Review: Citroen DS3 DSport 1.6i 16v THP 150
Retro seems to be the order of the day when it comes to cars – or it used to be.
But if even Jaguar can cast aside more than 40 years of XJ heritage to create its new luxury saloon then surely the writing must be on the wall for cars that hark back too much to what has been before.
Where small cars are concerned, the BMW Mini seemed to have cornered the market in retro chic until the revived Fiat 500 came along to annoy it. Both cars rely heavily on modernising the look of the cars that carried their names at the end of the 50s and through the heady years of the 60s but the drawback of each is that it is bigger than the original so doesn’t hit the mark for neatness.
Citroen has decided to tackle both cars head on with its DS3, the first in a new range of DS cars that major on style. But the only retro bit is the two letters in the name, which go back to the most iconic mass produced car of the 50s, the DS saloon.
The original DS stunned the world for all the right reasons. Nothing looked like it and in the decade when Europe and the wider world was trying to put post war austerity behind it the French firm created a car with flowing lines and striking beauty. Not for nothing was the name a play on the French for goddess – enthusiasts everywhere wanted one.
I can still remember the first time I peered through the window of a DS as a small boy. I was three when it appeared. More than half a century later I still peer through the windows of interesting cars but the best bit is that I also get to drive them and one of the most remarkable for this year has to be the DS3.
It impresses for all the right reasons and not just because, like middle aged blokes on big motorbikes they can’t handle, it reminds me of days gone by. It is fresh and so different from its two main rivals although it is a car where colour choice is important. Our car was brilliant in red with a black roof but also featured matt black roof graphics I would happily have done without.
The first time I saw the DS, I thought the wide centre pillar, triangular in shape, would create a massive blind spot from the driving seat. But from inside it’s not a problem as it is obscured by the headrest anyway, meaning the blind spot is no bigger than on other small cars.
Where the DS scores for visibility is that the rear pillars are much thinner than those of other cars, so you actually get to see more.
But just as it isn’t retro, this car is one for looking forwards, not backwards. The test car was the DSport with a 1.6 litre petrol engine and a list price of £15,900. It gives a 0-62 mph time of 7.3 seconds and top speed of 133 mph. The only way to have this in a Mini is with the Cooper S which carries a list price of £17,100. It has a slightly higher top speed and shaves 0.3 of a second off the benchmark time but that’s not worth £1,200.
The Citroen does this with 155 bhp instead of the Mini’s 184 bhp but both cars share the same torque figure of 177 lb ft, the Citroen delivering at 1,400 rpm, the Mini 200 rpm more.
When you turn the key of the DS (no silly separate starter buttons here) you will hear a sound that Mini Cooper S owners already find familiar because the cars share the same turbo motor (BMW bought it from Citroen). Some people have asked why Citroen doesn’t use the higher power output but it patently doesn’t need to.
As well as being a hoot to drive, maybe a little hard riding for old and sensitive posteriors, the DS3 is also frugal, even when driven as its maker intends. The car averaged 48 mpg with us, again ably demonstrating that these days you don’t have to drive a diesel to enjoy decent fuel economy.
The DS can also stow more luggage than the Mini, which only offers 160 litres with all the seats in place. The Citroen has 285 litres, a real bonus if you want the car to be practical as well as a personality extension.
Some cars you like, others you enjoy. But there are also those you want – the Citroen DS3 is one of them as far as I’m concerned.
I looked at it first with curiosity and then with apprehension when I saw the snug fitting race-style seats of the test car. But a quick spin was enough to convert me to the DS3. As I was not a car enthusiast in the 60s, neither the Mini nor Fiat 500 do it for me, although of the two the Fiat is preferable.
But neither is anywhere near as appealing as the Citroen, which oozes class whichever way you look at it. The exterior is refreshing and modern while the interior is superb, too, although I thought the black headlining a little overpowering and sometimes found the reflections in the windscreen distracting.
The wide grille is flanked by dummy vents under each headlight and these contain a stack of six small running lights that add style and safety because the car becomes instantly visible to drivers in front.
It’s possible to have plenty of trim and colour permutations, plus a host of individual styling features to personalise the car. This is the only throwback to the heyday of the Mini that’s actually worth having.Citroen DS3