What is it?
Citroen simply isn’t content to continue allowing Mini and Renault the easy access they currently have to the 200 horsepower baby hatch market, so they have superheated their already-sporty DS3 to give the pair some new competition.
The advent of a high performance Citroen DS3 has been guaranteed for some months, ever since a lowered, fat-tyred DS3 Racing version was shown as a concept at the Geneva Show last March and met with strong, almost universal approval. DS3 sales are already doing three times better than Citroen hoped for its first year. The company wants to make hay while it can.
All of which is why the Racing will be in European showrooms by the autumn and in Britain around the turn of the year. Citroen is rushing the car through low volume type approval in two batches of 1000 cars (aiming at 2000 sales per year) as a method of hitting the market quickly. They think it’s urgent, now that the world knows this will be the basis of next year’s WRC car.
The modifications to a “normal” DS3 are predictable but very effective. It gets PSA’s own 197 bhp, 1.6-litre turbo engine, plus bigger front brakes and four-pot calipers. The spring/damper rates are all stiffer, the car rides 15mm lower and both front and rear tracks are widened 30mm. The wheel arches have four businesslike, bolted-on carbon fibre arch extensions to cover their extras width.
What's it like?
On the road, the extra 20 percent of power is instantly detectable, though the engine is just as smooth, flexible and and docile as the more common 156bhp unit. There’s a slightly feistier exhaust note.
The suspension is stiffer, too, but not excessively so. The whole thing feels extremely stable; even more 'planted’ than the standard car, which is as well because there’s quite a lot of wheel fight now, when you’re full on the noise out of corners.
The steering of our early prototype was heavier than the standard car’s relatively light set-up, and (on a Renaultsport scale) we felt it could do with a little more sensitivity around the straight ahead. The car understeered a maybe little too much for some tastes, too, though this had the virtue of helping the car respond to throttle-steering more decisively than most.
Most of the quibbles will disappear as the car goes into production. The price – some French sources were suggesting £20,000-plus – may be a sticking point, but the car itself seems quite good enough to threaten either a Clio Cup of the Mini JCW for driving enjoyment and speed across the ground.
Should I buy one?
Not without reading an Autocar comparison of the car with its rivals (we’ll do that the instant proper production cars become available) and probably not without driving everything else you see as a DS3R rival.
We have a feeling the Citroen may not be the neatest-handling of cars, especially compared with its Renaultsport rival, but its décor and its exuberance will make it much more attractive, to some. Take time to discover, as a 200 horsepower baby hatch buyer, exactly where your priorities lie.