Aspiring bobble-hat brigade take note – Citroen is launching the DS3 R3 rally car at this weekend’s Ulster Rally. And it’s a relatively cheap way to get into rallying, in a motorsport-is-never-that-cheap kind of way, writes Piers Ward.
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Citroen DS3 R3 rally car: driven
TopGear goes rallying in the racing version of Citroen’s shark-finned hot hatch, narrowly avoids trees and large ditches…
This car meets R3 regulations, so it has a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine with 210bhp, a paddle-shift gearbox, clever engine mapping that is changeable depending on what surface you’re on, and an all-new multi-function dash. But it’s also based on the DS3 road car, which means you can wander into your local Citroen dealer, buy a standard DS3, order the Euro 62,000 conversion kit from Citroen France, then spend about 500 man hours converting the road car into the rally car. What could be easier?
It then means you can enter FIA rally events the world over, as well as more local ones like the Ulster Rally, and compete alongside the likes of Loeb and Latvala.
Not that Seb or Jari-Matti are there when we drive the DS3 R3 on a mini-stage in Northern Ireland. Good job, given how embarrassingly slow I am. But, talentless rally driver aside, the DS3 R3 is a great car in which to learn the skills of rallying.
There’s just about enough power there to make the car enjoyable, but equally it’s not got enough poke that it’ll correct any mistakes. You can’t make a hash of the corner and expect the engine to drag you out of trouble. It’s about conserving speed in this car, and that’s a crucial skill. That’s an easy task, though, because the DS3 R3 has such brilliant balance. By the time I get behind the wheel of the Citroen, the tarmac stage is covered in lots of loose chippings, which means you get understeer as you plough into a corner.
But it’s only on the initial part of the bend – at all the other points, you can really feel the back end moving around, and the steering is so light and fast that it’s easy to react to it. It’s great the way the DS3 seems to pivot around you. You’re at the centre of its universe.
All this makes the Citroen feel like a proper rally car. I was lucky enough to drive Loeb’s WRC car last year, and although that feels a lot more sophisticated in the way it rides and handles, all the major touch points in the DS3 R3 and the WRC car are surprisingly similar.
The way the DS3 R3 really bangs through the gears, how the single paddle gear change works (towards you for up, away from you for down), the roll cage, the seats, the digi display - it all feels like it would be a natural progression to step into faster categories, and eventually into the WRC.
If rallying can ever sort out its feeder categories, it might make the top echelon more competitive and attract more teams and drivers. Hopefully this DS3 R3 will help those lower echelons.
Check back next week for the video.