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First drive: Citroën DS3

2010-02-05 12:53

Hailey Philander

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Citroen
Model DS3
Engine four-cylinder, 16-valve 1.6-litre petrol
Power 115 kW @ 6 000 r/min
Torque 240 Nm from 1 400 - 4 000
Transmission six-speed manual transmission
Zero To Hundred 8.1 seconds
Top Speed 214 km/h
Fuel Tank 50 litres
Fuel Consumption 6.7 l/100 km
Boot Size 285 l - 980 l
Steering electric power steering
ABS with EBD and EBA
Front Suspension McPherson type
Rear Suspension flexible transverse beam
Price TBA April 2010
Citroën is undergoing a resurgence of sorts, bolstered by a mostly new, and very attractive, passenger car range that is now being headlined by the trés funky DS3.  

Remember the original DS? Pronounced déesse (or Goddess in French) it was so good - avantgarde design and a technical masterpiece - that it must have been difficult for Citroën to replicate this mastery in other vehicles.

The latest range of DS (DS4 and DS5 will follow this initial model) is not being launched in homage to the original DS, the company says, but merely channels the virtues of the original car, such as innovative styling and cutting-edge technology, into a new iteration.

The DS3, is labeled by its makers as "the charm offensive" and it's very apt, too.

Styling certainly is original, with great attention to detail seen in the light arrangement at the front end, the "shark fin" detailing when viewed in profile and the seemingly floating rear glass section.

I was concerned by the apparent lack of a proper B-pillar, given its fundamental task of strengthening a car's body structure. Step inside the car, however, to see both the B- and C-pillars in their rightful places. Phew!

It’s just an illusion

Not to make any bones about it, this car has the smoke-and-mirrors-thing down pat. Essentially a reskinned three-door C3 (the cars share about 70% of their components, including engines, suspension and doors), it is hoped that those captivated by its charming good looks won't mind shelling out the few extra rands for one of these babies. Who said being distinctive was cheap?

Besides, DS3 is viewed by Citroën as being the ultimate fashion accessory and we all know the only fashion must-haves purportedly worth having are those pricey enough to bankrupt the average joe (or joan).

Highly customisable, DS3 has a range of colours and decals for its roof, trim colours for wing mirrors, gearshift knob, dashboard and the like to choose from. And the choice of trim, it is said, will change "seasonally", just like the latest fashions. We're not quite sure how this will translate in South Africa, but we sure are keen to see how Citroën SA will apply this concept…

Looking at this car, nothing about it utters "cheap". The quality of the materials is good and the range of specification (although the options for South Africa are yet to be decided) is extensive. Leather upholstery is utterly sumptuous, and high-gloss and colourful finishes for the facia inject a huge dose of fun.

Comfy, tidy, neat

In typical French fashion, the car is extremely comfortable. Sure, quarters up front are a little snug given DS3's physical size (it is merely 1.71 m wide, 3.95 m long), but a recessed dash and tall cubby allow for ample leg room. The central armrest just gets in the way, though.

The driving position is also worth mentioning. Seats hug in tight and are low-slung for a real race-like experience. Instruments are bold and clustered dead ahead for easier consulting.

The central hangdown is very tidy (albeit with tiny buttons that require some concentration to operate at first) and is easy enough to figure out. And this car has a boot you can actually use! A full 285 litres of it. For added practicality, rear seats fold forward into a 60/40 split.

I'm not tall, so leg room at the rear is seldom an issue for me, but I'd imagine the three adults Citroën is convinced will fit onto the back bench are three slender Parisians rather than three burly South Africans raised on a diet of red meat, rice and potatoes. If you could be grouped with the latter, and it is any consolation, you should not want for headroom...

Drive me happy

Driving this car also elicits a kind of happy contentment. It looks and feels sporty, but the ride is definitely tuned to the softer, more luxurious side.

With a mix of petrol and turbodiesel units available, the local engine line-up has not yet been finalised, but we were allowed to peddle about in the range-topping THP 150. Powered by a turbocharged 1.6-litre engine, this four-cylinder is common to key rival Mini and a smattering of Peugeot cousins.

The unit is quite torquey at low speeds, belying its 1598 cm3 capacity, and its flexibility through the six-speed manual gearbox was appreciated. It is refined, too; whisper quiet for the most part but still rather efficient.

Citroën is said to have adjusted the suspension and given this car special spring and damper settings, but it is still a lot softer than the Mini Cooper, for example.

Electric power steering is weighted for neat and precise turn-in and the body responds beautifully with some controllable roll on longer corners. It tends to feel a little cloud-like over bumps and dips, too. 

Call me "fashionista"

This striking new hatchback may be aimed squarely at the Mini, but Citroën is not taking any chances, calling its car "anti-retro" instead. Sounds cool, especially since we can't imagine the option of a polka-dot roof on the original DS!

Now is probably a good time to mention that, just because it looks pretty and is being marketed as a fashion accessory, DS3 is not an absolute loser. The car is currently being prepared for Sebastien Loeb in which to contest the 2011 World Rally Championship. Show with go? Nice.

Look out for DS3 when it sashays into South Africa from the end of April.


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