What is it?
Potentially, the most appealing version of the already-quite-appealing Citroen DS3 – one that should be relatively cheap to buy and own, cheap to fuel, and still hold your attention from behind the wheel.
Having launched the upmarket compact three-door hatch in 2009, Citroen added 'e-HDi' low-emissions diesel options to the range in 2010, and has just made the gruntiest oil-burner in the range a little more powerful for 2013.
So the range-topping DS3 diesel now yields 113bhp and 199lb ft of torque from its 1.6-litre engine. It's good for 0-60mph in well under ten seconds, but also a claimed 74mpg. And thanks to the starter-generator, it emits less than 100g/km of CO2, and qualifies for a free tax disc and benefit-in-kind company car tax of just 14 per cent of its value.
What is it like?
Rather good. The DS3 has featured highly in our rankings for premium superminis over the last three years, but with one lingering caveat: that there's a bit of a gulf between the dynamic sweetness of the high-end 1.6-litre THP petrol version and everything else in the range. While it isn't quite the match of the sportier petrol, this 1.6 e-HDi DSport diesel proves that – now, at least – DS3 owners now can have their low-emissions cake and really enjoying eating it.
The model-year change hasn't radically altered the DS3. There are new '3D' LED rear light clusters, which you could blink and miss, and some interior and exterior appointment tweaks that fall into the same category: new patterned trim fillets for the dashboard, different colours for the seat upholsteries and alloy wheel highlights, a new shade of red paint – that kind of thing.
Elsewhere in the range, there's a new 81bhp, 1.2-litre model that knocks a couple of hundred pounds off the entry-level price, and a revision for the 153bhp THP petrol engine that saves a few grams of CO2 per kilometre – but not quite enough to make it any cheaper as a fleet car, unfortunately.
The revised 1.6-litre e-HDI seems very well installed in the DS3, though. In comparison to our experience of it in other Citroëns, it's particularly quiet and smooth. Accelerator response is good by small-capacity diesel standards, and power is delivered evenly, tailing off gently above 3500rpm without causing problems. Through the mid range there's enough power and torque to make the DS3 feel swift and lively, and to bring the best out of the car's chassis.
And with the DS3, an opportunity to savour that effortlessly balanced and responsive handling is all you really need. Spring and dampers rates are quite high, and they make for a more taut, reactive ride than you'll find in most cars this size. You'll also find that the car’s standard 17in alloys can skitter and rebound occasionally over smaller surface disturbances.
But with those caveats, the car is a bit of a treat to drive. It feels naturally, effortlessly poised; eager to change direction and ready to go precisely where you point it, but never hyper-responsive, too highly strung or at all dynamically contrived (like one rival we could mention). The steering is very well judged: just right in its weight and directness, consistent is its relationship to the front wheels, and well-versed in the art of communication. Shift quality is also good, and the brake pedal progressive.
And quite apart from all that, the DS3 remains, on the face of it, a thoroughly well-screwed together, usable four-seater, with an interior that proves that Citroen can pull off 'cabin quality' when they put their mind to it. The seats are large, comfy and supportive, the ergonomics are good, and the fascia materials solid and attractive. All in all, the car's picture is very complete.
Should I buy one?
Our favourite DS3 remains the THP 155. But if, for whatever reason, that's out of your reach, the e-HDi 115 is no shoddy second. It's peppy and feels quite highly developed to drive, yet it's also capable of a daily 60mpg return (according to our fairly short test route). It doesn't have a Mini’s roller-skate character, which can wear you out over prolonged exposure – but it feels considerably more chic and special than an Audi A1 or an Alfa Mito. It's a desirable small car for the real world.
Citroen DS3 DSport e-HDI 115 Airdream
Price £17,250 0-62mph 9.7sec Top speed 118mph Economy 74.4mpg CO2 99g/km Kerb weight 1265kg Engine 4 cyls, 1560cc, turbodiesel Power 113bhp at 3600rpm Torque 199lb ft at 1750rpm Gearbox 6-spd manual