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.