In a world where normality rules, Citroën’s DS3 sticks out like a sore thumb – and not in a bad way, but definitely smile-inducing. You see, the sheer level of personalisation available on the French car maker’s latest small car, means that it is highly unlikely that you’ll ever see another DS3 with the same spec. Funky exterior colours, assorted colour roofs, including some rather natty zebra stripes; mean that there’s almost endless ways of making the car your own. A lengthy options list ensures that the cash registers at Citroën dealers will be ringing loudly. Of course, none of this is new, Citroën has learnt from the masters, MINI, who for the past decade have made the most of owners’ desire to be different.
The hot hatch looks and sporty stance translate into a low-slung driving position when climbing aboard. The attractive leather sports seats grip well, giving plenty of lateral support and lots of adjustment to make a comfortable driving position. The chunky flat-bottomed steering wheel is great to hold, and the instruments are clear and easy to read. In the main, the quality of plastics are excellent, with only the upper instrument cowling letting the side down, thanks to the use of hard materials. Elsewhere, squidgy plastics are the order of the day, making the baby Citroën feel much more like a premium product. There’s also the option to add a dose of flair to the cabin, by specifying a colour coded dashboard moulding. It all adds to the sense of fun, and brightens the interior no end. Up front, there’s plenty of head and elbow room, while a generous 285 litres of boot space trumps most of the opposition. Citroën provides seat belts for three in the rear, though in reality there’s only space for two, unless you really want to get to know the other passengers intimately.
In top-flight Sport specification, it’s the familiar 1.6-litre HDi engine with 110bhp that is housed under the nose of the DS3. It’s a willing engine, with plenty of pace, excellent refinement and low noise levels. It’s mated to Citroën’s brand new six-speed manual gearbox, which is smooth and positive, making it a joy to work your way up and down the gears. On spirited back road jaunts, the DS3 handles tidily, with plenty of grip and feels incredibly pointy, while the go-kart like stance gives you a real feeling of control and fun. The ride is most definitely on the firm side, however, it is no worse than its contemporaries and what you would expect from a sporting hatch.
In diesel guise, Citroën offer the DS3 in a three-model range – DStyle 99g, DStyle, and the DSport as tested here. All models are generously equipped with six airbags, air conditioning, cruise control, electric windows, privacy glass and an MP3 compatible CD player. There are also alloy wheels on the latter two models, and a sports leather steering wheel. DSport trim adds 17-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, an alarm system, climate control and Bluetooth mobile phone connectivity.
Priced at £15,900, the DS3 Sport costs a little more than the comparable MINI, yet offers considerably higher equipment levels. It also looks more distinctive, thanks to the front daytime-running LEDs, wacky exterior colour combinations and is offered with a choice of HDi diesel engines. Early reports suggest that the DS3 will hold its value slightly better than the MINI Cooper too, though it is too early to say whether that will tail off as more cars hit the streets. MINI customers are the obvious target audience for this new baby Citroën, though it could also be thought of as a more grown-up, modern day Saxo VTS, popular with youngsters around the millennium.
Citroën DS3 Sport 1.6 HDi
Engine: 1560cc, 4-cylinder, turbodiesel with particulate filter
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Power output: 110bhp at 3,600rpm
Maximum torque: 199lb ft at 2,000rpm
Maximum towing weight: 1,150kg
Top speed: 118mph
Acceleration 0-62mph: 9.8secs
Combined fuel consumption: 62.8mpg
CO2 emissions (Taxband): 118g/km (C)
Benefit in kind tax liability: 13%
Size (length/width without mirrors): 3,948/1,715mm
Boot space (Seats upright/folded): 285/980litres
Insurance group: 18
Star rating: 4.5 stars
Rivals: Alfa Romeo MiTo 1.6 JTDM Veloce, MINI Cooper D, Renault Clio GT dCi 106