Take Citroen. It sells no end of city cars and superminis, but are they able to command Mini-like premiums? Alas not.
Enter, then, the DS3. A new range created by Citroen to ride the forthcoming trend towards further downsizing.
The maker has realised not everyone buying a small car wants a basic supermini – something Mini picked up on a while back, but which Fiat has also shown can be applied to mass-market brands with the 500. Premium feel, retro charm, lots of personalisation – and good profit margins for car dealers.
Now Citroen wants in on the act. The basic idea for the new DS3 range is the same – options galore for colour and trim, dinky dimensions to suit trendy urban lifestyles and a name harking back to a classic model that defines the brand.
But where both the Mini and 500 trade on retro vibes – respectively with a sporty and a trendy twist – the DS3 has no visual link with the famous DS of days gone by. It’s a model in its own right. A very distinctive one at that, too.
The range topping DS3 1.6THP’s 150bhp is more than enough to have it chasing the warm hatch brigade and beats the 120bhp Mini Cooper, 120bhp MiTo 1.4 TB and 135bhp Abarth 500. The 1.6 turbo, which is shared with, among others, the Mini Cooper S, achieves 0-60mph in a brisk 7.5 seconds.
It really is a peach, with a thick power band, discreetly raspy exhaust note and brisk throttle response. The rest of the DS3 range is made up of 95bhp 1.4-litre and 120bhp 1.6-litre petrol engines and three versions of the widely used 1.6-litre HDi diesel engine found in Fords, Minis and others besides the Peugeot/Citroen family.
The DS3’s underpinnings are as per the closely related C3 supermini, but Citroen has devised a new set-up for the DS3 to give it a character of its own. The focus shifts from the rather inert nature of the C3 to a rather more dynamic feel absent from most Citroens.
It’s not overtly sporty in the mould of the MINI or MiTo. But it’s crisp enough to ensure the DS3 can be hustled down a twisty back road without disgracing itself or isolating the driver from the experience.
Citroen has succeeded in finding a fine balance between comfort and composure too and the DS3 rides better than its rivals.As with those competitors, the cabin can be customised with a myriad of options.
Everything from the colour of the dash to the type of gearstick and patterns on the floormats can be selected from a number of variations. Sound familiar, Mini dealers? Suffice to say, if buyers are downsizing from a bigger, more luxurious car the scope is there for them to indulge to their heart’s content.
As for quality, It’s easily as good as a 500 and way better than the MiTo. And size-wise, the DS3 is longer than a Mini or 500 but a tad shorter than a MiTo, the interior space is on the cosy side in the back but generous up front thanks to a deeply sculpted dash on the passenger side.
Citroen is already boasting five-star Euro NCAP ratings for occupant crash protection. Six airbags, Isofix mounts and the usual ESP and ABS safety nets are all standard. The DS3 scores well on CO2 and fuel economy too. Even the worst in the range – the 150bhp 1.6 THP DSport – emits just 155g/km and the 1.6 HDI DStyle 99g slipping in with VED-free bracket.
Sure, it’s brave for Citroen to reject outright the current retro trend. However, the DS3 successfully manages to put a new spin on the premium supermini format. Decent to drive, eye-catching to look at inside and out and sensibly priced it’s a welcome addition to the fold.
by DAN TRENT
Citroen DS3 1.6THP DSport
Engine: 1.6-litre turbo
Top speed: 133mph
MPG: 42.2 (comb’d)