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DS 3 Crossback review: French crossover tested in the UK

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Doesn’t look much like a DS 3…

Times have changed since the old DS 3 (formerly the Citroen DS3, of course) was announced in 2009. Back then it was supermini - three-door only - much like the Mini and Fiat 500. Now it’s a five-door crossover - because that’s apparently what everybody wants nowadays - like the Audi Q2 or Mini Countryman.

But the Countryman’s massive.

It is a fair bit bigger than the DS, yes. So’s the Q2. But those are the cars DS says this thing - the DS 3 ‘Crossback’ - competes with because they’re from ‘premium’ brands. And DS very much considers itself one of those. Far as size goes, the DS 3 is more of a match for the VW T-Cross.

Looks more interesting than a T-Cross, though.

Certainly does. The DS 3 is by far the wildest-looking mini-SUV - quite different from any of its competitors or indeed anything else we’ve driven.

But that wildness brings compromises. The shark-fin halfway back along the DS 3’s profile - a nod to the old three-door hatchback - blocks the driver’s view over his shoulder, making motorway lane-changes tricky. It also means kids sat in the back can’t see anything out the window. Cue much complaining and if you’re unlucky, a bout of motion sickness.

Well, I don’t have kids, so…

Neither, we suspect, will the majority of people who buy DS 3s. So let’s move forwards. The dashboard is just as outrageous as the exterior - as bold as the bigger DS 7’s is disappointingly plain.

There’s this kind of diamond pattern that repeats across the entire cabin, but it’s most obvious on the centre console, where it informs the shape of the air-vents, climate controls and shortcuts for the infotainment system.

We wouldn’t mind it, if the controls were all physical buttons. But they’re not. They’re touch-buttons that respond to your prod maybe 70 per cent of the time. A reasonable area is dedicated to each one, because they each get a quarter-diamond to themselves, but you have to hit the tiny icon or else nothing will happen. This is a pain.

You’ll get used to it after a while, and in fairness, the infotainment itself is pretty slick. Well it certainly looks the part, but could really do with those hard-keys at least for climate, volume and radio-scanning.

Is it cheap and nasty?

The most obvious swathe of nastiness is by the glovebox. Which, as it happens, is so small nothing will fit in it (even the manual has to live in one of the door pockets). There are some scratchy plastics elsewhere, but they’re mostly hidden away. For the most part, the DS 3 feels plush and well put-together. Which is nice.

How does it drive?

This one has the 1.2-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine with 100bhp. The DS 3’s least-powerful form, and the only petrol that gets a manual gearbox. It’s fine - makes an interesting noise (which admittedly sounds a little incongruous in a car like this), and fades away nicely into the background when you’re not caning it. But it’s not powerful enough - 0-62mph takes more or less 11 seconds. Around town that’s OK, but elsewhere it frequently feels a bit out of puff. The 130bhp version of the same engine is the one to go for, no doubt, even though you have to sacrifice some mpg and find extra cash.

And the manual gearbox. Not a massive issue because the eight-speed auto is a decent thing, and because the driver’s footwell isn’t quite wide enough to properly accommodate three pedals. People with adult-male-sized feet will struggle to move their left foot from the clutch to the footrest, or from the footrest to the clutch without catching. Unless you have especially skinny feet/shoes, obviously.

Must be comfy. It’s French, after all.

It is actually. Rides well over most surfaces. But the softness brings with it a bit of unwelcome pitch and roll. Stay smooth and you’ll be fine - the steering is quick and encourages quicker direction changes than the chassis feels comfortable making.

But as the estimable Paul Horrell says in our big, five-point review, if you care at all about dynamics, just get a regular hatchback. Lower, lighter (though the DS 3 is only 1,170kg), cheaper - better.

The seats are good, and so’s the driving position, so once you’re up to speed it’s a nice enough thing in which to cover miles. But you’ll be irritated by the beeps and bongs alerting you to nearby speed camera and, erm, other stuff we never figured out. You’ll want to turn the lane-keeping off too, because it’s a bit over-eager.

Overall?

Like it. Drives decently and feels nice inside, but suffers from a couple of ergonomic issues. Different from its competitors - softer to drive and wilder to look at. Whether that’s a good thing or not, we’ll leave up to you.

6/10

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