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Citroen DS3 2010 review

Nobody at Citroen is singing ‘we don’t need another hero’ when it comes to the little DS3. They do, and they know it. While the brand is happy that their customer satisfaction is above 90 per cent, they admit their profile needs raising.

“We know awareness is extremely low,” Citroen general manager Miles Williams says. “But it will take significant investment to lift to a point where we have a better flow of people through the showrooms.”

In the meantime, they hope to get a profile boost from the arrival of the lDS3, the first of a trio of cars – the DS4 just unveiled overseas, and DS5 in the works –they hope to position as a separate brand line, targeting the young, chic and reasonably well-off.

Design

Despite the name, which suggests the 1950s DS of famed frog-mouth styling, Citroen has resisted the recent vogue for retro cues. Instead, the DS3 is all cute, clipped curves and appealing face – although a nip and tuck might have removed the resemblance to the Fiat 500 around the rear.

Limitless customisation of roof, wheel and trim colour is possible in Europe, but Australia is for the moment stocking just the main six most popular combinations. Buyers will be able to add more choices later if they’re happy to wait for them to arrive .

Ours was in a lurid yellow that surprisingly looked quite good, especially set off the by the combination of matching yellow-sueded and meshed seat inserts. The sueded surface looking worryingly magnetic for things like ice-cream, dog paws and sticky fingers. But Citroen vows it’s designed to resist and last the distance. Even the digital patter of the ‘carbon fibber’ plastic looks acceptable.

Bezels, handle inserts and other features are in swooping lozenge shapes … it’s all very French chic. Which means there are also some oddities, like the perfume diffuser in the dash and the gaps under the instrument binnacle – admittedly the light that comes though doesn’t make the instruments any less readable, but there’s no reason for it to be there.

Value

The better small cars these days are packed with features you once only found in large ones. But they won’t come with a small price tag. The base model DStyle is $32,990 and the DSport $3000 more at $35,990, and they come with a fair bit of standard equipment – including ‘mood lighting’. But you can add up to $10,000 more on options, because the extras list for both models includes things like Bluetooth/USB connection and automatic lights. And there’s no satnav at all. The extra $3000 for the Sport gives you 17-in alloys, rear spoiler, better upholstery and a lot of chrome trim, but the main reason for spending the extra will be the more powerful engine.

However, the DS3 has landed in the midst of the crowd of its fellow little Eurochic rivals, with prices ranging from $28,990 for the Fiat 500, while the Alfa Romeo MiTo is $29,990, VW’s Beetle is $30,361and Mini is from $31,100 – while the incoming Audi A1 is tipped to be around the $32,000 mark. So you have to weigh up the fresh French style against the features offered by some of the the competition.

Technology

There will be a 88kW/160Nm 1.6-litre coming soon with a four-speed automatic, but the first cars to arrive are the 115kW/320Nm turbocharged 1.6-litre – also used by the BMW Mini and the new Peugeot RCZ—but with only a six-speed manual in the Citroen. Both versions get sports-tuned pseudo Macpherson strut front suspension and flexible beam rear and variable electric power-assisted steering. But the DStyle gets only 16-in wheels – and both get only a space saver spare. That’s to prevent a full-sized one swallowing the luggage space, which is a very capable (against its rivals) 285 litres, growing to 980 litres with the rear seat down.

Safety

Disc brakes with ventilation on the front are standard, as are the anti-skid, brakeforce distribution and brake-boost technology, and stability and traction control. Crash protection includes six airbags, side impact protection and seatbelt pretensioners, while rear park assist can be added as a factory option

Driving

Our car was kitted out with a host of engines, and the first one we would have crossed off the list was the centre armrest, which you have to flip up and out of the way to comfortably use the manual shifter. But you get over that annoyance pretty quickly, once you kick off the line and find that within minutes you’re enjoying yourself.

The car connects with you, with plenty of pick-up from the 115kW engine, and the manual’s smooth, precise action making it fun to use – and even bearable in peak hour city traffic. Out of town and through some hills, the steering is responsive and the DS3 simply goes where you point it. Slightly firm suspension helps it around corners, but manages to take care of most bumps without it skittering around. However nothing seems to get rid of the tyre noise.

The rear seat is easy to get into, but there’s little legroom when you’re there – despite the recesses in the seat backs – and it’s best left for the petites. The luggage area is necessarily small, but the rear folds easily into flat, offering a great load space.

The question will be how the auto goes. The manual transmission is easy enough to use around town, but a lot of people will prefer not to shift for themselves in heavy traffic. On paper, the 88kW engine will be far less responsive and perhaps too asthmatic for enthusiastic overtaking or hill-tackling. More a city mouse, then, with its bigger brother the choice for those who look forward to weekends away.

Verdict

Chic, a little idiosyncratic, but a lot of fun

Pricing Guides

$7,040
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$5,830
Highest Price
$8,250

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Dsport 1.6L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $5,830 – 8,140 2010 Citroen DS3 2010 Dsport Pricing and Specs
Dstyle 1.6L, PULP, 4 SP AUTO $5,830 – 8,250 2010 Citroen DS3 2010 Dstyle Pricing and Specs