"Based on the C3, the stylish, three-door Citroen DS3 is more exciting to drive and luxurious."
The Citroen DS3 is the French manufacturer's challenge to the Alfa Romeo MiTo and MINI Cooper superminis. Based on the standard Citroen C3, the DS3 has a classier interior and offers a much more exuberant driving experience. The available engines range from an efficient, road tax-exempt 89bhp diesel to a 1.6-litre petrol turbo that produces 153bhp. There was also a top-of-the-range Citroen DS3 Racing, but only 200 were sold in the UK, so good luck getting your hands on of those.
The interior is modern and stylish, reflecting the DS3's clearly excellent all-round performance. The Citroen DS3 is available in four main specifications – entry-level DSign, mid-range DStyle, the self-explanatory DSport and top-of-the-range Ultra Prestige.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
The DS3 is more economical and efficient than it was, with the 1.6-litre DStyle e-HDi Airdream now returning 78.5mpg in combined fuel economy and emitting an annual road tax-exempt 91g/km. Even the Ultra Prestige 153bhp 1.6-litre THP petrol models can return 47.1mpg and emit a decent 135g/km, which is good for a performance model and means only £155 in road tax a year. We’d avoid the automatic gearbox simply because it pushes the CO2 emissions too high, with the 1.6-litre VTi emitting 150g/km.
Interior & comfort
What it makes up for in performance, inevitably the DS3 sacrifices in comfort. It's not uncomfortable, but the range is a mixed bag – all models have generally soft suspension (except for the DSport model), that is basically comfy for passengers, but the wind and road noise are a lot more invasive inside the car than most of its main competitors, like the Volkswagen Polo. The five-speed gearbox also get too loud for comfort when driven at motorway speeds, but thankfully upgrading to the six-speed version reduces the noise so it ends up quieter than the MINI hatchback, for instance.
The DSport never becomes truly uncomfortable, either, but you can tell that comfort is not the priority. The good driving position is somewhat compromised by centre console controls that are hard to reach for the driver – but at least both the seat and steering wheel are fully adjustable and allow for drivers of any size to get comfortable. However, the back seats may be able to fit adults at a squeeze but they’re really properly suitable for children.
Practicality & boot space
A car of the DS3's dimensions is never going to offer much practicality, but it still manages to offer a few worthy surprises. You get more space than in a MINI hatchback and it offers 285 litres of boot space, which expands to 980 litres when the standard-fit split-fold rear seats are folded down flat. That's more than in the Alfa Romeo MiTo, although the MiTo does beat it for overall space. For instance, while adults can fit in the back, it's simply not advisable because of the lack of knee and headroom – both thanks to the short wheelbase and sloping roof. And the three-door body style also makes access to the back a little too difficult.
Reliability & safety
A 36th place finish in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey's list of the top 100 cars was one of Citroen's best ever results in the survey. Citroen itself also showed an improvement, climbing six places to rank 21st out of 32 in the manufacturers table – making it one of the best improvers in the poll. Citroen now needs to keep this reputation rehabilitation going, with even the DS3 still showing some problems with build quality, and we wouldn’t rule the kind of reliability problems that have dogged Citroen in the past, such as electrical faults or faulty windscreen washer – which have been experienced by some owners.
Inside the DS3 you’ll find plenty of soft-touch materials and a higher build standard than in the C3, but you’ll still find some cheap, scratchy plastics hidden away in the nooks and crannies. Fortunately, the DS3 did secure the full five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests, with all cars coming fitted with six airbags, electronic stability control (ESP) and anti-lock brakes (ABS) as standard.
Engines, drive & performance
The DS3 should have an engine to suit just about any driver. The 89bhp diesel is handy for zipping around town - although it may not be worth paying more for a diesel if you only make short trips on a regular basis. Meanwhile, the 155bhp petrol engine offers a genuinely exciting drive, but will probably be expensive to run on a daily basis.
The DSport models come with firmer suspension, which results in improved handling and grip, but it is noticeably less comfortable both around town and on the open road. The DS3's steering is generally light and direct, so you’re unlikely to ever feel out of control. We should point out that the Racing model does offer the best handling and performance, accelerating from 0-62mph in only 6.9 seconds but you’ll probably only find one second-hand – and even then you’ll be lucky.
Price, value for money & options
The entry-level 1.4-litre DS3 DSign is actually fairly affordable. It comes fitted with cruise control, electric windows and steering wheel-mounted audio controls. However, if alloy wheels and air-conditioning are essential for you, then you’ll have to hand over some extra cash. Alternatively, you can pay that bit more for the DSport and then you won’t have to add any optional extras or accessories to it. And if you go for the Ultra Prestige, then you get a generous equipment pack that adds “watch strap” leather seats – but that model is a lot more expensive.
All models have a three-year/60,000-mile warranty so like any equivalent supermini – you should be able to depend on the manufacturer if anything goes wrong.
The DS3 Red special edition offers even more extra equipment, plus a special red trim, both inside and out. It's good value if you’re a devoted fan of the colour red – if not, we’d give it a miss. All DS3s should have strong resale value on the used market, though, so you should be able to get a good second-hand deal when it comes time to sell it on.