DS 3 review - Does French hatch match a Mini for fun?

A car first, now a brand, the DS3 is Citroen’s spin-off that’s aiming at the premium players

Evo rating
from £13,995
  • Entertaining drive, fine styling, interesting interior and plenty personalisation makes for a fun Mini rival
  • The Mini does everything a little bit better

Citroen seemed to like what BMW did with the Mini brand, then took the idea and ran with it, reviving the iconic DS name. The DS 3 might have nothing in common with the Gallic hydro-pneumatically suspended goddess that first wore the DS badge, but it has been the spearhead of the company ever since it was introduced in 2009.

That range has grown to three vehicles in Europe, though it’s the DS 3 that remains the most visible and the biggest seller here in the UK. Technically it’s fairly conventional, being a front-wheel drive, three-door hatchback with a choice of petrol or diesel engines. Its appeal is largely down to striking, individual looks as well as its promise of an entertaining drive.

>Click here for our review of the DS3 Performance

As before, it's available as both a hatchback and a roll-back roof Cabriolet model, each in various inventive trim levels with a wealth of personalisation options. Topping the range is a new DS 3 Performance model, the first from the brand's dedicated sports arm, but it's less hardcore than the old Citroen DS3 Racing - think more GT than GTI.

The DS 3 is currently one of only three models in the DS lineup, with the larger DS 4 and DS 5 sitting above. It's probably the most convincing of the lot, despite its flaws - the DS 4 is nondescript and the DS 5, while appealing in a quirky sort of way, has few objective benefits over more established premium competitors.

Performance and 0-60mph time > Trades blows with the Mini in terms of outright performance, and turbocharged THP models offer entertaining urge. The DS 3 Performance reaches 62mph in 6.5 seconds.

Engine and gearbox > There's a wide range on offer, with everything from ultra-frugal diesels to punchy petrols, three cylinders and four. Five- and six-speed manuals allow best access to the car's performance, but the shift quality itself leaves something to be desired.

Ride and handling > Not as dynamically polished as a Mini, but still capable of entertainment. Errs closer to the ride quality end of a ride and handling balance, if not as supple as DS models of days gone by.

MPG and running costs > The thriftiest diesels manage nearly 80mpg, at least on paper, and should achieve figures in the 60s in the real world. Even the 1.6-litre turbocharged models are hardly thirsty, at over 50mpg. 

Interior and tech > More spacious than a Mini, and if you're unaccustomed to the appointments of a modern PSA product, the DS3's high-quality cabin will surprise you.

Design > Fresh looks, numerous paint and decal options and classy trim options mean the DS3 absolutely justifies its premium hatchback positioning.

Prices, specs and rivals

Drop £13,995 at your DS dealer and you’ll get in a DS3, though it’s probably not the one we’d recommend. At the other end of the range, a DS 3 Performance Black will set you back £22,495, which seems significant for a small hatchback but is par for the course when it comes to fast superminis - a Peugeot 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport is £22,365, while a similarly-quick Mini John Cooper Works is £23,190.

If you’re in the market for a DS3 be prepared to do a bit of specification studying, as the DS3 comes in Chic, Elegance, Prestige and Ultra Prestige trims, with some occasional special editions thrown in for good measure - currently a 'Performance Black' model tops the Performance range. Specifications have improved since Citroen DS3 became DS 3, so even the entry-level Chic model now gets 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, a height-adjustable driver's seat, interior mood lighting and more.

The list of what you get is as bewildering as the names; a huge degree of personalisation also means that choosing your perfect DS3 won’t be the work of a moment. DS3 Cabrios add around £1,800 to the price, which seems like a lot for a fancy sunroof. You do get rear parking sensors on all Cabrios though, thanks to the roof’s folding mechanism leaving you with no rearward visibility.

BMW's Mini brand provides the DS 3's closest rival. In fact, the Mini range is growing so quickly - both figuratively and literally - that there's almost a Mini model to rival every model in the DS range. But real comparison is between the DS 3 and the regular Mini hatch, in its various trim lines. Sadly for DS, the Mini is ultimately a better car, at least from a driver's perspective, with sharper steering and more composure when you press on, and even in convertible form - and the Mini gets a proper drop-top - the Mini is the more convincing, with a stiffer shell.

Elsewhere, potential DS 3 rivals include Audi's stolid A1, Vauxhall's cheery but flawed AdamPeugeot's 208 - particularly in GTi and Peugeot Sport form - and in the hot hatchback market, you should never discount the Ford Fiesta ST. There are even rivals from within: DS 3 money gets Citroen's own characterful Cactus, which with a pliant ride and ultra-comfy interior is arguably closer to traditional DS ideals than actual DS-badged products.

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