher than the base model Mini £11160. But when it comes to this performance model the situation is reversed. The test Citroen DS3 DSport 1.6i 16V THP150 is just a whisker slower than the Cooper S, yet it costs considerably less at £15,900.

If you are tempted by a Mini, or Fiat 500 – suddenly your choice has become a little more difficult!
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