What is it?
A long time coming, that’s what. Citroen has produced a hot hatch version of its popular supermini before – the 2010 DS3 Racing, inspired by the rally-spec R3 – but the model was short-lived. Since then DS Automobiles has stuck gamely to its “Parisian flair” mode, and not dipped a branded toe back in the hot hatch market.
Until now, that is. Half a decade after canning the likeable, if incomplete Racing, the manufacturer has dusted off the blueprints, had a tinker with it and reintroduced the concept as the DS3 Performance; a proper addition to the range, mind – not just as a limited-edition flyer.
For the most part, it doesn’t fall far from the previous tree: there’s a turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder THP engine up front, delivering roughly the same 205bhp via a manual six-speed ‘box, and a 15mm lowering of the suspension – also as it was before. Elsewhere, the DS3’s tracks also go out by 26mm at the nose and 14mm in the rear, and there are larger, Brembo-calipered 323mm brake discs behind standard 18in alloys.
There is a bit more torque at 221lb ft from 3000rpm, and, most pleasingly, there is a Torsen limited-slip differential to go with it. That’s good news because a) its predecessor’s front axle couldn’t live with its (slightly lesser) shove in the wet, and b) because the DS 3’s sister car, the 208 GTI got one in the 30th Anniversary edition, and made it better.
What's it like?
Well, it still looks the part. The standard model’s compact good looks well suit the subtle bodykit treatment; bigger, wider wheels under lower arches, a more serious looking rear spoiler and diffuser plus polished twin exhaust are all that’s really required for the DS 3 to convincingly growl ‘hot hatch’. Ditto the inside, where a tumescent pair of sports seats are the only telling enhancement.
To drive, its more persistent personality is unmistakable from the get go. At low speeds, the stock DS 3 is a bubbly, undemanding steer; fidgety of ride and only modestly refined – a throwback supermini, even in its facelifted format. The Performance, as you might expect, takes it all up a notch – both the good and the bad.
The firmness, certainly, gets that bit more stringent on lowered springs, and there is no clever hydraulic bump stops or adjustable dampers to save the body from the occasional jarring pitfall. The steering, meanwhile, gets a good deal more directional heft, which is immediately discernible away from centre.
It is very keen too, although perhaps not in the explosive, free-revving way which might convince you there was any more power on tap than you get in the current Fiesta ST. Despite ramping up peak twist in the mid range, the four-pot does sometimes feel a little flat and has none of the Ford’s amplified burble to keep you rooting for it.
If the forced-induction whininess doesn’t exactly help, the gear change qualifies as genuine impediment. The Performance’s shortened ratios are all well and good, but the ‘box that accesses them is far too ungainly and snag-happy to work through in a hurry. Its lack of oily, palm-cheering intimacy is glaring when you consider the rival options.
The quality of the competition is also hard to forget when you start cornering in earnest. The regular DS 3 makes a very decent fist of body control and lateral grip – so it’s no surprise that both are incrementally improved by the Performance, which chews through the apexes competently enough; its exit bearing neatened by the unobtrusive diff if you stray close enough to the limit.
What’s missing though, conspicuously, is the rampant sense of fun which separates class-leading fast superminis from the merely accomplished ones. The DS 3 goes through the motions well enough and isn’t the least bit resistant to being taken by the scruff of the neck – yet its engine is too toneless, its gearbox too raggedy, its ride quality too unsophisticated and its appeal not three-dimensional enough to shine with anything like the consistency of its peers.
Should I buy one?
It’s undeniably pretty, and – like the 208 GTI – ought to be comparatively cheap to run, too (its claimed combined economy and CO2 emissions narrowly lead the field in the efficiency stakes). Its handling is respectable, confidence-inspiring and it exudes more of an edge than something overtly accessible like Volkswagen Polo GTI.
But the competition for your £20k is intense. The current Fiesta ST is a bit cheaper and a lot better; plus the launch of the equally powerful ST200 version is imminent. The Mini Cooper S is also hard to argue with, being far more comfortable and well-rounded than the Performance. The properly stiff 208 GTI 30th is more capable.
It’s also worth mentioning that the current DS 3 lineup, which now features the 128bhp three-cylinder petrol engine for the first time, is well stocked with energetic alternatives. None are as fast or as overtly determined as the range-topper, yet some – particularly the thrummy new motor – continue to exude the effervescence which it all too often finds in short supply.
DS 3 Performance
Location France; On sale Now; Price £20,495; Engine 4 cyls, 1598cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 205bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 221lb ft at 3000rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Top speed 143mph; 0-62mph 6.5sec; Fuel economy 52.3mpg (combined); CO2 and BIK tax band 125g/km/20%