The 3 was the first of the new DS line – does consideration of it now give any clues to the new marque’s future?
The silver lining to having a car that spends more time than one would like “being serviced” is that one usually gets a courtesy car to try whilst one’s (un)faithful steed is being restored to full health. Previously, I’ve written about how a “lowly” Ford Fiesta provided in such circumstances proved to be one of the nicest drives that I have ever experienced; today it is the turn of the DS3.
“My” DS3 was in my possession for 5 days in total, including a weekend. It was still badged “Citroen” and had the molten chevrons on the nose and tail – as discussed elsewhere, it is planned that these will be banished at some point soon. The car was white with a black roof, and, I think was in DSport trim with a 1.6 VTi (NA) engine (there was no definite visible way of knowing, but the 17” alloys and decent spec helped me draw my own conclusion).
Views on the looks are mixed – my son (15) and daughter (11) liked it (“funky, chunky”), my wife gave no firm view, and I like some elements (cool 3D-effect rear lights, stance, proportions, and it’s a fresh approach) and not others (DRLs, headlamps, bizarre shark-fin b-pillars).
Inside, it’s a tarted C3 (I’d had one of those a couple of months ago – which helps provide context for this comparison), nicely trimmed, seats that are too flat (common with all small Citroens – C3, C3 Picasso, C4 Cactus) to provide proper under-leg support, and a driving position that made me feel like I was sat in a high-sided bath-tub (I got used to it, but not my thing …. not any more).
For a dashboard that is in reality so small, I found it hard to locate key controls and buttons, especially in the dark – so: heating temperature control and fan speed are not obvious, partly because the digital disc that displays the actual temperature setting glows so brightly that it draws the eye from the more dimly lit controls around it, and; the menu button for the infotainment effort is minuscule and built into the radio fascia.
Furthermore, I found the speedo hard to read – it could do with either a HUD (once you’ve experienced one, you’ll always want one), or at least a digital speedo to complement the analogue dial.
The car is clearly set up to be “sporty”. This means you get a thumping ride that jigs you up and down incessantly on the motorway, bumps you over every nook and cranny on other roads and throws you over “sleeping policemen”. It’s not so much hard, because the impacts have a damped-edge, but more lumpen, and the overall effect is that the wheels are huge and heavy.
You get direct, quite heavy steering that’s alert and, coupled with very little roll, makes the car fun to corner and navigate roundabouts. The turning circle was a breath of fresh air. The engine is not well suited though – I suspect that it is a derivative of the engine in my wife’s 8 year old Xsara Picasso – and has a hollow between 2,000 and 3,000 rpm and then blares in an ugly and toneless manner above 4,000 rpm to no great motive effect.
It part redeemed itself by returning 39.3 MPG in my care, but it’s a joyless thing. It’s also produced a fairly high-pitched drone at motorway cruising speeds, and is joined by a high level of road and wind noise – this is not a car to use over even middle distances on the motorway, what with the hammering ride, flat seats and all-round noise. The gear change is the usual, overly-long-throw, imprecise, slightly resistant PSA affair, with a lot of waggle in the gear stick even when in gear – although I rather liked the (heavy) metal gear-knob.
I believe that this engine is now only available with an automatic gearbox and has otherwise been replaced by a 1.2 turbo-triple coupled with the same-old manual ‘box, a drivetrain also found in the Cactus. I had a non-turbo triple in the C3 I had previously – it’s charming and thrummy, but I find it hard to imagine it being sold as a “sporty” powertrain.
The car has a good sized boot for this size of car, but not much room in the back. Dashboard aside, it feels very different to the C3 on which it is so closely based, as that car feels quite spacious and airy and you sit up quite high, whereas this feels cramped and dark. Build quality seemed fine, although the doors shut with more clang than whump, but I can’t see it winning over potential Mini or A1 buyers.
Which brings me to the question as to why you’d buy one? Since I started driving it, I have noticed that there are a lot around where I live – especially in white and black – so it seems to have sold well so far, but I have seen that sales have started to tail off over the recent past. It has a certain style and is miles cheaper (even pre-discount) than a Mini or A1 three door, but it’s unsophisticated in comparison and I think people buy it as a cheaper alternative to those cars, rather than a real alternative to them.
It’s a car that made me feel old, not young. To drive, it’s massively inferior to the Fiesta I tried previously, and I’d buy one of those in preference every time (even though that car was a comparatively low-powered 1.25 litre car). It’s fun around town and for short hop commutes, but tiresome in every other environment. I was relieved to get back into my C6 last night, and savoured the quiet, refined, soft riding, if rather aloof, experience of my drive to work this morning.
It’s hard to believe both vehicles could be categorised as “cars”, such is the difference in the way they convey their driver and passengers, and, even harder to believe that they are from the same marque. Which brings us back to where we started; perhaps PSA has achieved its aim with the DS3 after-all.
Good luck, Carlos, you’re going to need it!