Citroen DS3

DS? SPELL IT as the French say it and you get Deessee or ‘Goddess’, the perfect name for perhaps the most advanced car ever designed. Is it possible for a hip 21st Century hatchback named DS3 to live up to the inspired genius of the original?

Citroen sees DS as a technology-driven sub-brand of prestige models – with DS4 and DS5 to come. Yet the three-door hatch is a rebodied C3 (the new C3 arrives in November), using the same architecture – wheelbase, tracks and basic strut front/torsion beam rear suspension are near identical – together with shared bonnet, headlights, windscreen and front guards.

New technology? I don't think so.

Yet the DS3 works well, at least in the 115kW turbocharged, 1.6-litre, six-speed manual form tested. (The 88kW, four-speed auto may be less impressive). This is a terrific engine with so much torque from low revs it’s hard to believe it displaces just 1.6 litres. With a peak 240Nm from 1400-4000rpm, it pulls strongly from just 1200rpm, the power rolling on to beyond the 6100rpm redline. Refined and powerful, it’s mated to an un-Citroen-like, slick-shifting gearbox.

John Carey, no lover of French cars, waxed lyrical when he drove the car in France. Too frequently, however, what works in Europe doesn’t translate here. Not so the DS3, which offers a convincing blend of agile handling with a surprisingly compliant ride.

It’s not as sharp as a Cooper S, but the ride is more comfortable. And while the steering lacks the involvement of the Mini, there is precision and decent weighting with a degree of isolation that eliminates kickback. Any mild understeer is easily countered by lifting off to subtly change the car’s attitude. Its general composure means the DS3 is a very useable car with a strong sporting character.

At the wheel, the DS3 also impresses, despite the basic dashboard coming unchanged from the C3. The rest of the interior is laden with layers of piano-black lacquer and fake suede panels with contrasting stitching and colours. Figure-hugging leather buckets are supportive, but the driving position is slightly awkward and rear legroom limited.

How does it look? Apart from the distinctive ‘floating’ roof, it’s nothing like a DS. The DS3’s proportions are muscular, and the choice of contrasting colours allows personalisation.

Any connection between the DS3 and DS is superficial; you’ll struggle to find any creative brilliance in the new car. What you will discover is the best-driving Citroen in decades, a terrifically capable hot hatch that rides, steers and performs as well as its competitors.

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