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The Top Gear car review: Citroen DS3

Editor’s choice
£14,990£16,395
8/10
Overall verdict

For: 

Fabulously different with bags of character and daring design ideas

Against: 

It's still really a C3, so it doesn't handle as sharply as it should
A garlicky breath of fresh air, the DS3 is brave and charming.

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Our choice

Citroen

1.6 e-HDi Airdream DStyle 3dr [95g/km]

£14,995
N/A
79mpg
12.50s
90bhp
95g/km

What we say: 

Courageous and successful effort from Citroen to take on the Mini. A former TopGear Car of The Year

What is it?

The DS3 is a radical departure for Citroen in that it’s sold alongside the C3 on which it is closely based, yet is marketed as a completely different product. And somehow this makes a lot of sense, especially if you read the C3 review and realise just how Johnny Sensible Citroen’s boggo five-door supermini has become.

The DS3 is a lifestyle product, embracing design ideas and tolerating compromises that the cheaper, more worthy C3 could not. You can customise it to your heart’s content, wring its neck through a series of challenging bends and then pop to a boutique to fill it with whatever it is stylish French types wear these days.

A recent addition to the range is a more attractive entry-level 1.2-litre engine, replacing a lethargic and thirsty 1.4. It enhances the entry-level appeal of the DS3 - and an even cheaper 1.0-litre is to follow later in the year, too.

Driving

Citroen’s engineers have tweaked the super-soft chassis of the C3, giving the DS its own damper settings and a faster steering rack. It’s more precise and meatier in feel (not that this is a great leap forward) than the five-door, but it’s still a light and rather removed experience when you compare it to the seat-of-your-pants involvement of the DS3’s bête noire, the Mini. Even the more sporting models, with their 155bhp turbo motors, lack the steering feel to give you any real confidence. But then the DS3 isn’t a hardcore hatch. It’s all about smoothness. How very French.

On the inside

The DS3’s cockpit is almost a return to form for Citroen, the company that brought us brilliant and bonkers ideas like single-spoke steering wheels and air suspension. It’s conspicuously different in here without feeling over the top or immature. You can customise it to a heady degree too, with a choice of gearknobs, dash colours and seat trims, and all that beneath one of four different floating roofs. You have to be careful with all this though. The bespoke bits and bobs all come at a hefty price – something Citroen is quite happy to talk about – and it now helpfully enables buyers to spend even more on a standard car by launching the, er, ultra lavish Ultra Prestige. The DS3 is relatively spacious for a three-door with sporting pretensions though, making it comfortable and more practical than the Mini it is out to upset.

Owning

The DS3 looks premium-spec but it has some really fuel efficient engines which help make it cheap to run. Diesels are so green, they get free road tax status. Retained values are not far off the Mini, either.

Highlights from the range

Title 0–62 CO2 MPG BHP Price
The fastest
1.6 VTi 16V DStyle 3dr
9.9s 129g/km 50.4 120 £15,575
The cheapest
1.2 VTi DSign by Benefit 3dr
14.2s 107g/km 61.4 82 £14,990
The greenest
1.2 VTi DSign by Benefit 3dr
14.2s 107g/km 61.4 82 £14,990

Wildcard

How about something completely different?

Wildcard

7/10

Abarth 500

£14,325£15,625
How about a Fiat 500 Abarth with the Essesse power upgrade kit? It's got the style of the DS3 and handles well