Citroen's new style icon takes on premium hatches from Mini and Fiat
18 March 2010

Citroen's new DS3 has squared up to rivals from Mini and Fiat in an exclusive Autocar triple test.

This 1.6 VTi version is not the Citroen DS3 in its most engaging specification – that's the more powerful, more expensive 1.6 turbo – but this is almost certainly the model that Citroen expects to sell most of. It's also the closest by far on price and performance to the biggest-selling Mini, the Cooper.

See the Citroen DS3, Mini and Fiat 500 gallery

Not that either of them can hold a candle to the Fiat 500 Abarth when it comes to showroom appeal. Almost everything about the 500 screams "buy me"; it appears to be in a league of its own.

And to begin with, that's exactly how it feels on the road. The Fiat feels so much sparkier and faster than the others that you wonder if there has been some kind of terrible price mismatch. It's heroically exciting to drive, the 500, in a way that neither the Mini nor the Citroen can ever hope to replicate.

Having said that, the Fiat is a fair bit smaller than the Citroen inside – not just in the rear seats but in the boot as well. In reality, in fact, the DS3 is the only car here in which four people can travel in any real comfort over a long journey. What's most impressive about the DS3 is how different it feels in character compared with the regular C3. The suspension and steering tweaks may be subtle but they are enough to give the DS3 a sharper, more precise edge that's largely absent from the regular car.

The way the front end bites and sticks to whatever apex you aim it at provides the DS3 with an extremely crisp edge to its handling. Unless you are ludicrously ambitious with your entry speed to a corner, it resists understeer and flows through bends with real flair. And it has a lot less body movement in general than the regular C3.

The DS3 is less spikey in its ability than the Fiat and more composed than the Mini mid-corner – and with a notably more comfortable ride than either of them.

And what of the Mini Cooper? It still looks every inch as desirable as it did 10 years ago, when BMW invented the class that the D33 is now trying to enter. And that's still a huge factor in the Mini's appeal.

Yet, in truth, it's actually the least impressive of the three dynamically, for all sorts of reasons. Despite sharing the same engine, it's nowhere near as refined as the Citroen on the move.

The aspect that defines the Mini on the move is its steering, and this remains the car's single biggest strength dynamically. It still reacts like a go-kart when you aim its little nose at a corner.

Trouble is, the Citroen does just about everything the Mini does, and it does it better (apart from change gear so well). Really throw it around and there's simply too much rear-end movement in the Mini, and it feels nowhere near as composed as the DS3 as a result. Go slowly, on the other hand, and the ride never settle.

The Mini does try to hold its own, then but ultimately it can't hope to compete with the Fiat's eye-watering pace or the Citroen's infinitely more rounded capabilities. Amazingly, it is relegated to last place, leaving the 500 and DS3 to fight it out at the top.

The Fiat is sensational if you're in the right mood and, as such, is the only genuine hot hatch here. Yet the DS3 is the more rounded performer.

Had we chosen to test the more powerful, more expensive, turbocharged DS3 against the mighty Fiat, it may well have got the nod. But, in this instance and despite its numerous flaws, the 500 Abarth is the one we'd go for. Warts and all, we love it – even beside rivals as good as these.

Steve Sutcliffe

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Comments
24

15 March 2010

I really don't want to sound like a whining complainy thing - but this is the third of this type of report in a row that has been littered with spelling and typing errors. It really doesn't do the reports any favours

15 March 2010

Odd comparison test.... the 3 cars will appeal to very different people. For me, the 500 Abarth is the one to have, but many will need more space or have other priorities than Scorpion Badges and a silly amount of straight line go...

15 March 2010

Autocar please proof read before sending. We can get away with glitches in our grammar as on the whole it's not our trade. It is yours however and your reputation is on the line. With this level of journalism may I ask for a job because my passion for cars coupled with my superior writing skills might give a better verdict in car comparisons.

Generally when I read a car reviews I often think it's nearly always the fastest, sportiest car that wins the day regardless of how impractical it may be. This review is no different and once again proves that motoring-journos rate a car on the 'Woar' factor above all else. I haven't driven any of these cars, so some may ask; who am I to judge but from this review the DS3 sounded like the best all-rounder and ultimately the clear winner.

Autocar we are not in the 80's anymore we don't care how fast we can scrub our tyres to slicks, we don't care about 0-60mph anymore. We want Torque figures, Mid-range acceleration, practicality, comfort, refinement, quality, reliability, fuel efficiency and running costs. At a time where fuel is around £1.20 a litre, burning it like it's going out of fashion is being slightly decadent don't you think.

15 March 2010

it's not the best comparison you could have had. it's not entirely clear what fiat is doing here (should have considered mito)..

15 March 2010

[quote orandzh]it's not the best comparison you could have had. it's not entirely clear what fiat is doing here (should have considered mito)..[/quote] The 500 is quite rightly there. Its a cracking little car, and good value with lots and standard spec. I bought a MINI recently, and I test drove the Mito and the 500 Abarth. The Mito was a disappointment. The abarth was brilliant fun! But MINI made the most sense financially, with best px and finance rate. I got 1600 more for my old car than I would have with Abarth, and a lower interest rate (8.9 vs 12.1)

15 March 2010

Interesting. With its independent rear suspension, the Mini is not good dynamically as the Citroen. Is that possible? Have they tested them on the track?

15 March 2010

The Fiat is a tiny car and not a real alternative to either of the others. The Mito is the Fiat groups competitor in this sector.

In general this article seems to be all subjectivity and little fact.

15 March 2010

[quote crashbangwallop]The Fiat is a tiny car and not a real alternative to either of the others.[/quote] Rear seat and boot space is not much smaller than a mini's! Trust me, I have looked at both, and there really isn't much in it. So why not? I don't get that arguement at all. Both are designed to be retro/modern, both are completely impractical compared to competitors, and both are priced at a premium. Personally, the mini feels more premium inside than the 500

15 March 2010

This test result is anything but predictable. Its just a shame it doesnt appear to be a full test. I cant remember ever seeing the Mini coming last in ANY group test - and this is even more of a suprise considering the competition is French and Italian.

15 March 2010

I was at a Ford/Citroen dealership yesterday with a friend who was looking at a new Fiesta Edge (£9595 - good value) and I wandered over to look at a DS3. It was bright yellow with bright yellow seats, not nice in any way and at £18000 shockingly overpriced.

Sitting inside the car it felt a real mess with uncomfortable seats and conflicting design ideas all over the place, the Fiesta by comparison was very comfortable, nicely designed and just felt right. I know I did not drive the DS3 but 50% of ownership of this type of car is based on emotional appeal and this car lacked it in spades. The standard C3 was more convincing as a purchase proposition.

I always felt the DS3 was a cycnical marketing move and seeing the car in the metal just confirmed it.

I too would save myself a few thousand and have a MiTo.

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