► New DS3 Cabrio PureTech 130 Prestige tested
► Lively 1.2-litre triple puts out 128bhp and 170lb ft
► Characterful engine compensates for dull dynamics
Think ‘DS’ and your brain will likely attempt to automatically follow it up with ‘21’. Quite rightly so; the DS21 is the among the most memorable of French cars, thanks to its elegant styling and supreme ride comfort, achieved thanks to its use of an innovative self-levelling hydropneumatic suspension.
Recently, however, Citroen has been working hard to turn DS into a standalone brand, one that will allow it to compete more easily in the premium sectors of various markets. It’s no small undertaking, particularly given how long the DS moniker has been defunct – and how little it will mean to most under the age of 30.
Still, the company is soldering on, rolling out DS-specific model after DS-specific model. This, the new DS3, is the latest effort. As you might have guessed, this isn’t an all-new car. It’s more of rebadging exercise of the pre-existing Citroen DS3, with a new DS-specific bumper, grille and a few other tweaks. The revised front-end design is set to filter out across the rest of the range (read: DS4 and DS5) in the near future, as DS continues to establish itself.
The DS3 has always been a solid little performer, regardless, accumulating 100,000 UK sales since its launch – under the Citroen brand – back in 2010. Is it still worthy of consideration, though?
Pouring on the style for ‘premium’ effect
The firm is going great guns with Frenchification aplenty on the spec list. Just look at those rear quarters with their faux-Parisian skyscapes ‘etched’ (they’re stickers) into the glass. Bon adhesive.
Personalisation is a bit of a thing with the new DS, in an effort to keep up with the likes of Mini. You can have the roof in six finishes – flowers, zebra stripes, that sort of thing – and the bodywork in 11 hues of varying optional costs. Here we’ve got a fairly low-key attempt, blending ‘whisper purple’ paint with a Topaz monogram roof.
All cars get the particularly attractive LED headlights, also seen on 4 and 5 models, with a trio of jewel-like elements in each cluster. I’m going to call them try-amonds until I can think of a better gem.
In fact, the closer you look around the 3, the more attention to detail becomes evident. Small DS motifs are all over the place – in the light clusters, on the wheels, everywhere. It’s a neat design that takes time to appreciate, even if it’s clear the designers are partly just trying to remind you this ain’t no Citroen.
Roof suits but boot bothers
Less impressive is the boot aperture, which is still laughably small. The DS will swallow 245 litres of luggage, apparently, but you’d presumably have to blend it and pour it in to fit anything meaningful in there. Forget carrying a washing machine – a shoebox would go, which probably speaks volumes about the car in a number of ways.
Still, we tested the electrically operated roof and can confirm it works at over 70mph. You might regret making the most of this DS’s wind-in-your-hair nature occasionally, though, because the roof takes a long time to do go through its three-stage operation. A sudden rainstorm might have you looking a lot less fashionable if you’re caught short.
The design of the roof does suit the car, though – it makes for a far more memorable and interesting package than the regular tin-top model.
Memorable powerplant, forgettable handling
While the updated DS3 is a decent enough car to drive, and comfortable enough not to annoy, it’s not class-leading in any respect nor all that entertaining. That said, the new 128bhp version of the three-cylinder PureTech powerplant does reinstate some charm – and it’s the most rewarding powerplant in the range by a country mile.
It sounds the part, for one thing, and has a playfully resonating rev-free nature that’s sadly lacking in the diesels, as well as the more powerful petrol four-bangers on offer.
The little triple has excellent credentials, too – it came third overall in last year’s Engine of the Year competition, pipping Ferrari’s tuneful naturally aspirated 4.5-litre V8 to the post.
What other options in the range are there?
The THP 165 version and its extra 35bhp feel flat and boring by comparison. The 205bhp ‘Performance’ version of the DS3, however, is a more interesting affair. It comes with a Torsen diff, Brembo brakes and extra horsepower, granting it decent credentials for a warm supermini – even if (like most cars in that sector) it’s going to set you back a good chunk more cash.
Alas, the DS3 Performance is just not as rewarding to drive as its rivals – in much the same way that this DS3 falls behind the alternatives. In any instance, don’t go for the £100 armrest if you’ve gone for a manual ‘box. The gearchange has a particularly long throw and none of the six forward ratios can be found without adopting an awkward elbow angle. Don’t even think about using the handbrake with armrest in place, either – the handbrake will be entirely obstructed.
This PureTech version of the DS3 represents a sweet spot in the range, offering a decent blend of talents for the money. We’re a fan of the engine, and in many other respects the brand has at least moved the game on in an interesting manner.
Consequently, if you’re looking for a small and stylish cabriolet, the DS3 is at least worth a gander. Realistically, though, you’d be best off putting your money into a Mini Convertible.
Read our DS3 Performance review here