Test drive: Citroen DS3 DSport

The TotallyMotor Verdict


Welcome to the Citroen DS3 DSport TotallyMotor test drive, and no, that's not me in the big floppy hat! It's Pixie Lott, the latest young British pop popsicle, and the DS3 was product placed in one of her music videos.

So, is this a message from Citroen as to their targeted consumer for the DS3?

Marc Raven, Citroen Communications Director, explains: "Pixie Lott is one of the most talented and successful young performers of our time. We're thrilled DS3 was chosen to appear in her new video - a happening vehicle for an up and coming artist."

Well Pixie is clearly a young and happening hat-wearer, but I'm a 37-year old hat-less bloke. Where does that leave me? Behind the wheel of the distinctly fun-friendly 150bhp DSport, that's where.

First impressions:
Walking through the car park on a bright winter's day, approaching the DSport from the rear three-quarter view, I have to say she's looking squat, solid and a little bit cheeky, basking in the hard sunlight.

This is certainly a good view of the most sporting DS3 (until the 200+bhp DS3 Racing arrives in early 2011), with the sun bouncing off the chunky 17inch 5-spoke alloys, chiselled bodywork details and liberal sprinkling of specified chrome details. Judging by the gentle burble of excitement that's starting in my stomach, this vision of the potential fun to come has piqued my interest in exactly the way a sporting premium supermini should.

We're all well aware of Citroen's history and successes, both on and off the track, when it comes to cars that urge and excite the driver. Cars like the Saxo VTS or AX GT are great road cars, sublime and waiflike in chassis, but perhaps a little underpowered. Then look to Citroen's dominating C4 WRC world rally car; unbeatable handling balance and clearly well-propelled. Perhaps the new, more modern range of spicy Citroens get to keep that hard-earned chassis know-how, this time mixed with a little extra go-now.

So far, the signs are good. Under those hunkered curves, snazzy two-tone paintjob, shark fin B-pillar and LED design details, waits a 150bhp, 1.6-litre turbocharged engine. And while 150bhp doesn't sound like a particularly frightening figure by today's standards, the DSport is light (1165kg), runs a close-ratio 6-speed manual gearbox, and, most importantly, packs that little torque-boosting turbocharger that should make a big impression on the driving experience.

Into the interior:
In this specification, with pretty much everything shiny, soft or high-tech added to the test car, the DSport THP 150hp will cost nearly £19,000, and that's decent wedge of cash. But you are getting much more than in previous Citroen hot hatches. This is thoroughly modern Citroen, so don't compare the interior to the old Saxo VTS too much, and its inner space is on another planet compared to the ancient AX GT.

The first thing to draw the eye is the Shiny Black centre console which could be described as looking like the finish you'd find on a grand piano. Very lustrous, but this slightly OCD tester would worry about fingerprints and potentially easy surface scratching - would the shine last as long as the other sturdy, soft-touch finishes?

After regarding the centre console, no doubt hands would reach out to the flat-bottomed, chrome-trimmed leather steering wheel. It looks ready for action complete with pistol grips and it feels solid and of high quality. This is exactly what you want to find in a premium supermini and these initial views and touches of value are the crucial first impressions that last.

Citroen have clearly upped their interior game, and there's more quality and fresh thinking to be seen around the steering wheel. The clocks are just the right mix of modern and familiar; digital and analogue, with the heavily-shrouded speedo taking centre stage, flanked by the rest of the driver-focused instrumentation. All the clock needles light up in a soothing blue colour, and the whole binnacle does a neat little 'start-up dance' when you click round the chunky key fob in the ignition.

The leather sports seats adjust in plenty of directions, including height, and should fit most shapes in a glove-like fashion, and in general, thanks to the generous interior dimensions, most should be impressed with the space on offer from this small hatchback. Competition wise, the DS3 beats the MINI, MINI Clubman and Alfa Romeo Mito on most aspects of interior space and offers five proper seats and the biggest boot of them all.

One issue that I did have was with the 'drilled alloy pedals'. As a long-legged tester I found that my right foot didn't make the best sole-to-face contact with the rubber grip-studs on the brake pedal. As my leg wasn't straight at the pedal (there's not a supermini that's going to really fit a 6' 4" frame), neither was my foot, and if you miss the grip-studs to find the metal surface meeting your foot, on a wet day with wet shoes, I did feel a little slippy on pedal. A good sole drying on the carpet bought reassurance.

Safety and gadgets:
The specification sheet says you could hit 133mph in the DSport, which is a fair old lick. But this being a Citroen there's the usual assortment of electronic gadgetry to haul up any big speeds, as well as the usual mechanical devices that only come into effect if things have indeed taken on the shape of a pear.

There are six airbags beneath the reinforced bodyshell and an ABS braking system that also features Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), Emergency Braking Assist (EBA) and an Electronic Stability Programme (ESP) - basically more than enough sensing and computing to keep even the most spirited drivers on the straight and narrow. And a spirited drive was on my mind.

The drive:
I get the immediate feeling that I'm in for a treat. The suspension is firm and focused; just the way I like it, and a quick dab on the brakes brings a wide-eye'd response; these stoppers bite hard.

The pedals are a little small for my size 12s but the position is good and operation slick. The clutch action feels to be the right weight and the large, ball-shaped gear stick falls readily to hand.

Out of the junction and a stab at the accelerator yields an instant and surging response. The small turbocharger spools quickly, delivering its torque-boost nice and early in the revs with 1771lb ft ready to rock at just 1,400rpm. The close, six gear ratios don't over stretch the engine's pulling power and at the top of 2nd gear and in 7.3secs, you will be flying past 62mph.

Of course all this fun comes at a price with the petrol-powered DSport pumping out 155g/km CO2 on a back-lane-blast. If you want super-frugal look to the HDi 90hp diesel DS3 and you'll be smug with your sub-100g/km tailpipe. Until a DSport nips past, that is.

There's a fair amount of front-wheel-scrabble from this pocket performer, but that's entirely to be expected with a torquey front-driving car on a cold and greasy road. It all adds involvement, anyway. Even at full tilt the DSport never feels threatening; it's not that quick, instead its useable point and shoot surefootedness inspires enjoyment, not chest-beating madness. This test car was a reluctant return.

Ten-second sum-up:
Stylish, solid and up for some fun, the DS3 DSport offers all the cool quirks of the DS3 shape, but with plenty of real-driver's-car-rewards and enough engaging talent to bring a smile every day. Surely £15,900 is a small price to pay.

Trim levels:
The entry-level DSign trim features a leather steering wheel, an MP3-compatible CD player with steering mounted controls, front fog lights, electric door mirrors, cruise control with speed limiter, ESP, six airbags, electric windows, remote central locking and Gear Efficiency Indicator.

The DStyle model also features front bumper mounted LEDs, air-conditioning, dark tinted rear windows, contrasting body and roof colours, roof coloured painted door mirrors with a chrome base, shiny-finished black dashboard and 16inch alloy wheels.

The top trim level DSport also features chrome side rubbing strips, a rear spoiler with an integrated third brake light, a chrome double exhaust pipe, drilled aluminium pedals and 17inch black alloys. The 'Connect Signature' pack, which includes Bluetooth, USB socket and the eight-speaker Hi-Fi system is standard, as is automatic digital air-conditioning.

Prices & availability:
The DS3 range starts at £11,700 for the VTi 95hp DSign, rising to £15,900 for the top-of-the-range THP 150hp and the HDi 110hp DSport models. A fully specified DSport THP 150hp with all available options costs just under £19,000. DS3 is available now.

By Daniel Anslow

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