DS, Citroën’s boutique sub-moniker, has officially established itself as a standalone brand beneath the French marque. But I can’t bring myself to call the DS3 a ‘DS DS3’ just yet; not when it still bears the Citroen double-chevron logo on its nose, and when the first standalone models haven’t yet been released locally. So then, the Citroën DS3 Sport – bona fide hot hatch or lukewarm boutique hatch?
The figures suggest it sits astride both categories – with 120kW and 240Nm outputs from the 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol 4-banger placing it firmly above the likes of the Suzuki Swift Sport and Opel Corsa Sport (100kW and 110kW respectively), but just below the likes of the Ford Fiesta ST (134kW). The engine is one of the many derivatives of the 1.6T Prince engine that has, and still does, find use in many Peugeot/Citroen products – including the previous MINI Cooper S, current Peugeot 208 GTI, 308 GTI, and RCZ to name a few.
As such, it bears many of the endearing traits that make the engine so versatile in the PSA model line-up. Of particular prominence is the torquiness of the engine – which goes beyond what figures suggest. 240Nm arrives at 1750rpm, but it’s readily available from there on out offering fantastic in-gear acceleration once the small, but perceptible, amount of turbo-lag has subsided. It gets the aural benefits of the Prince engine too; it’s throaty and has an endearing growl for a force-fed four-pot that adds character many of its competitors lack.
The front pair of wheels is driven via a 6-speed manual transmission which, although fun, is telling of the DS3’s age. Lacking the sweetness and preciseness of newer PSA gearboxes, the throw is just a touch too long, and doesn’t slip into gear with quite as much fluidity as it should. At times it just simply refuses to go into gear without forceful concentration, where it should be a thoughtless process to slip from one cog to the next. It’s got decent weight to the shift though, and it makes good on the torque available – although 2nd gear, for the life of me I don’t know why, has been geared to be far too tall, reaching 110km/h on the speedo before necessitating a shift to 3rd. It’s ludicrously tall, especially in a small hatch of this nature, where shorter gearing would amplify the feel of speed and make it a more enjoyable toy to toss about.
Sure, that makes for ample pulling power in a range of low speed corners, but it’s in the string of 4 or 5 tightly stitched corners that rowing gears would greatly benefit the DS3 – not just for the fun of it, but from a driving dynamics perspective. Handling in these scenarios would benefit greatly from being able to transfer weight with a well-timed shift to a correctly geared 2nd for good mid- to top-end pulling power – but current gearing doesn’t allow it, and so you have to control weight transfer with jabs of the brake pedal, which bites slowly and then all at once without correct modulation.
For this, and a few other reasons relating to the suspension setup, the DS3 Sport feels like a very traditional FWD sport hatch. Slow in, fast out is a must-adhere-to philosophy when cornering the DS3 with any spiritedness. Jump on the throttle too early, and you’ll be greeted by wheelspin and understeer. Trail-braking yields sharper handling characteristics though; pivoting the weight around the inner front wheel, and making good use of the direct nature and weightiness of the steering. That said, it still lacks the sharpness of some competitors in this sort of price range, and needs to be manipulated into handling correctly rather than just doing so.
The ride quality also doesn’t aid handling much, offering a ride more skittish than a firm, yet composed one. The dampers don’t respond to rapidly changing surfaces as quickly as I’d like them too, and the firm springs don’t assist much when the combination encounters a bump, mid-way through an off camber corner. It also becomes a bit crashy over poor surfaces, and the noise intrusion into the cabin is in contrast to the rest of the refinement to be found in the boutique hatch.
Nevertheless, there is a certain pleasure to be had from manhandling the DS3 around corners – the simple pleasure of knowing man conquered machine to get it through a corner just right. It won’t be the quickest, nor the most composed when theatre and engagement of it all.
That refinement I mentioned – there’s quite a bit of it. In fact it’s one of the key points of the DS brand as a whole; to be a cut above in refinement, luxury, and style. The interior is a mixture of class and style, with a definite allusion to the sporting aspects of the model. Perforated leather adorns the front sports seats – items which are firm and supportive, but are built for only the slight of build driver. Even my with my lanky frame I found the seats to be awkward. The bolstering on the seat of the chair is just too narrow, which means had to sit with my knees together and my calves splayed in order to reach the pedals appropriately.
The rest of the cabin is equally both as luxurious and as small as the driver’s seat. Gloss black trim spans the dashboard, framed above and below by soft touch materials. The instrument binnacle features a central speedometer winged on either side by displays; the 3 dials cowering behind a small sports steering wheel, clad in leather and aluminium. Aluminium sports pedals complete the driver’s view in what – seat space aside – is a good place to be seated when at the helm of the DS3.
But the rest of the cabin is a bit more awkward. The centre console features what appears, at first glance, to be a decently sized touch screen infotainment and navigation setup; only it isn’t a touch screen, and it’s awkward to control via buttons at the bottom of the console. The navigation system works alright though, but the entertainment – which includes Bluetooth telephony and media streaming – doesn’t feature much information anywhere on the screen barring a slim display at the top of the screen. Furthermore, the Bluetooth audio refuses to scroll through songs via the steering column mounted controls.
Then there’s the lack of space, especially for rear passengers. Even behind short drivers there isn’t much room, and the rear of the cabin is quite claustrophobic – largely because of the chunky B-pillar that gives the DS3 its ‘shark-fin’ exterior design feature. This also doubles to reduce visibility and create large blind spots, despite the DS3’s compact dimensions.
Feature-wise, the DS3 carries an impressive load of kit. In addition to the navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, high quality audio system, and leather upholstery, the DS3 Sport also features satellite steering controls, cruise control, automatic headlights, automatic windscreen wipers, ABS with EBD and Brake Assist, 6 airbags, 17-inch alloys, and tyre pressure monitoring system. It also features advanced lighting systems such as the pulsing indicators that flow outwards in the direction you’re indicating (a-la Audi A8 and TT), and 3D taillights.
Despite the quirky looks, and high quality cabin feel, there are aspects to the DS3 that betray its age and make it feel less premium that it intends to be. Tyre roar and road noise permeate the cabin too much, and the lack of space becomes apparent the moment you even contemplate giving someone a lift down the road. That said, it has many a redeeming trait – the noise it makes combined with the masses of punch and old-school driving charm mean that when you’re in the mood for a giggle the DS3 Sport delivers. Despite that, it also offers some frugality – consuming 6.6l/100km in my care.
But… there’s always a ‘but’ and this time it’s a big one… there’s one attribute of the DS3 Sport that can’t be overlooked, and that’s the price. R336 900 is the price, including emissions tax, and it’s a lot of money. Make no mistake, the DS3 Sport s fun, and relatively quick, but for that sort of money one could easily opt for a more refined but slower Opel Corsa Sport (R257 800), a quicker, more entertaining Ford Fiesta ST (R276 900), a VW Polo GTI (R318 000) which is not only more practical, but is more refined, quicker, and offers high levels of luxury – albeit with a price tag, or even a vehicle based on the same platform that has better refinement, more pace, and more features – the Peugeot 208 GTI for R309 900.
The DS3 is fun and stylish, but it’s showing its age, and the niche asking price just won’t cut it. Despite sitting mid-way between warm- and hot-hatch territories, the DS3 Sport struggles to carve a unique space in the market in any way but with its looks. At the end of the day, looks aren’t everything, and there are others with far more depth of character at a far lower price point.
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120kW @ 6000RPM
240Nm @ 1750RPM
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