The DS 3 is likeable and as pleasing to drive as its predecessors were – but it isn't as easy to recommend as it was five years ago.
The Puretech turbo engine certainly adds strength to the DS 3 range where it was notably lacking. We’ve always rated the 1.6-litre turbo petrol versions of the car, and now there’s another, more affordable derivative with similarly zesty performance to match its agile, natural-feeling handling.
The engine is a little more raucous than rival turbo triples and sends eddies through the body structure of the car around idle, but otherwise it balances refinement against spirited character well. Accelerator pedal response is just soft enough to allow you to detect the presence of forced induction, but the engine creates bountiful torque at low and medium crank speeds, making swift progress easy. It also revs willingly to beyond 6000rpm.
The gearbox is good enough to make a virtue out of both. It takes a split-second to react to a plunged right foot, but invariably chooses its ratios well, and allows the engine to work towards high revs rather than shifting in and out of them. Performance levels are sprightly enough to engage your interest, but not at the expense of genuinely modern fuel economy.
The DS 3’s handling complements that enthusiastic performance. Its makers talk, in confusing but endearingly Gallic terms, about a concept called ‘dynamic hyper-comfort’: the fusion, they claim, of a taut but compliant ride with class-leading seating comfort and acoustic cabin refinement. Obviously.
What matters is that the DS 3 remains one of the more pleasing driver’s cars in the premium supermini ranks. Handling is crisp and balanced, yet natural, communicative and uncontrived with it. The steering is consistently and sensibly paced, with decent feedback and weight that builds as you add lock. Ride quality, meanwhile, is taut yet reasonably pliant.
In the cabin, the car’s new touchscreen multimedia system is a worthwhile improvement on what went before, particularly so for mid-spec cars (the system is standard on DStyle trim and upwards). But it’s still not as good as the equivalent systems offered by Audi and Mini, with blocky-looking sat-nav mapping and iffy usability.
Elsewhere, rich leathers and colourful foils decorate the cabin to agreeable effect, but behind them the DS 3’s fascia mouldings and switchgear materials aren’t as solid or as apparently expensive as they should be.
A big boot and fairly generous rear seats make for adequate practicality, but there’s no five-door bodystyle here – something that both the Mini hatchback and Audi A1 now offer.