2015 Citroen DS3 review

Citroen’s gorgeously different, shark-finned DS3 has been relaunched with a refreshed face, a single-spec range, no automatic gearbox option and a new and inflated price. For a brand that seems to shift fewer units than Vanilla Coke, this might seem like a brave move, but for Citroen it’s all part of its “quintessential French flair”.

Visual changes to what was already a uniquely attractive little car are understandably minor, but if you look closely at the new LED and Xenon headlights you’ll spot what amounts to a new mascara job. Underneath the familiar skin is an all-new, Euro 6-compliant 1.6-litre engine with 121kW and 240Nm. Standard features on the six-speed manual DSport (the only spec available) include Automatic Emergency Braking, reversing camera, parking sensors, a six-year warranty and capped-price servicing.

Citroen’s policy of targeting only buyers who are happy to spend a bit more with its new ‘warm’ hatch – at $33,990 for the hatch or $36,590 for the Cabrio, it’s $4000 more than the model it replaces – is brave to the point of being fascinating. We’re curious to see if the offering is good enough to justify the extra dollars.

The Citroen DS3 is up against some tough competition in the small, fun and Euro segment, with both the Audi A1 at $32,250 and Mini Cooper S at $36,950 offering a more premium feel and, particularly in the Mini’s case, more driving fun. Or you could save some money by choosing an Alfa Romeo MiTo from just $30,500.

It’s hard not to love the DS3’s cheery and quirky French styling, but it’s harder to love the pricing, particularly when you consider how much the same cash would get you in a VW Golf, or even Audi A1. Those who only want a Citroen will get pleasantly warm performance, a fun little manual gearbox, a nice ride/handling balance and the peace of mind of a six-year warranty. The DS3 is not for everyone, but those who were already attracted to it will love the new one even more.

PLUS: Styling; AEB tech; six-year warranty; torquier new engine; manual gearbox
MINUS: Pricing; no auto option; misbehaves over really big bumps; centre screen has no touch functionality

CITROEN customers are clearly an odd bunch – “individualists” as the company likes to call them – but if any car in its quintessentially quirky line-up makes sense to the rest of us, it would be the airy flairy DS3.

Citroen Australia has just launched this “new look” version – with redesigned LED and Xenon headlights and not much else that looks new, suggesting it’s more of an eyelift than a facelift – and done away with the entry-level model because, apparently, its customers simply prefer to pay more.

Echoing the Stella Artois marketing line, Citroen buyers like to find their cars “reassuringly expensive”, it seems.

Shaun Mackle, Citroen’s national sales manager, says his customers are “individualists who want something different” and like to spec their cars with “every option on the planet”.

While he admits that the new DS3 DSport appears pricey “on paper” – at its one-spec-only $33,990 ($36,590 for the Cabrio), which is a hefty $4000 more than the old car – Mackle also stated the company line: “We will not be the cheapest, we will not price-point vehicles, but we will offer vehicles that our customers expect and, quite frankly, buy.”

Increasing the value equation, at least somewhat, is the inclusion of an AEB function, City Brake, which works at up to 30km/h. Citroen describes the system, with straight face, as “potentially life-saving”.

Still, they’re comfortable with charging what seems like quite a lot for a car they say delivers on its “warm-hatch promise”, so we should be, too.

There’s certainly not much that’s hot about the 1.6-litre engine with its 121kW, 240Nm and 5.6L/100km fuel economy, but the new powerplant, sourced from the giant PSA group and formerly seen in the Mini, still offers plenty of revvy fun and japes, plus improved bottom-end power delivery.

While the not greatly changed design still allows Citroen to declare the DS3 a style leader (it really is a cool-looking car), it doesn’t really match the cars it’s going after – Audi’s A1 and the Mini Cooper S (which own 75 percent of the segment between them), and the Alfa Romeo MiTo – in terms of interior style or quality.

There’s a sense that Citroen is one of the ‘other’ Europeans, rather than one of the gang.

Making the challenge of selling this unique proposition a little more difficult is the fact that the new DS3 is, for now at least, manual only, because they didn’t want to offer it with an outdated automatic. A new one will come one day, they know not when, but in the meantime it will limit their sales potential even further (auto sales of the previous DS3 were 49 percent).

This is a shame because in manual guise it’s a fun little car, bringing to mind the Fiat 500’s stylish shopping trolley end of the market.

It’s good enough around corners, without being overly involving, and its ride is very pleasant, unless you hit really big bumps, which alarm the chassis greatly.

Fortunately, it seems there are enough out-there, manual-loving Citroen buyers in Australia to make a business case for this car, so it can continue to adorn our roads with its looks, without the rest of us having to buy one.

Model: Citroen DS3 DSport
Engine: 1598cc, dohc, 16v, turbo
Max power: 121kW @ 6000rpm
Max torque: 240Nm @ 1400rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Weight: 1140kg
0-100km/h: 7.5sec
Economy: 5.6L/100km
Price: $33,990
On sale: Now

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