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DS3 Review

Freeborn Winchester, my local CitroŽn dealer upgraded my courtesy car to a new DS3 when I took my C5 in for a service. 

Following on from my drive and review of the new C3, I was given a DS3 as a courtesy car when my C5 went in to Freeborn of Winchester for a service.
The car was black with a pale blue roof (and door mirror housings and key insert).  My initial impression, on a gloriously hot and sunny day in June, was that the interior was very dark and that the plastic ‘chrome’ found on the dashboard and steering wheel reflected the sunlight.  The contrast with the Zenith windscreen-equipped C3 could not have been greater.  My C5 has a light grey leather interior and obviously is much roomier than the DS3 which felt quite claustrophobic in comparison.
Again, like the C3 (and to a lesser extent my C5), the A pillars were very thick and the B pillars were so thick as to cause a real problem when looking to one’s left.  Rearward visibility was not very good either.  As I mentioned in my C3 review, “…clearly the pillars have to be thick in order to provide the roll over protection mandated by European construction regulations and clearly, the loss of the front part of the roof as a result of the Zenith screen plays a part in this.”  The DS3 has a ‘proper’ roof so I find myself wondering why the pillars have to be quite so thick.
The first few miles driving in Winchester’s rush hour traffic was not the most relaxing of experiences.  The ride was noticeably firmer than that of the C3 and the steering heavier.  I believe that the C3’s ride is quite exceptional for a steel-sprung car; the DS3 seemed only average.  My satnav took me on an odd route out of Winchester – lots of steep hills and badly maintained surfaces and the car crashed and banged from one pothole to another.  The 195/55/R16 tyres didn’t help either.
Once I got out on the open road, the car was much nicer; the handling is excellent, being essentially neutral with a touch of understeer when pushed hard.  The steering feels nicely weighted and responsive and loads up as cornering speeds increase.  However, one can feel the imperfections of the road surfaces – I think this is what the muttering rotters mean when they talk about ‘feel’.  I don’t like it.  I like that ‘slightly detached but unaffected by the surface’ feel that hydropneumatic cars have.  In the final analysis though, this is a subjective matter.  For every person who likes the feel of ‘traditional’ CitroŽns, there are probably a couple of dozen who dislike it intensely.  And if CitroŽn want to appeal to the majority, they have to engineer this populist sort of feel into their cars.  The C3’s steering was less ‘feely’ and much lighter and I can imagine some prospective buyers being put off after a test drive.  Body roll, as one might expect, was non-existent.
Driving in Winchester traffic, the 90 bhp 1.6 Hdi engine felt torquey and responsive.  It was quite happy to pull from just above idle speed in third gear.  It came as something of a surprise then to discover that I needed to make use of the gearbox to make rapid progress on country roads.  Fortunately, the gearshift and clutch are excellent and the ratios nicely chosen.  And it is possible that there are people out there who revel in the contortions imposed by a DIY transmission – the so-called ‘sporty’ fraternity.
The engine note, even when pushed towards the red line, sounded very nice – no trace whatsoever of the infamous compression ignition rattle; nor did it run into a brick wall at the red line.  There was a little bit of gearbox whine but very little wind noise.  However, opening the driver’s window led to very severe buffeting at speeds as low as 40 mph and I found myself grateful for the very effective (and very quiet) airconditioning.
There is a folding armrest between the two front seats and this is de rigeur if one wants to make fast progress since the seats have insufficient lateral support.  In the up position, this armrest contributes to the feeling of claustrophobia in the rear.  In the down position, one has to put one’s arm to the left of it in order to fasten the seatbelt or operate the parking brake.  I also felt that there was insufficient lumbar support.  The rear is very cramped indeed.  I am 5’11” and with the driver’s seat adjusted correctly, I was unable to sit in the seat behind.  Sitting behind the front passenger’s seat after moving it fully forward meant that my knees were hard up against the back of the seat.  The very thick B pillars with their odd angle meant that the rear of the car felt dark, cramped and claustrophobic.

The dashboard is of a higher standard than that of the C3 and the plastics used are tactilely superior although I dislike the plastic ‘chrome’.  The steering wheel too feels nicer than that fitted to the C3.
Having criticised the ride, I followed a Mini Cooper along a bit of road that the French would once have described as chaussťe deformťe and could see the driver bouncing up and down.  The ride in the DS3 meant I too could feel the road surface but it was not uncomfortable.  The Mini slowed to 45 mph and I felt quite happy to overtake and resume the 60 mph we had both been doing earlier when the surface was smooth.
A quick look at the computer display revealed that over the last 1000 odd miles, it averaged 50.3 mpg and 30 mph.
As I all too often observe when driving small CitroŽns, I am not in the market for such cars and I therefore have to try and put myself in someone else’s shoes.  If I were 30 years younger, had only two small children, lived in a town (where its compact dimensions make it easy to park), were a few stone lighter and liked to drive in a ‘sporty’ manner, I might very well consider the DS3.  As a general rule, I try not to read other people’s tests of cars but one would have to be a hermit to be unaware that the DS3 is generally reckoned to be superior to the Mini and Alfa Miata.  Whether this makes the DS3 a good car and the other two merely average, I cannot say.  For a small CitroŽn, it sets new standards of build quality and it must be said that it is quite distinctive looking.  Whether it advances the art of automotive engineering is a moot point.  But then people in this sector of the market probably don’t want cutting edge technology; they want something that is chic, stylish and fun.  The DS3 is all of this.
As it is, I far preferred the C3 which has similar performance, more room, a better ride and, to my way of thinking, better steering.

© 2011 Julian Marsh

Above - colour-coded Plip - the same colour as the roof and mirror housings

Above - very thick nearside A pillar obscures view

Above and below - one is obliged to put one's arm to the left of the arm rest to fasten/release the seatbelt or operate the parking brake

Above - clearly laid out instrument panel
Below left and below right - the interior is trimmed to a very high standard

Above - view from the rear

Above - view from the driver's seat of B pillar

Above and below - very thick offside A pillar restricts view

Above - restricted leg room in rear

Above and below - the rear compartment

If you are interested in owning a DS3 you should visit the UK free listing site, Gumtree.com. They have hundreds of used Citroen cars listed including DS3s.

© 2011 CitroŽnŽt