Review: the DS 3 Performance hot hatch Reviews 2023 | Top Gear
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Review: the DS 3 Performance hot hatch

Published: 26 Jul 2016

That’s a mean looking Citroen.

Well, you’re half right. Yes, it looks mean. But no, it’s not a Citroen. It’s a DS 3 Performance, the sportiest car from France’s newest carmaker. Albeit one that currently sells familiar models which – yes – used to be Citroens.

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Citroens like the DS 3 Racing of five years ago; its spirit is reborn in this 205bhp Performance, the fastest of all the wee 3s, and a rival for a Ford Fiesta ST, Renault Sport Clio or Peugeot 208 GTI. We’ve now driven it in the UK, where prices start below £21,000.

What are the specs?

They’re rather similar to the 208 GTI actually, specifically the 208 GTI by Peugeot Sport version, the two cars sharing key components. So there’s a tuned up 1.6-litre turbo, with 205bhp and 221lb ft, as well as a differential on the front axle to ensure all of that tidily makes its way to the tarmac.

The result is a 6.5-second 0-62mph time and a 143mph top speed, performance identical to the Peugeot’s. It’s a great car, that little GTI, so injecting some of its sparkle into something that looks as tautly focused as this DS 3 can surely only be a good thing.

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How did you know that was coming? It’s not a bad car at all, this Performance. It’s just not as precise or punchy as its superbly judged styling might have you anticipating.

At 1,175kg, its claimed kerb weight is just 15 kilos more than the Peugeot’s, and yet it feels more blunted in the real world. It’s still a quick car, but it’s not gobsmackingly pacey like that 208.

It’s also much stiffer, particularly in urban environments or on more beaten up B-roads. The 208 is firm, but remains composed; this DS 3 is just plain tough. Yet – and it’s an almost impressive trick to have pulled off – it’s actually not as sharp as the 208 to drive.

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How so?

While the Peugeot’s eager responses imbue it with a sense of rawness and intensity even at low speed, this DS 3 feels like it’s had its edges keenly chamfered off. It will travel along at a fair old lick, gripping well and generally displaying the unbeatable point-to-point pace small hot hatches excel at on challenging roads.

And yet it doesn’t put much of a grin on your face as it does so. The diff works away exceedingly subtly, and to feel any of the adjustability evident in its Gallic cousin – or, indeed, a Fiesta ST – you’d have to drive the DS 3 at notably greater speeds.

But isn’t DS meant to be about comfort and luxury?

Apparently so, and the Performance isn’t short of the latter. Six years old the DS 3 may be, but its interior remains a step above most supermini rivals, while the big suede sports seats are superb. There are abundant paint and trim options, including this matt black and gold example we’ve been driving. Better than it sounds on paper, for sure.

But its suspension is simply too unyielding for the Performance to adequately provide the former, and you’re left with a car seemingly unsure of what it wants to be. A hot hatch that combines strong pace with genuine comfort would hold appeal, as might a more fashion-orientated version of that pugnacious little Peugeot. As it stands, this DS 3 Performance is stuck between the two. It’s little more enthralling than a standard, DS 3 165 THP.

So that’s the one to have?

Well, perhaps not. See this DS 3 Performance is around £900 extra, which nowadays is rarely enough to buy you the 25 per cent power upgrade on offer here. But, more importantly, the Performance also looks so much cooler. The suspension is lower and track widths broader than standard, with the bodywork following suit. Its stance is exceptional; this DS 3 begs you to get in and drive it.

Which is the crux of the issue. The styling builds an expectation the rest of the car doesn’t quite match. But if I was feeling extrovert – and that’s a personality trait style-led hatches like this surely encourage – then I’d probably pay the extra simply for how much more serious this DS 3 looks. Ultimately, though, I’d simply stick with the Peugeot whose parts it borrows, but whose ethos it seems to forget.

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