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What- Citroen DS3
Where- Paris, France
Date- January 2010
Available- February 2010
Key rivals- Mini, Fiat 500, Alfa Romeo MiTo
Following the example of Mini, Fiat and Alfa Romeo, Citroen looks to its past to revive an evocative badge while rejecting the temptation to go retro
We like -GTbyCitroen concept inspired looks, boosts Citroen's image, feisty turbocharged petrol, customisation options
We don't like - Some colour options border on the tacky, styling may date
Gallery: Citroen DS3
As a new decade dawns downsizing is going to be one of the major motoring trends. It'll mean smaller engines in big cars but more people than ever will be looking to go the whole hog and drive a smaller car full stop.
But not everyone buying a small car wants a basic supermini, something Mini picked up on a while back and Fiat followed with its 500. Premium feel, retro charm and opportunity for personalisation both have proved successful, a model copied by the Alfa MiTo.
And now Citroen wants in on the act with this, the DS3. The basic idea is the same - options galore for colour and trim, dinky dimensions to suit trendy urban lifestyles and a name harking back to a classic model that defines the brand.
But where both the Mini and 500 trade on retro vibes - respectively with a sporty and a trendy twist - the DS3 has no visual link with the famous DS of days gone by. Chic, bold and confident hints of the fabulous GTbyCitroen concept liven up what is basically a C3 in a fancy frock.
Despite a record five consecutive wins in the World Rally Championship and star drivers of the calibre of six-time champion Sebastian Loeb and new signing Kimi Raikkonen Citroen doesn't really have any sporty road cars.
The Cooper S and hot Abarth Esseesse beat it but the Citroen goes its own way and is sporty without overtly going down the hot hatch route. As it stands the 150hp THP manages 0-62 in brisk 7.6 seconds.
This 1.6 turbo - variants of which power the Mini Cooper S and various Peugeots and Citroens - really is a peach too, with a thick power band, discreetly raspy exhaust note and brisk throttle response.
The rest of the DS3 range is made up of 95hp 1.4-litre and 120hp 1.6-litre petrol engines and three versions of the widely used 1.6-litre HDi diesel engine found in Fords, Minis and others besides the Peugeot/Citroen family.
Two 90hp versions will be offered, one with revised gearing and other tweaks to eke the emissions to a VED-free 99g/km while the third option has 110hp. This and the 150hp petrol get six-speed gearboxes, the rest use a five-speed.
Ride and handling
The DS3's underpinnings are as per the closely related C3 supermini and, it's fair to say, follow the template of pretty much every car in the class with struts up front and a twist-beam rear axle.
But Citroen has devised a new set-up for the DS3 to give it a character of its own, the focus shifting from the rather inert nature of the C3 to a rather more dynamic feel absent from most Citroens.
It's not overtly sporty in the mould of the Mini or MiTo. But it's crisp enough to ensure the DS3 can be hustled down a twisty back road without disgracing itself or isolating the driver from the experience.
Citroen has succeeded in finding a fine balance between comfort and composure too and the DS3 rides better than its rivals, the retuned steering also fast, direct and reasonably weighted if not especially feelsome.
Just like the exterior, the cabin can be customised with a myriad of options. Everything from the colour of the dash to the type of gearstick and patterns on the floormats can be selected from a number of variations.
The coloured central panel on the dash certainly brightens things up and contact points like the wheel and gearknob all have a chunky, solid feel thanks to leather and real metal trim. It's easily as good as a 500 and way better than the MiTo.
At 3.84m the DS3 is longer than a Mini or 500 but a tad shorter than a MiTo, the interior space is on the cosy side in the back but generous up front thanks to a deeply sculpted dash on the passenger side.
Citroen's MyWay sat-nav system brings big-car features to the DS3's options list, eight-speaker hi-fi and various MP3 and other music systems can be connected. Suffice to say, if you're downsizing from a bigger, more luxurious car the scope is there to indulge yourself.
Economy and safety
As you'd expect, safety is an important consideration on the DS3 and Citroen is already boasting five-star Euro NCAP ratings for occupant protection. Six airbags, Isofix mounts and the usual ESP and ABS safety nets are all standard.
Economy and CO2 are going to be evermore crucial considerations and the DS3 scores well on both with the worst in the range - the 150hp 1.6 THP DSport - emitting just 155g/km and the 1.6 HDI DStyle 99g slipping in with VED-free 99g/km.
MSN Cars verdict
Citroen's outright rejection of the retro trend is a brave one and the DS3 successfully puts a new spin on the premium supermini format. Decent to drive, eye-catching to look at inside and out and sensibly priced it's a welcome addition to the fold.
|Need to know|
|Engine - Petrol||1.4 and 1.6-litre four-cylinder|
|Engine - Diesel||1.6-litre four cylinder|
|Torque (lb ft)||96-210 (with overboost)|
|Top speed (mph)||113-133|
|Rating||Citroen DS3 1.6THP DSport|
|Ride and handling||****|
|MSN Cars verdict||****|
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