When it was launched in 1955, at the Paris Auto Show, the Citroen DS was pretty much the most futuristic car model in the world. With a design penned by Flamini Bertoni, it became known as the quintessential quirky French car, paving the way for other Citroen avant-garde designs in the 1970s and 1980s, when the brand's innovative design began to be slowly neutered by their PSA bosses.
Apart from the highly desirable and completely original design, the DS was also known for its avant-garde technologies. It was the world's first mass produced car with a hydro-pneumatic self-leveling suspension and with swiveling headlights that pointed in the direction the vehicle was steering. The last bit wasn't exactly a world's first feature though, since the Tucker Torpedo had implemented a similar feature in 1948, albeit only for one of its three headlights.
Sadly, after Citroen's bankruptcy in 1974 and its subsequent alliance with Peugeot, their cars have slowly drifted away from the forward-looking design and technology of the DS. Until the 2000s came, that is. That's when Citroen first started to realize it had something going on with those Kamm-back designs and tried to resurrect some of their cachet.
In 2010 though, they started making more than just retro models harking back to the DS and others like it, they actually launched a new DS line. Consisting of only a single model so far, the new DS line will be an adjacent one to the Citroen line-up, and it no longer has the same meaning as the original DS car. To be more precise, the modern DS line-up now means "Different Spirit", which is pretty much a fancier way of saying this it is different than your average Citroen.
The first model to be launched bearing the modern DS logo is the DS3, which is technically a C3 with a more premium package, both inside and out. Its main competitors are currently the Alfa MiTo, the Audi A1 and some versions of the Mini, from which the DS3 also borrows its engine line-up. Some people also consider the revived Fiat 500 as a competitor, considering its cute retro looks and yuppiness, but we can't actually agree with that because of its much smaller size.
To see what all the fuss is about this latest Citroen, and to actually experience how a modern car could possibly become iconic without resorting to retro design, we took a top specced DS3 to the test. After absolutely loving the Mini Cooper S (in both hard top and Cabriolet form) and the Alfa MiTo, we didn't expect to feel exactly the same about the rather futuristic (in true Citroen heritage) Citroen DS3. Read on to find out if we really didn't.
Although the body is technically based on the rather feminine C3, the DS3 is much more macho, especially with the Sport Chic trim level. The first thing we noticed about our test car was of course the color package, which is (either intentional or not) pretty similar to that of the Mini. So, white and silver alloy wheels, pearl black overall color with chrome trimming and white mirror covers/roof. Also, the vampire fang-like dayling driving LED don't look half bad either.
Even though it's not exactly an original color combination, the effect is very different on a car with this type of design. To some, it looked like a Mini from the future, with absolutely no retro touches anywhere on the car. The front is highly Citroenesque, with huge pointy headlights and a pretty large radiator grille common with the new Citroen design language.
The side on the other hand looks like nothing else from the current Citroen line-up, having a very roundish box look. The one thing we didn't exactly love in terms of exterior design were the doors, which are normal ones, instead of having frameless windows like its number one competitor. Other than that, the chrome and white accents aren't tacky at all, but actually make the car look like a million dollars... very figuratively speaking, of course.
Also, the way the B-pillar is much thicker than the C one really improves the dynamic appearance of the car in a pretty original way, especially since the roof is painted in a different, contrasting color. By the way, there are dozens of color combinations for the exterior, including twelve different alloy wheel designs, so you can almost configure a one-of-a-kind-looking Citroen DS3.
The rear of the car is where the fun begins. At night, there was more than one person who thought it was actually a Volkswagen Polo from the distance, since the overall design lines of the rear, including the taillights, are pretty similar between the two.
Also, the total absence of the Citroen chevron logo from the hatch confused other people and made them wonder what car it was. On the whole, taking into account the car's hot hatch stance and the funky design touches, we think this is one of the coolest-looking Citroens in their current line-up. We actually reckon it can do more than keep up with the Mini Cooper S and/or the Alfa MiTo from this point of view.
After taking a few strolls around the car, you would expect the interior to be just as cool-looking. Turns out it sure is, and without jumping on the retro-is-better bandwagon as well, like some of its competitors have. The first thing we noticed inside were the front bucket seats and the high tech overall feel.
Speaking of the highly supportive front seats, although they were almost shaped like something you would find in a supercar, they weren't as hard on your back or tooshie as we were expecting. This is actually something of a Citroen trademark, and except maybe if you're a pretty large fellow there's no way you won't feel comfortable in them, despite the humongous side bolster supports. Also, the two-tone leather upholstery was looking better than those found in some entry-level premium cars.
Another point of interest is of course the total lack of Citroen chevrons inside. Instead of that, a DS logo sits on the flat-base, Le Mans-style steering wheel. In true modern Citroen fashion, there is also an ambiance perfume dispenser enclosed near the instrument panel. Unfortunately, in our test car the perfume was depleted and needed a recharge, which you can do at any Citroen dealer, so we can't tell you how nice it smelled.
The center console is quasi-identical with the one from the C3, but you can only notice the similarities if you either have a very keen eye or you just came out of the former model. The main difference is that our DS3 had a piano black finish, which gave it a much more upscale feel.
The overall space is naturally pretty cramped for full-size passengers but felt a bit more roomy than both the Mini Cooper S and the Alfa MiTo we tested earlier. Also, the luggage compartment is among the largest in this segment, albeit it's a bit compromised by the rather deep configuration, just like on the Alfa Romeo MiTo.
Considering our test car was fitted with a detuned version of the 1.6-liter turbocharged engine from the Mini Cooper S and its target customers are pretty much in the same ballpark as the Mini, we were expecting a similar behavior in the city. Apparently we were a bit wrong in judging this before actually driving the car, since the DS3 is actually a bit better than its Anglo-German rival at this chapter. Let us explain.
First of all, the Citroen DS3 has a much more forgiving suspension setup, although not as technologically advanced as the one on the Mini. It's much harder than any other modern Citroen we've driven, but compared with its rival is much, much better at eating potholes, tram lines or "sleeping policemen".
Second of all, the overall visibility is also a bit better, mainly thanks to the slightly larger and better shaped exterior rear view mirrors and the somewhat higher seating position. Parking is pretty much a breeze considering the above and the car's overall petite size, but also thanks to the rear parking sensors our test car was fitted with.
The official fuel consumption would point to a very frugal car, especially considering the near-hot hatch performance figures, but as always, real life figures in a congested city are pretty different. with no "Sport" button at hand, like on its main competitors, we managed to achieve between 9.5 and 13.5 liters per 100 kilometers (US 17.4-24.8 mpg), depending very much on the way you want to start from a traffic light and how crazy you want to get behind the wheel.
Not bad at all, especially taking into account that the official figures point to a 9.4 liter per 100 kilometers (US 25 mpg) and our testing mainly took place in a city with gruesome traffic. Overall, the DS3 is a great car for both doing errands and parking in front of a club when the weekend comes.
Although the DS3's actual technical bits and our preconceptions originally made us believe this isn't exactly a very good car to have fun in on some twisty roads, we were dead wrong. Sure, the 1.6-liter turbocharged engine is quite a bit detuned from the one we tested in the Mini Cooper S, while the rear suspension is semi-independent instead of multi-link. Also, the car is a Citroen, so we shouldn't have expected a sporty handling at all.
As it turns out, the car isn't bad at all when it comes to be driven hard. Despite having 25 horsepower less and actually weighing a bit more (!?!) than the Mini Cooper S, the Citroen DS3 1.6 THP can really keep up when driven hard on the twisties. Sure, when talking about numbers it's slower by 0.3 seconds to 100 km/h (62 mph), since it requires 7.3 seconds. Also, the DS3s top speed is about 14 km/h (9 mph) slower than the Cooper S', with only 214 km/h (133 mph).
The suspension is a bit archaic, but you wouldn't know it just from driving the car. Its setup is exactly what you would expect from a comfortable Citroen, but it also adds a pretty good dose of sporty flair. Along with the 17-inch wheels with low side tire walls, the suspension helps the car to tackle corners like a pro (read: almost hot hatch territory).
Although it's a bit more "boatish" than its number one competitors in the curves, the DS3 with the Sport Chic trim doesn't feel like any other modern Citroen when it comes to be trashed around some serpentine mountain roads. The engine pulls with almost no perceptible turbo lag from an unbelievable 1400 rpm, while the six-speed manual gearbox is honestly the best we've ever experienced in a Citroen since... maybe forever.
Moreover, the fuel consumption is not half bad, considering it can keep up with much more powerful cars. We managed to achieve as low as 6 liters per 100 km (US 39.2 mpg) when driving calmly and using the cruise control. When trying to imitate Sebastien Loeb on Col de Turini, the average fuel consumption pretty much doubled, so over 13 liters per 100 km (US 18 mpg) are possible, but only if you drive like a madman.
As far as the DS3's low points, we could have used a bit more feel from the steering, especially when driven in a sportier manner. Also, the DS3 is a bit too much sound-proofed, so you can't really experience the same sporty sounds you hear in a Cooper S in "Sport" mode, for example. Too bad, since the car is capable of an almost similar performance with the aforementioned.