What Car? says...
If you're looking for a small SUV there are plenty of car models to choose from, but not many of them are designed to be luxury options – and that's where the DS 3 comes in.
You see, DS is the posh premium car division of the French PSA Group, parent company of mainstream manufacturers Citroën, Peugeot and Vauxhall. The DS 3 was originally launched as the Citroën DS 3 (2009-2016) – which remains a popular used buy – before being rebranded when DS became more independent. For a time it was called the DS 3 Crossback too.
The DS 3 seeks to emphasise the relatively new brand’s premium image and eye-catching design, but will need more than attractive looks if it’s going to win fans among small SUV buyers. After all, while it's true that there are not many small SUVs that claim to be premium models, there's still plenty of strong competition.
For starters, you have the VW T-Roc which, while lacking in interior quality, is brilliant to drive and excellent value. The Mini Countryman is the practicality king and has a top-notch interior, while the Audi Q2 is the best package overall. There's also the brilliant Ford Puma and Skoda Kamiq.
So, does this cosmopolitan car model stand out from its established rivals? Read on to find out. We've driven the DS 3 and can tell you how it rates for performance, interior quality, practicality and more.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Our pick of the DS 3’s engines is the 128bhp 1.2 petrol, called the Puretech 130, which comes with an eight-speed automatic gearbox and produces reasonable acceleration (0-62mph takes 9.2sec) with only a gentle background engine thrum. Just bear in mind that it's not as muscular low down in the rev range as larger engined rivals, such as the 148bhp 1.5-litre Audi Q2 35 TFSI (0-62mph in 8.6sec).
We’d avoid the entry-level Puretech 100 engine, which has 99bhp and takes 10.9sec to get from 0-62mph. It comes with a manual gearbox, and only really makes sense if you really don't want an automatic or will be doing mainly local trips. As with the 130, the buzzy three-cylinder growl it emits when you thrash it is acceptable, but unfortunately that's accompanied by vibrations through the steering wheel and pedals.
The Puretech 130's auto gearbox shifts without a fuss if you’re going calmly, but it's a bit slow to shift down if you want a quick burst of pace. It does a decent job of keeping the revs low once you’ve reached motorway speeds.
The manual gearbox with the Puretech 100 has a long but reasonably precise shift, although the clutch biting point is somewhat indistinct. Of course, you can avoid gear changes altogether by going for the electric car version – see our DS 3 E-Tense review to read about that.
The suspension absorbs bumps reasonably well but bigger undulations will upset its composure when taken at speed, so you feel bigger body movements than in the Audi Q2 or Seat Arona. Impacts with potholes can lead to a noticeable thud – something you won’t experience in either of the smooth-riding small SUVs from Volkswagen, the VW T-Roc and the VW T-Cross.
The DS 3 is nowhere near as agile as the Q2, the Ford Puma or the Arona. It leans far more in corners, is much keener to push wide at the nose, and has less evenly balanced grip front to rear. Better news is that the steering is pleasantly weighted in the Normal driving mode and is accurate enough to keep you from sawing away at the wheel on a challenging B-road. The Sport mode, though, is unnecessarily hefty.
The interior layout, fit and finish
DS dug out all the mood boards when coming up with the interior concept for the DS 3. In fact, influences included a boutique and designer handbags. Adding to its striking look is the dashboard’s unusual layout, with diamond-shaped touch-sensitive buttons and controls. Indeed, the diamond motif is everywhere, from the air vents to the speakers.
Does it work in practice? Not really: it's a pain that most of the buttons aren’t old-fashioned push-switch affairs, because, being touch-sensitive, half the time it's hard to work out when you’ve pressed them. In the end, they prove almost as distracting as a touchscreen to use.
Speaking of which, you get a 10.3in touchscreen infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring, and DAB radio (most version get built-in sat-nav too). The system responds swiftly enough to commands, but the air-con controls are buried within a menu, which is not ideal when you need to make changes while you're driving.
The materials used are a bit hit and miss. On upper trim levels, there are plenty of soft-touch materials around the dashboard, but cheaper version miss out on most of them.
Window controls and the parking brake are housed around the gearlever, but are surrounded by silver-painted plastic that looks more like the bottom of a fancy chocolate box than a classy car design feature. Everything feels pretty robust, but quality is a far cry from the standards of the Audi Q2 and Mini Countryman.
As for the driving position, there’s enough adjustment with the standard seats to get comfy, but you don’t get lumbar support adjustment unless you go for top-spec Opera trim, which comes with electric front seats that can massage you.
Visibility is poor for the class. The wide front pillars and the kink in the side windows inhibit your view around corners and to the sides, while the thick rear pillars block out much of what's behind. Rear parking sensors are standard, and you can add front parking sensors and a reversing camera as an option, or by going for the top trim, Opera. The standard LED headlights provide good light.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
There’s a decent amount of space up front in the DS 3, with enough head and leg room for even tall drivers to stretch out. There’s also plenty of shoulder room, so even if you and your front-seat passenger are broad, you won’t be rubbing shoulders.
Storage space is less generous, though. The door pockets are small and it's awkward to reach into the rearmost parts of them, while there's only a small cubby under the centre armrest and a tiny glovebox.
In the back, things are very poor next to the Skoda Kamiq and VW T-Cross. Leg room is limited if there's someone tall in the front, and the view out of the side windows is restricted as a result of that ‘shark fin’ side pillar design. Likewise, the window line swoops up and cuts a chunk out of your view, while the downward-sloping roofline cuts into head room.
The DS 3's 350-litre boot can't match small SUV rivals for practicality either. It won't swallow anywhere near as much as the Mini Countryman, Renault Captur, Seat Arona or the T-Cross, and there's a huge load lip to heave heavy items over. Most of those rivals' boots managed to swallow five carry-on suitcases in our tests, while the Skoda Kamiq and VW T-Roc took seven, and the Ford Puma took eight.
The DS 3’s seats don’t slide forwards and backwards to improve boot space, as they do in the Captur and the T-Cross. The rear seats split and fold in a 60/40 configuration (the Countryman’s split 40/20/40) but there’s no ski hatch.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
The DS 3’s pricing is a bit of a sticking point. The entry-level 100 Puretech Performance Line is priced towards the top of the small SUV market, above the Ford Puma, the Seat Arona and the VW T-Cross. In fact, it starts at a slightly higher price than the cheapest Audi Q2. To compound the problem, resale values of the DS 3 aren’t as high as the Q2 – that has a knock-on effect on PCP monthly payments.
On the plus side, both its petrol engines are efficient, with sensible official economy and relatively low CO2 emissions, although the all-electric DS 3 E-Tense will make a much more tax-efficient company car.
The range kicks off with relatively plush Performance Line trim, which has lashings of faux suede and a perforated, leather-wrapped steering wheel with contrasting stitching, as well as touchscreen infotainment and climate control.
Above that, Performance Line + gives you larger 18in alloy wheels, a front central armrest, Alcantara trim inside and adds built-in sat-nav to the infotainment system. High-spec Rivoli and Opera add more luxury and convenience, but are really rather pricey.
DS didn’t feature in the latest 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey but sister brand Citroën finished in an impressive 11th out of 32 manufacturers. You get a three-year/60,000-mile warranty, which is pretty standard for the class.
The DS 3 received an impressive five-star Euro NCAP safety score back in 2019. All versions have automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane-keeping assistance and a speed limiter as standard. Top-spec Opera adds traffic-sign recognition and blind-spot monitoring.
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Sat-nav comes as standard on all version of the DS 3 except entry-level Performance Line. DS allows you to add it as an option with that cheapest trim.
|RRP price range||£25,990 - £42,035|
|Number of trims (see all)||3|
|Number of engines (see all)||3|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||electric, petrol|
|MPG range across all versions||48.7 - 54.3|
|Available doors options||5|
|Warranty||3 years / 60000 miles|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£74 / £1,981|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£149 / £3,961|