Citroën DS3 hatchback
Price £12,865 - £23,220
- Fun to drive
- Stylish design
- Three-door only
- Can get expensive
- Poor automatic gearbox
At a glance
"The Citroen DS3 is an upmarket small car that is stylish and fun, with more space than a MINI."
The Citroen DS3 is a French contender to the MINI hatchback, Audi A1 and Alfa Romeo MiTo, all of which offer an upmarket twist on the small car recipe. Like the MINI, there's lots of room for personalisation and funky colours, but beware the entry-level DSign trim level, which doesn’t have air-con.
More fun to drive and characterful than the MiTo and A1, the DS3 also has the biggest boot and reasonable rear legroom. It makes do with just three doors, however, where MINI and Audi both offer small cars with the option of five doors.
The DS3 has a starting price which undercuts its rivals and a strong engine line-up. It still can’t quite match the MINI's pin-sharp handling, or the solidity of the A1's interior, but as an all-rounder the DS3 makes a great package.
MPG, running costs & CO2
Excellent diesel and petrol engines, just avoid the automatic
Depending on which version you choose, the DS3 can be reasonably economical or seriously frugal. The star version is the diesel e-HDi 90 Airdream with a headline-grabbing 78.5mpg and CO2 emissions of between 91g/km and 95g/km of CO2 meaning there’s no road tax to pay. The more powerful e-HDi 115 is hardly thirsty either, with 74.4mpg and 99g/km.
One petrol version is cleaner than the others - the VTi 82, which returns between 61.4 to 62.8mpg and costs £20 per year in tax band B. The VTi 120 and THP 155 engines return just under 50mpg, while emissions between 132g/km to 135g/km will cost £130 each year in road tax. The VTi 120 is the only version available with an automatic gearbox and it’s best avoided, dropping economy to 43.5mpg and bringing emissions up to 150g/km, with a £145 annual tax bill.
The latest MINI is capable of even greater economy, with 83.1mpg from the diesel One D, while the petrol Cooper manages 62.8mpg and has more power than the VTi 120. This also beats the Audi A1, with a best effort of 74.3mpg from its 1.6-litre diesel. It’s also worth remembering that while the cheapest Citroen costs less to buy than the MINI or Audi, it won’t hold its value as well.
Engines, drive & performance
The DS3 is a fun car to drive, especially the thrilling THP 155
The Citroen DS3 is good to drive, with lots of grip and accurate steering. Our main complaint is the standard five-speed manual gearbox, which is a little clunky to use and not as precise as the six-speed manual available in the top versions. The DS3 matches the A1 and MiTo for enjoyment, but the MINI still feels like the most agile upmarket supermini.
Both the e-Hdi 90 diesel and VTi 82 are quite slow, accelerating from 0-62mph in more than 12 seconds, so they are best suited to town driving. The e-HDi 115 is quicker, reaching 62mph in 9.7 seconds and with enough overtaking urge to make it a competent motorway car.
For sporty performance you’ll need a VTi 120 or the turbocharged THP 155 petrol, which reaches 62mph in 7.3 seconds and has firmer suspension for more grip, but is a little less comfortable as a result.
Interior & comfort
Stylish and attractive, but not as refined as the MINI
Citroen’s DS line-up of models benefit from higher-quality materials than its standard ‘C series’, so the DS3 feels significantly more upmarket than the Citroen C3 it’s based on. Attractive gauges, colour-coded upholstery and comfortable seats all add up to a classy and relaxing feel.
In the transformation from C3 to DS3 the ride has also been made firmer to ensure the DS3 is fun to drive, while comfort still remains acceptable. DSport versions are stiffer still, and while the DS3 is still no bone-shaker, you will feel more bumps in the cabin. Too much wind and road noise makes its way inside too, which can be tiring on long motorway journeys. Choosing smaller wheels should help, but the MINI is the more refined car.
With a fairly upright driving position, forward visibility is excellent, but very thick door pillars mean there’s big blind-spot when looking over your shoulder.
Practicality & boot space
A larger boot than rivals, but not enough cup holders or cubbies
The DS3 is only available as a three-door, making access to the rear seats quite difficult. Once in the back, knee room and headroom are just about adequate, as long as you’re under six-feet tall. Both the MINI and Audi A1 now come in three and five-door body styles, but neither offers more space - just easier access to the rear seats.
A steering wheel that adjusts for reach and height and a height-adjustable driver’s seat makes getting a good driving position straightforward, and the front of the cabin is a pleasant place to be. Unfortunately though, you’ll notice the lack of cupholders on longer trips, as well as the small glovebox and doorbins.
The boot goes some way to making up for this, with 285 litres of space in the DS3 superior to the 270 litres found in an A1 or MiTo and the 211 litres or 185 litres of space in a MINI hatchback or Fiat 500. The rear seats split and fold, with luggage space expanding to 980-litres, although the seats don’t go flat against the floor. The hatchback gives good access but, like the A1 and MiTo, you’ll need to lift items quite high over the rear bumper.
Reliability & safety
The DS3 is Citroen’s top-rated model in the latest Driver Power survey
Citroen has slipped two places to 26th out of 33 manufacturers in the 2014 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, suggesting it still has work to do to win over customers. However, the DS3 is Citroen’s best car in the survey, coming 37th out of 150. Its competitors fared poorly, with the Audi A1 rated 63rd, while the MiTo was near the bottom of the charts in 141st place. The latest MINI was too new to be represented, but its predecessor could only manage 142nd.
Crash tests carried out by Euro NCAP confirmed the DS3 is a five-star car for safety, with an adult occupant protection score of 87 per cent. Every version of the DS3 is fitted with technology to prevent skids, front and side curtain airbags and two ISOFIX child seat mounting points. DSport models are fitted with a system that can automatically alert emergency services in the event of an accident.
Price, value for money & options
Cheaper than rivals to buy, but beware of the options list
The Citroen DS3 undercuts its rivals from MINI, Alfa Romeo and Audi, making it good value, but bear in mind that equipment levels are quite low to begin with. DSign models come without air-con or alloy wheels, which will put off most buyers. DStyle gets these, as well as ambient lighting, LED daytime running lights, USB and Bluetooth connectivity – and is the model we’d recommend. DSport versions take the DS3 upmarket with climate control, 17-inch alloy wheels and a contrasting roof colour.
As with the MINI and Audi, Citroen wants you to customise your DS3 and options can quickly start to add up. Chrome door mirrors cost £100, while a white dashboard and gear knob is £150. Leather upholstery will set you back £1,100 (£850 with DSport). The ‘eMyWay Signature’ package adds climate control, sat-nav with traffic information, Bluetooth and USB connectivity to the DSign trim level for £1,100 (DStyle for £850, DSport for £800).
Resale values for the DS3 have been good thanks to its popularity with customers. Just make sure your DS3 has sought after options like air-con and alloy wheels. The temptation to choose an outlandish colour scheme might be strong, but an attractive set of options will serve you much better when you come to sell.