The Citroen DS3 is the company’s answer to the Mini hatchback and the Fiat 500. Unlike those cars, it doesn’t follow the proven recipe of mixing modern driving manners with stylish retro charm. Inside and out, the DS3 is as contemporary as they come.
That modern design is largely unchanged for the face-lift, the only obvious additions being optional xenon/LED headlights and full LED tail lights. Citroen has, however, updated the engine range and available options for the car.
Under the bonnet lies a new 1.6-litre diesel used across the Citroen range. In this guise it puts out 118bhp and a useful 210lb ft of shove. Impressively, this engine also claims 78.5mpg on average and, because it emits just 94g/km of CO2, is exempt from road tax.
Citroen now offers a Plus pack across the DS3 range. This costs between £700 and £1095 depending on which version you’re applying it to, and brings several desirable options to the car for a lower price than you'd pay to add them all individually.
On the DSport version we’re testing here, the Plus pack brings leather upholstery, rear parking sensors, a central armrest between the front seats and an upgraded sound system.
What’s the Citroen DS3 1.6 BlueHDi 120 like to drive?
Accelerating in the DS3 is a relaxed affair. You do need to let the revs build a little before it starts to feel responsive, but the engine is unquestionably powerful enough to make the DS3 feel quite punchy around town, and even when overtaking on the motorway.
Throw the DS3 at a corner and it feels suitably sporty. The nose tucks in purposefully and the body stays reasonably well controlled as it turns. When cornering a bit harder, it’s grippy, clinging to the road gamely while the bolstered seats hold you firmly in place.
Having said that, the Citroen’s steering feels slow compared with that of a Mini or a Ford Fiesta, so the car doesn't feel as keen to change direction, and the light steering doesn't inspire much confidence through fast corners, either, so the DS3 isn't as much fun to drive as a Mini, let alone a Ford Fiesta.
However, more frustrating than any of these niggles is the poor refinement. On the DSport’s bigger 17in alloy wheels there's lots of boomy road noise at higher speeds, particularly when it's also joined by intrusive wind noise over the door mirrors. The engine noise is not very well isolated from the cabin, either, and is very clattery most of the time, enough that it's difficult to ignore.
The stiff suspension - which helps the car stay fairly flat in corners - spoils the comfort further. It jostles constantly over even relatively smooth surfaces, making the DS3 feel jittery and nervous when travelling down fast country roads. Big bumps enter the cabin with a thump, and the biggest can actually throw the car off its line.
What’s the Citroen DS3 1.6 BlueHDi 120 like inside?
The DS3's cabin is at least as stylish as the outside, and all the materials used feel pleasant to the touch. Even lower down in the cabin, where rivals such as the Ford Fiesta feel cheaper, the DS3 feels fairly plush.
Most of the switchgear feels sturdy to the touch, but the buttons for the infotainment system on the centre console are small and difficult to use without taking your eyes off the road. Equally, the switches for the cruise control and music are obscured behind the steering wheel.
The front seats are comfortable, despite their lack of adjustable lumbar support, and are bolstered for a sporty feel. Finding a comfortable driving position isn’t as easy as it could be, though, because the steering wheel doesn't pull out far enough. Also, the pedal box is offset, which means you sit at a slight angle, which could get uncomfortable on long journeys.
There’s decent space in the front, with plenty of room for both occupants. In the back, there’s enough space for two adults for short trips, although their knees will probably rub the front seat backs. Rear-seat passengers may also feel a little claustrophobic because the thick centre pillars, high waistline and non-opening rear windows obscure the view out.
Tight rear space does mean, however, that the DS3 gets a bigger boot than virtually all its rivals. The load bay itself is an even shape, though there is a bit of a lip to lift your luggage over. The rear seats don’t lie completely flat when folded either, which means the DS3 is not as practical as it could be.
Should I buy one?
If you’re considering a DS3, the chances are you’re looking for compact and stylish way of getting around.
Yet while the DS3 ticks both those boxes, it is pretty expensive – this BlueHDi model costs £2000 more than a Mini Cooper D. Start specifying the Mini to the same level as the DS3, however, with navigation and the Pepper pack, and that price gap is soon closed, but the Mini will hold its value better.
There’s a lot to like about the DS3. It’s well equipped, powerful, and impressively frugal. It’s far from perfect, though. Refinement is significantly worse than in its competitors, the ride is uncomfortable and it’s not quite as engaging as the best-driving small cars.
Factor in its purchase price, residual values and the quality of the competition and it becomes quite difficult to recommend this top-spec DS3. Head farther down the range and pick one of the cheaper petrols, and it becomes a little easier to recommend.
What Car? says…
Citroen DS3 1.6 BlueHDi 120
£20,165 (including £1095 Plus pack)