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Review: Citroen DS3

Citroen looks to its past reputation for future thinking with the DS3 supermini. Steve Walker reports.

The DS3 is a Citroen supermini and the first instalment in the manufacturer’s DS sub-range.

We’re going to see a whole catalogue of Citroens taking the DS brand name that first appeared in the 1950s on one of the most iconic cars of the 20th century, and attempting to reimagine that model’s sense of progress and excitement for the modern era. It’s a big ask but if Citroen can replicate even a fraction of the furore that surrounded the original DS, it will be on to a winner.

In 1955, Citroen launched the DS at the Paris Motorshow. It looked like a spaceship had landed and Citroen was forced to fight off hordes of chequebook-wielding Frenchmen desperate to get their hands this exotically styled car. The design wasn’t the half of it either. In the mid 50’s, the DS also featured disc brakes, hydropneumatic suspension, a semi-automatic gearbox and power steering. It was light years ahead of its time technologically as well as stylistically and in the years since, Citroen has quite justifiably held the DS up as a highpoint both of its own history and that of car design in general. Recreating the impact the DS has had would be an all but impossible task for the DS3 but Citroen is bidding to capture the same spirit of innovation and looks to have a fighting chance.

Beneath the avant-garde exterior of the DS3 is the chassis from the next generation C3 supermini. The car has been set-up to achieve Citroen’s trademark ride comfort but also high levels of manoeuvrability with a 10.3m turning circle.

Providing the motive force are 90bhp and 110bhp 1.6-litre HDi diesels with the petrol side of the equation accounted for by VTi variable valve timing units with 95bhp and 120bhp. At the top of the line-up is the impressive 150bhp THP turbocharged petrol engine. The engines will be mated with five or six-speed manual gearboxes as standard.

"Citroen is confident it can make inroads at the trendy end of the small car market."

Wow, the DS3 is quite a sight. The basic shape of the car is traditional supermini with gentle curves marking its extremities and the wheels pushed out to the corners producing a squat, purposeful stance. The real drama, however, is in the detail. From that ‘shark fin’ B-pillar and the contrasting roof panel to the vertical strips of LED running lights that flank the front grille and the distinct sill line connecting the wheelarches, the DS3 is ferociously unconventional. It has the look of a concept car but Citroen has built it and you can buy it.

For a modern supermini, the DS3 is relatively compact. It’s 3950mm long and 1710mm wide, which is similar to the Ford Fiesta, but Citroen has worked hard to maintain plenty of interior space. The manufacturer claims there’s room for five adults with legroom in the rear enhanced by the slender backs of the driver and front passenger seats. In the tail, the boot is 285-litres which is large for the supermini class and 60:40 split rear seats give options for extending that capacity.

The design of the cabin sets out to reflect the cutting-edge exterior and there are upmarket materials in evidence throughout. The two-tone dashboard mirrors the contrasting roof and bodywork outside and the instruments are set into a trio of circular dials, in a motif that appears again in the round clusters of ventilation controls on the centre console.

Citroen is keen to emphasis the amount of technology it has squeezed into the DS3. The options list includes items such as cruise control with a speed limiter, a classy MP3-compatible stereo system with a sub woofer in the boot and the MyWay satellite navigation system. Safety equipment includes ESP stability control as standard and advanced ABS braking system and six airbags.

Personalisation is a term that is cropping up with increasing regularity when we talk about trendy small cars. At some point, and we might be able to trace it back to BMW’s launch of its MINI, car manufacturers decided that buyers in this area of the market craved individuality. Like many of the trendier models out there at the moment, the DS3 makes a vast range of options available so customers can ensure that their car is suitably different to the one down the street. The roof comes in four colours, there are numerous finishes for the mirrors and rubbing strips, there are different wheel colours, six dashboard colours, five gearknobs and whichever bodywork colour you choose, you get a matching key fob. This presents members of the public with scope to destroy their DS3’s residual value with some appalling colour combinations but Citroen has kept most of the options reasonably tasteful.

The engines in the DS3 are familiar Citroen units and are known to be economical for their size and type. The HDi diesels will be the ones that drivers intent on saving fuel will gravitate towards and both feature DPFS particulate filters to further clean up their acts. The lesser of the two will emit around 99g/km of CO2 and should return around 60mpg on the combined cycle. The DS3 is also equipped with a gearshift indicator that prompts drivers to change gear at the opportune moment for greater efficiency.

By looking to its past and the unparalleled reputation it once had for forward thinking, Citroen is confident it can make inroads at the trendy end of the small car market. The DS3 evokes the extraordinary Citroen DS with extrovert styling and a focus on futuristic design. Citroen has also managed to furnish the car with a variety of high tech features and is presenting customers with a range of options to personalise their vehicles. Could this be a welcome return to Citroen doing what it does best?

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