Flirting With Distinction

We look back at the car that started the whole Distinctive Series debacle – was it really ten years ago?

So much going on to so little effect. (c) dieselstation

This is twice as much as what we aimed for, the DS line is a huge success,” Citroën’s Frederic Banzet told Automotive News in 2011. And for a time at least, it did appear as though Groupe PSA had pulled off a marketing masterstroke, with DS3 sales at one point accounting for a quarter of the volume for the entire C3 range.

It wasn’t as if the DS3 was necessarily a bad idea. The market for small upmarket  B-segment hatchbacks had been dominated by BMW’s MINI brand and certainly, there was a decent slice of that market to be had – with the right product. PSA’s difficulty was twofold: the lack of a competitive platform and more fundamentally its fundamental neglect of the Citroën name, which had been allowed, if not actively shoehorned into a low-transaction price, value-led cul-de-sac.

Hence the notion to create a sub-brand, leveraging the halo embodied within the double chevron’s 1955 oleopneumatic masterpiece. Someone in sales and marketing thought of that, and I fervently hope they are still serving their sentence.

Stylistically credited to Mark Lloyd (every Citroen of this era seems to have been credited to Mark Lloyd – can he really have done them all?), the DS3’s style was a curious mix of the banal and outré, with neither really gaining the upper hand in the final analysis.

Nevertheless, it did appear to be finely-judged in that it was sufficiently appealing to its target customer (at least initially), without alienating or challenging anyone – even if the DS market proposition was touted as being just that.

Based on the PF1 platform and running gear borrowed from the contemporary and decidedly vin ordinaire C3/Peugeot 208 and built in the same PSA Poissy assembly plant, the DS3 employed revised suspension settings and a modified steering rack to provide a more ‘road-focused’ driving experience – PSA aiming to attract impecunious potential MINI owners, who were prepared to put up with such privations.

However, despite the somewhat aberrant homologation-special 200 bhp DS3 Racing model, introduced as an adjunct to DS’ entry into the World Rally Championship, the DS3 appealed more to buyers who really couldn’t give a fig (or a Figaro for that matter) about chassis dynamics.

This was best reflected in the 2012 Cabrio model and a subsequent raft of special editions aimed at the fashion conscious; becoming even more prevalent in the aftermath of the 2016 facelift, which arrived in the wake of Carlos Tavares’ decision to spin DS Automobiles off as a stand-alone nameplate.

Ironically, this coincided with the model’s sales decline, although given its rather humble underpinnings, it was somewhat inevitable that once the initial market interest waned, there would not be sufficient substance to keep customers interested. Over a nine year production run, something in the region of 472,188 DS3’s of both stripes were built and one supposes, sold.

A success of sorts then and most notably, the biggest brand-DS seller in the (ahem) marque’s short and let’s not mince words, somewhat tawdry history. But every car deserves its day and while DTW is not prepared to cast rose petals at its feet, we do choose to mark its passage, by way of serial Citroëniste, SV Robinson, who appraised a pre-facelift version as a matter of courtesy. Whether it acquitted itself with distinction will require you to carry on reading here.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

11 thoughts on “Flirting With Distinction”

  1. Good morning, Eóin. So, DS now stands for “Distinctive Series”, does it? Surely that should be “Série Distinctive”, so SD? Oh dear, that won’t do. It sounds more like a 1990’s oil-burning Rover. Still, I suppose it’s not as risible as “Modern Gentleman”, the moniker briefly applied by the Chinese to poor old MG.

    PSA had one real opportunity properly to reinvent the revered Déesse, and they blew it spectacularly:

    The DS5 looked like an interesting modern reinterpretation of the 1955 original, but by far its worst feature was its crude suspension and crashy, unyielding ride on all but the smoothest roads. It also suffered from unacceptable levels of road and wind noise. Hence, it betrayed the qualities most admired in its glorious predecessor and bombed in the market.

    Of the latest offerings, the DS7 Crossback (a stupid name) still has ride issues, inconsistent quality, and lacks the originality of the DS5, looking like a mash-up of previous generation Lexus and Audi design tropes. The DS3 Crossback looks like a Fabia in a fat-suit:

    I wonder when the penny will drop for PSA, that DS is a waste of resources that would be better focused on the (already impressive) integration of Opel/Vauxhall into the business?

    1. I’m not entirely sure what it now stands for, Daniel – (does anyone really?) – but from my recollection, that is what PSA issued forth when the DS3 was first introduced. I’m confident that it has since been conveniently forgotten at the highest level, along with the basic rationale for the entire enterprise.

    2. Referring back to the lively discussion a few days ago on the new Mazda3, and the design sensitivity or otherwise of the average car buyer, I simply couldn’t contemplate ever buying a DS3. Why? Because of this, which absolutely sets my teeth on edge:

      That’s right, the terrible resolution of the A- (and B-) pillars, which is most obvious on cars where neither the body nor the roof is painted black. The treatment of the base of the A-pillar is clumsy and awkward looking, with the stupid little triangle that doesn’t align with the door frame where it cuts partly into the pillar above. Even worse is the way the satin black (paint or sticky plastic?) finish cuts lazily across the top of the pillar and door frame, which is just terrible. Clearly, this area of the car was not originally designed to accommodate blacked-out A- (or B-) pillars. If you want to do a “floating” roof properly, like Range Rover or Mini, you have to design it so the black paint on the pillars has a natural point to start and stop.

      Rant over (for now…)

    3. once I heard that DS stands for “different spirit”.

      +1 for the thoughts on DS5. a Citroën with stiff suspension, even a sub-branded one, is unacceptable.

    4. Eduardo, you could be right. I may have misheard it. Equally, DS could in fact stand for just about anything – for instance, Dispiriting Symphony, or Discomforting Suspension. How about Demonstrably Superfluous?

      Now there’s an amusing wordgame game for a quiet Saturday night… Any further suggestions?

  2. Actually, I think A-pillar design just might be my automotive obsession, like rear centre armrests or ashtrays for others on DTW (I know Richard is an aficionado of the former, but am unsure as to who is fixated with the latter.)

    Suzuki is another manufacturer that started well on this detail on the 2001 Swift, but then regressed, although not to DS3 levels of crassness.

    Suzuki Swift 2001:

    Suzuki Swift 2010:

    The 2001 model has an A-pillar that is largely concealed beneath the door frame, except for the part forward of the vertical shut-line. The 2010 model has the door frame partly cutting into the A-pillar, a less neat solution.

    1. Good observation about the A-pillar. Also, over at the Regata discussion I am shocked to see I had missed out on the Regata facelift. Goodness, that was a lot of money spent on a wholesale disimprovement.
      I am concerned with ashtrays and rear centre armrests. The new Mazda 3 has one and that is proper order.

  3. Daniel’s observation is spot on.

    That is a dreadful way to execute an A-pillar. As for the B-pillar, now that was very polarising indeed on the DS3:
    On one hand, it would be a very bland design overall, without the
    B-pillar obtrusive kinkiness.
    On the other, such a B-pillar is extremely self-centered, very burdening
    to the overall design result.

    I’d say that, in spite of it being an aesthetically questionable solution, it did the trick and they sold many of them.

    (I won’t delve at all into the ethically obscure, heritage-questioning usage
    of the two iconic letters for cars that are hard-riding and basically
    dynamically flawed… Them not being Citroen-branded is only
    a small consolation).
    ).

  4. DS Automobiles is definitely a contender for worst design and in my view a clear winner of that undesirable award. Every single design element doesn’t fit with the rest. I have never sat in one, so I can’t really tell if DS models use the horrificly unsupportive advanced comfort seats that you can order in Citroëns these days. Back pain within 15 minutes guaranteed. Judging by looking at the photos the controls are a mess, though. Then there are the useless gimmicks like the headlights on the DS7 crossback, and that silly clock.

    Normally none of that would bother me, but since Citroën/DS has a history to be proud of it does. What were they thinking?

  5. The DS3 exterior was the work of Frédéric SOUBIROU if my memory is to be trusted..
    Can’t remember for the life of me who did the interior, sorry.
    Monsieur Lloyd is often credited for Citroens, just as LDVA is for Renaults. Us sketch monkeys can’t generally be arsed with clamouring for the attention. Saves us from wearing self-consciously naff shoes too..

    1. Thanks for the clarification Rob, although if I was Mr. Soubirou, I think I might on balance be happier for Mr. Lloyd to take stylistic credit.

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