Appealing and comfortable, but lacks a little driver appeal

What is it?

This is the first time we’ve driven the new Citroen DS3 on UK roads, and our first go in the Mini-rivalling hatch in its 1.6 VTi 120 form.

This mid-range model gets a five-speed manual gearbox and naturally aspirated 1.6-litre engine. Currently Citroen is not planning to offer an automatic option in the DS3 range.

What’s it like?

It doesn’t disappoint in terms of style, but it does lack the enthusiasm and precision you might expect of a hatch with the DS3’s sporting pretensions.

With a naturally aspirated engine and five-speed box in place of the range-topping 148bhp DS3’s turbocharged unit and slick six-speed ‘box, it is no surprise that this model falls short of the hot-hatch feel of its more powerful sibling.

But power is not the problem. The biggest flaws are with the driver’s main controls. The long-throw shift on this five-speed gearbox is rubbery, and the steering is too light to allow the driver to really make the most of the DS3’s willing motor and well-balanced, grippy chassis. The driving position would also benefit from a broader range of adjustment from both seat and wheel.

That’s not to say that the DS3 totally lacks driver reward – it’s a pleasant car to drive, and though it suffers from short gearing and consequently a lot of engine noise at motorway speeds, it is also a very comfortable one.

The ride is supple enough to make urban driving in the DS3 barely any less comfortable than it is in the softer standard C3 hatch, and even at speed there is a good combination of body control and pliant damping. Refinement at low speeds is also among the best in class.

The overall sensation from behind the wheel of the DS3 120 VTi is of a car that places comfort and style before it does driver involvement, though it does so with verve and originality.

Should I buy one?

The French maker deserves the boost in sales that it will undoubtedly see as a result of the desirable Citroen DS3, but it is still a shame that buyers will have to find the cash for the more expensive turbocharged model if they really want an entertaining drive.

The VTi 120 is a fine choice if you simply want some straight-line poke in a desirable and comfortable hatch – a good combination of talents that will appeal to many. But it lacks the ability to really satisfy someone looking for hot hatch handling.

Join the debate

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Mini1 22 February 2010

Re: Citroen DS3 1.6 VTi 120 DStyle

jonfortwo wrote:
Poor driving characteristics wil seal its fate and any sporty model will have to be pretty special to knock Clio from top spot.
Autocar seemed to be a lot more praiseworthy of the DS3's drive than previous Citroens. Okay, this mid-spec with the petrol engine may not be as good as the model they drove earlier in the month, but it's hardly what one would consider to be 'poor'. I see what people are saying about the matt black pillar and chrome door handles - both indeed are slightly cheaper-feeling than the name suggests, but I do think it looks the business, and the interior feels very upmarket indeed. I'll be interested to sit in an Audi A1 to compare... it doesn't at all have the styling flair, but there's something about it that just has the 'different' feeling the fantastic A2 had... perhaps it's the bright colours and wacky options it's likely to have in common.

Peter Cavellini 22 February 2010

Re: Citroen DS3 1.6 VTi 120 DStyle

I agree with you, but that goes for any shoddily built car, what we're talking about here is look, STYLE and compared to some it's fresh, a good compeditor against the likes of MINI(did you see the limited edition one? £33,000!!!, for a MINI!),it's about time there wa a rival.

jammy_rex 22 February 2010

Re: Citroen DS3 1.6 VTi 120 DStyle

Well, my experience of a recent French car was a Clio 197 - it was a brand new car in the showroom, and the dealer demonstrator proved to be a very good car to drive, but upon opening the door of the brand new showroom car, it gave a loud "clack" each time as though the hinges were loose or something - not acceptable.

The last Citroen I sat in was a C3, whilst evaluating the solidity (or lack of it) I managed to pull the clock binacle off the top of the dashboard without even trying... I hope they have improved things for this latest model. And the quality of plastic was incredibly cheap. But, I admit that was the previous generation, so things will have improved no doubt, and I am sure this will show with a percieved quality feel. I still have my doubts about long term reliability however.

Whilst you're in the interior, check the sophistication and quality of the gearchange - stirring custard is generally more precise than stirring a typical French gearbox and this particular Citroen would seem to reinforce that view.