Not even the most ardent of Citroën admirers would accept any connection between the Citroën DS3 and the original DS, the firm’s iconic model. The DS broke new ground in several areas and 12,000 were ordered on its first day of launch in 1955; the DS3, on the other hand, is, in effect, the three-door variant of the regular C3 hatchback.

The Citroën DS3 exists for two reasons. The first is a need to counter the firm’s own decade-old push downmarket, a trend that has taken it into direct competition with Far Eastern brands such as Kia and Hyundai. And the second is to capitalise on the burgeoning market for premium-feel, customisable small hatchbacks created by Mini.

Chic, small runabouts used to be home turf for French manufacturers. But over the past decade Mini – or rather, BMW – has opened up fresh, profitable sales in that area. Fiat has enjoyed similar success in recent years with the 500, while Audi has jumped on the bandwagon with the A1 and Vauxhall has attempted to follow suit more recently with the Adam.

In keeping with its upmarket aspirations, the DS3 is more stylish inside than the C3 on which it’s based, delivers a more engaging driving experience and offers enough customisation options to satisfy the buyer in search of ‘individuality’. It is available as a bold-looking three-door hatchback and a two-door cabriolet with a Fiat 500-style full-length slide-back roof rather than being a full convertible.

There is a choice of three petrol engines – an 81bhp 1.2-litre triple and 1.6-litre fours with 118bhp or 154bhp – plus two versions of a 1.6-litre diesel with 91bhp or 113bhp. Depending on engine, some DS3s are more about style than performance, although the hardcore, limited-run DS3 Racing brought some of the firm's World Rally Championship success to the road in 2011. Four trim levels are on offer, ranging from entry-level DSign through DStyle and DSport to the range-topping Ultra Prestige. Prices range from about £12,500 up to nearly £22,000; the even more expensive DS3 Racing is no longer on sale.

Top 5 Superminis

  • Ford Fiesta
    Fiestas sold in Europe are ostensibly the same as those sold in America and Asia

    Ford Fiesta

    1
  • Mini Cooper
    Its various improvements make the new Mini more desirable and practical than ever before

    Mini Cooper

    2
  • The Mazda 2
    The Mazda 2 name dates back to 2002. This latest version showcases the firm's Skyactiv technology and 'Kodo' styling

    Mazda 2

    3
  • Volkswagen Polo
    The Polo is a polished, mature-feeling, spacious supermini

    Volkswagen Polo

    4
  • Renault Clio
    Distinctive styling details are taken from the showstopping Renault Dezir concept car

    Renault Clio

    5

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Explore the DS range

Driven this week

  • Citroën C4 Grand Picasso
    First Drive
    26 August 2016
    The Citroën Grand C4 Picasso gets tweaked styling, improved tech and new personalisation options to keep it ahead of rivals
  • Car review
    26 August 2016
    Wolfsburg celebrates the GTI’s 40th with its most extreme version yet
  • Kia Optima Sportwagon
    First Drive
    25 August 2016
    New Kia estate looks the part, has good space and handles tidily, but its engine's flexibility and refinement let it down
  •  Kia Optima PHEV
    First Drive
    25 August 2016
    Plug-in hybrid Optima is a practical, tax-efficient PHEV that undercuts rivals and fulfils its main remit well, but keen drivers need not apply
  • Lamborghini Huracán LP610-4 Spyder
    First Drive
    24 August 2016
    Awful driving position aside, drop-top Huracán handles UK roads well. It's more dynamically rounded than its rangemates, but lacks rivals' handling bite