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