MAR 08th 2016

First Drive: New DS 3 And A Very British Love Affair

DS 3

Britons have had a love affair with the DS going back to… well, 1955 really. It was the Déesse then of course – the Flaminio Bertoni-designed ‘most beautiful saloon ever designed’. We Brits liked it so much Citroen made it in Slough to meet local demand.

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Today it’s just DS, and for 18 months now doesn’t even get Citroën in front of it – DS Automobiles is now a brand in its own right, with the little DS 3 by a long way its most important model. Especially in Britain where, surprise surprise, we have loved it from the beginning.

Of the 390,000 DS 3s sold so far the British have accounted for 100,000 of them – a figure until recently even ahead of the French!

The reincarnation of DS is an object lesson in a mass-market brand branching out into the premium arena – and making a success of it. The key? Design, or more simply style, as Iris Apfel puts it in the memorably good new DS TV ad.

DS 3

Iris says that style never goes out of fashion, but in the car world at least it does need a little refresh from time to time – and that’s just what the DS3 has been given. And showing just how important the UK market is for DS, GRR was invited to drive the new model, in the UK, before it even had its unveiling at the Geneva Motor Show.

What’s changed? It’s shinier with a new chrome-framed front grille. It’s safer with new features like Active City Brake which applies the stoppers for you at speeds up to 18mph. It’s smarter with a new dashboard touchscreen (standard on all) replacing no fewer than 20 buttons. It’s a lot more connected, ‘Mirror Screen’ functionality seamlessly linking to your IOS or Android smartphone. And it’s better equipped with standard items now including reversing camera and hill start assist.

Personalisation is still a huge part of the DS story, with even more opportunities for speccing up your own unique version, from the 78 body/roof colour combos right down to your choice of gearknob. In either coupe or cabrio forms, the net result of the ‘style’ changes is a modest but worthwhile ramping up of the all-important premium feeling. That’s a win-win then, since there are no sheet metal changes, and nothing has been done to alter the trademark floating roof and ‘shark’s fin’ profile that give the car its distinctiveness.

DS 3

And changes to the car’s ‘substance’? New engines chiefly. There’s a new Performance model with 208bhp arriving later, but for now most interest centres on the new-to-DS3 1.2-litre three-pot turbo petrol engine.

It’s a little gem in 130bhp trim. The engine is a pleasure to rev out, although despite its diminutive capacity, it actually doesn’t need that much revving such is the strong low-speed pick-up.

DS says there are no running gear or suspension changes between the different engine variants (and all the cars were on 17-inch wheels), which is a bit of a mystery since they were all notably different feeling on the road – with this PureTech 130 far and away the nicest to drive.

DS 3

Faster on paper is the 160hp 1.6 – using the same excellent engine the Mini uses – but despite its cracking pace you have to be prepared for an unyielding ride and overlight steering. All in all not the rewarding sportster it could be.

The most mature of the bunch is the diesel, which we drove in Cabrio form and found it a very convincing and refined combination. It’s effortlessly torquey, spacious and practical (like all DS3s; even the Cabrio will seat five) and with a giant electric roll-back fabric roof. This opens up the sky very effectively, without adding much extra noise or draughts, even at motorway speeds, and certainly no shakes or rattles. Only one thing to remember: don’t roll the roof so far back it obscures all rear vision…

As refreshes go, the DS3 revamp works, but you do need to be careful to find the model that suits you, because the different models do drive differently, whatever the salesman may tell you. That’s no surprise perhaps given that the fundamentals are getting on a bit now (it’s the old Citroen C3 platform), and in some respects – some excessive road noise, variable ride quality – it shows.

Roll on future DS models with new platforms and the deep-seated premium engineering the car deserves and this intriguing new brand needs if the DS star is to continue to shine.

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