The DS3 is a car Citroen is rightly chuffed with. It effectively replaced the shonky old C2 but did so much more: it proved Citroen can make a MINI, and a convincing one at that.
This DS3 By Benefit (it’s a posh San Francisco cosmetics company) is a fine example. We also have a Fiesta in the office at the moment: would you believe this costs over£1,000 less than the Ford? Certainly not by looking at ‘em, so richly finished is the DS3, so tight and MINI-like is its appearance.
A blend of deep grey metallic and orange detailing helps – you don’t get colour combos this wild on mainstream stuff – and it’s a similar story inside, with a clean appearance and lots of fascia jewelry. Even the branding on the dials looks like the sort of writing you get on posh watches.
In the first 30 seconds, you’ll find some of it’s not perfect. The seat’s too high, the steering wheel’s a touch too far away, the pedals are slightly offset. Start it up and the engine immediately seems impressively smooth and sophisticated, but the contrast between ultra-light clutch and an oddly stolid, weighty gearchange seems ill-matched.
But, know what? Plenty other stuff compensates for this. It’s a car that drives with unexpected sophistication, from the taut, snappy ride that still has absorbency over potholes to the lithe, short-wheelbase agility that comes from having suspension anything but trad Citroen soft. Even decidedly EPAS steering can’t spoil the fun.
The engine is the star initial draw though. Unlike the Fiesta in the car park, this one’s upsized: 1.6 litres yet just 120hp (rather than the 140hp 1.0-litre CJ drove earlier in the week). Because of this, it feels nicely rounded and well balanced, with a torque delivery that’s well matched to its power output.
Apparent from the off is the immediate and elegant torque delivery that characterises big engines in small cars. There’s no slight delay while you wait for a turbo to wake here, then a neck-jarring rush as it wakes up and tries to make up for lost torque time. Just smooth, measured and reasonably ample drive that makes the little Citroen feel much richer than you first expect.
The satisfaction of it helps take attention away from the oddly pronounced gearbox whine for a good half-mile or so. Notice it and it seems odd how the engineers missed it. Or maybe that’s just because the rest of it’s so quiet? Because the DS3 does have a premium car’s plushness, from the absence of trim creaks and groans to the general well-damped roll-along gait it displays on the move.
There’s a lot to like with the DS3. It has ability, it feels a cut above and it makes you feel good about things. No wonder you see those distinctive LED running lights glinting towards you so often.