With all the bluff and bluster about the Citroen DS3 Racing, you could be forgiven for forgetting the Citroen DS3 supermini has anything else for the committed driver.
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That model is the DS3 DSport, fitted here with a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine, very similar to the one you’ll find in a Mini Cooper, albeit with a different output: 154bhp at 6000rpm and 177lb ft at 1400rpm. That allows the Citroen to sprint from 0-62mph in 7.3sec and on to a top speed of 133mph.
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A vast range of customisation options are offered
It drives through a six-speed gearbox, and it’s nice that neither engine nor gearbox is traditionally Citroen-like in feel. The ‘box is precise and slick, while the engine does its best work at the top end, yet pulls well from the mid-range onwards and makes a willing noise throughout the range.
The thrills of the DSport can also be had with a rather more frugal 1.6-litre HDi diesel. The gains in improved fuel economy, although impressive, come at a cost. It’s not a bad performer, with 0-62mph taking 9.7sec, but the petrol motor makes for a far better car.
The ride and handling don’t feel like a recent Citroen supermini either and, though Citroen might not thank me for saying it, they’re all the better for it. The ride is firmly supple yet well controlled; it’s far less soft than a normal C3 but, conversely, because the body doesn’t rock and the roll rate is slowed, I’d argue that it’s actually a more comfortable experience overall. The seats are more supportive too.
The DS3 steers nicely. Slightly worryingly, Citroen says it has damped it thoroughly to suppress kickback, but as it turns out, weighting is good and consistent and it’s accurate too.
Handling is tidy rather than stupendous, but it’s engaging enough. Limits are respectable; initially it’ll understeer, of course, but there’s some playfulness in the chassis if you provoke it. A well specified Ford Fiesta would shade it for engagement, but the DS3 would give a Mini Cooper a run for its money, which is no mean feat.
Of course, were you feeling particularly uncharitable you might view the DS3 as little but a three-door version of the Citroen C3 supermini. Citroen, however, would rather you saw it as more than that. The DS3 was the first in a line of ‘DS’ models that in status (and price), sit above the regular model (the workaday C3 in this case).
So this three-door-only supermini-sized variant features neat design touches you won’t find on the regular C3, an interior constructed from higher-grade materials and a different chassis set-up. There’s more soundproofing too, to add to the premium feel.
Think of the DS3, then, as a rival to the Mini, Fiat 500 and Alfa Romeo Mito. Eyeing the success of the 500 and Mini, Citroen has given the DS3 a vast range of options and accessories to match. So although prices start at around £13,000, the petrol-powered DSport is around the £17,500 mark.
The cabin is tastefully finished and most surfaces carefully finished, although Citroen has done nothing to alter switchgear and the cockpit’s lower surfaces are ordinary.
It’s spacious, too. Because the DS3 is based on a ‘proper’ supermini (and because it’s not forced to follow a retro styling theme), the DS3 has more boot and rear seat space than its similarly fashion-conscious rivals.
You get lots of kit as standard as well, with the DSport featuring climate control, 17-inch alloys, the eTouch Emergency and Assistance system, Bluetooth and a USB socket.
The most appealing of the ‘normal’ DS3s is well equipped, but it’s worth remembering that the DS3 DSport is a nigh on £18,000 car, which is a lot of money for a small Citroen.
It’s not an easy journey for a company to decide it’s going to ‘do premium’, and it’ll take Citroen a little while before consumers are prepared to engage with it as they might with a Mini. But the DS3 is a thoroughly positive start, a genuinely good product and quite a tempting one.
One thing I’m certain about: it’s a heck of a lot more than just a three-door supermini.