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DS3 Performance (2016) review

Published:21 March 2016

  • At a glance
  • 3 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5

By CJ Hubbard

Former CAR magazine associate editor, road tester, organiser, extremely variable average wheel count

By CJ Hubbard

Former CAR magazine associate editor, road tester, organiser, extremely variable average wheel count

► Less hardcore than old DS3 Racing
► Yet more powerful 205bhp 1.6 turbo
► LSD, lowered suspension, 6.5sec 0-62mph

Crowning the recently revised DS3 range is a new hot hatch, badged DS3 Performance. Compared to the limited edition DS3 Racing that preceded it way back in 2011, the Performance is supposed to be a little softer round the edges, but gains a limited slip differential in an addition to a new 205bhp 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine, close-ratio gearbox and the usual round of height reducing (-15mm) and track increasing (+26mm front, +14mm rear) upgrades to the suspension.

Available as both hatchback and Cabrio in a selection of funky colours – note the higher spec matt-black-with-gold-roof Performance Black variant, for example – that can be further augmented with an array of graphics packs, and hunkered down over the tarmac on a set of 18-inch alloy wheels, the Performance is channelling the old Saxo VTS, but seemingly doing so via some kind of discount fashion outlet.

Hold on a minute – a 205bhp turbo and a limited slip diff? Is this just the Peugeot 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport in disguise?

DS says not. In fact, it says that compared to the ‘extreme’ nature of the 208 – its words, not ours – the DS3 Performance is intended to be much more ‘everyday’. It has its own damper calibration, spring rates, anti-roll bar settings and even a specific steering algorithm, less weighty than the Pug’s.

Okay, so DS says that. But what do you say?

We say: don’t buy the Cabrio. If the suspension is softer than the Peugeot Sport’s it isn’t by much, and even though the DS3 convertible’s glorified sunroof retains substantial roof rails, the combined effect of an extra 25kg over the hatchback and the absent central panel results in a shuddering, uncomfortable shambles on anything but the very smoothest tarmac. Which likely means everywhere in the UK.

Stick with the hatch, and though you’ll soon learn to flinch at the slightest sight of a pothole, the Performance does at least deliver plenty of grip whenever it can keep its tyres in touch with the tarmac. This is good news when you’ve got an engine as muscular as this one at your disposal; excellent throttle response for a turbo, too. Even on unfamiliar roads, this is a quick car.

I’m sensing a ‘but’…

Indeed. But. It’s not an especially thrilling one. The steering’s just too lifeless, and although the chassis mods keep body roll in check it doesn’t have any real sense of thrill or edge about its handling. The 208 GTi feels far more immediate and lively while the Fiesta ST is a veritable firecracker in comparison. The DS3 Performance is merely… fast.

Some of the details are off as well. The driving position, in spite of the adoption of the same bucket seats as the 208 GTi, remains awkward, the gearshift is too long in the throw and notchy of action, and the brakes, while undoubtedly effective with their Brembo front calipers and 323mm discs, are so sharp in their initial activation they’re difficult to smoothly modulate, leading to locked wheels and an unloaded rear end in extremis.

Verdict

With its pumped up body kit, road-hugging stance and intricate details, the DS Performance is a good looking car. The engine is a fine piece of work that’s been very well matched to the shortened set of ratios, and the chassis has the stiction to deal with it. But the Performance never really urges you to push as hard as you can – a deference that’s partially influenced by its difficult relationship with bumpy surfaces – and it never really reaches the sensational highs of the best cars in this sector as a result.

Click here to read Ford Fiesta ST vs Peugeot 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport vs Mini JCW vs Vauxhall Corsa VXR group test on CAR+

Specs

Price when new: £22,795
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 1598cc 16v turbo 4-cyl, 205bhp @ 6000rpm, 221lb ft @ 3000rpm
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive with LSD
Performance: 6.5sec 0-62mph, 143mph, 52.3mpg, 125g/km CO2
Weight / material: 1175kg / steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 3948/1715/1483

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By CJ Hubbard

Former CAR magazine associate editor, road tester, organiser, extremely variable average wheel count

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