Citroen's new DS3 Cabrio is squarely aimed at the chic drop-top city car crowd, who've only had the Mini Convertible and Fiat 500C to woo them up until now. Does the French contender have the je ne sais quoi needed to take class honours? We drove the hot 1.6 THP 155 version to find out. It’s the £19,680 flagship of a range that starts at £15,045 for the 80bhp 1.2-litre model. Like-for-like, the Citroen is around £1000 cheaper than a Mini Convertible.
Is the Citroen DS3 Cabrio radically different to a hardtop DS3?
Nope, as you'll see in our gallery. Like the Fiat 500C, the DS3 Cabrio retains its roof pillars and rails, giving it an identical profile to the hardtop car (keeping the cool ‘shark-fin’ B-pillar) plus decent stiffness and roll-over safety. To call the roll-back roof a glorified sunroof would be harsh, but the DS3 Cabrio isn't a true convertible in the same vein as a Mini drop-top. We'll forgive Citroen taking the streamlined route, given it cuts the car's overall cost, and helps maintain refinement levels.
The roof itself takes 16 seconds to retract fully, and can handily do so at speeds of up to 75mph – handy in unpredictable UK climes. Like the Fiat 500C, the fully-retracted hood concertinas like a busker’s accordion over the bootlid, blocking all rear visibility. To compensate for the blindspot, rear parking sensors are standard, while the big door mirrors offer a decent view rearwards.
The funky cabin is carried over wholesale from the hardtop DS3, and makes a refreshing change from the familiar retro-pastiche choices. It’s colourful and well-trimmed (leather seats and steering wheel are standard on the DSport), though the driving position is straight from the long-arm/short-leg catalogue. The only other changes for the DS3 Cabrio are intricately detailed rear light clusters, and a chrome strip across the rear that acts a boot handle.
Is the DS3 Cabrio much heavier than a normal DS3?
Thankfully not. Citroen claims the weight has only increased by 24kg, thanks to some rear-mounted ballast to improve balance, and rear bulkhead stiffening. Making short work of the extra heft in our test car was the familiar 1.6-litre THP 155 engine that also sees duty in the Mini Cooper S and Peugeot RCZ. The turbocharged motor puts out 154bhp, 177lb ft and returns a claimed 47.9mpg.
What's life like al fresco in the Citroen DS3?
With the roof down and the integrated wind-deflector/bug and spray-catcher raised, the DS3 Cabrio will handle anything up to motorway speeds without too much wind roar or a cabin maelstrom. It’s happiest cruising at town speeds though, with the turbocharged engine whooshing in the middle distance. Drop the side windows too and the seatbelts flap loudly at anything more that urban pootling speeds.
How does the Citroen DS3 Cabrio drive?
The engine actually suits a cabrio’s character quite well: its characterless but linear power delivery and rich torque reserves mean it’s happy to lope along on the boost in taller gears, making relaxed progress. That’s just as well – the ratios are intergalactic. Third will take you from just over 20mph to around 90mph, on the way to a top speed of 132mph. Spirited driving in our test car (still a little tight, with only 150 miles under its cambelt) returned economy in the mid-30s.
Dynamically, the DS3 doesn’t quite have the go-kart reflexes of a Mini. Its steering is light but numb, the brakes slightly over-eager at the top of the pedal’s travel, and the gearchange a little rubbery, though much better than the rest of the crop of French superminis – take note, Clio and 208. The ride is firm but well-damped, and even on the attractive 17in rims of our DSport test model, perfectly acceptable on UK roads. Overall, the DS3 is a better drive than the Peugeot 208 or Fiat 500, but not quite a credible warm hatch. If you want a truly hot version, you’ll have to beg Citroen to slot the DS3 Racing’s 203bhp hardware into the Cabrio bodystyle…
Although the DS3 Cabrio seats five (its rivals offer space for four in principle, but are really 2+2s), the Citroen’s practicality is let down by the boot. At 245 litres, it’s only 40 litres smaller than the fixed-head car, but access is laughably compromised. The bootlid rises rather gracefully to sit flush with the rear quarter, revealing a letterbox-like aperture at waist-height. It’s the only real black mark on the DS3’s usability that’s resulted from its scalping – visibility is barely any worse than the hardtop DS3.
Although it lacks the all-round dynamic finesse of a Mini, the DS3 Cabrio will likely offer a more satisfying ownership experience than the ageing Brit. It's still moderately fun to punt along with the roof down, but its ace card is the only slight compromises it asks against the hardtop DS3 during the three quarters of the year when it's strictly roof-up weather in the UK.