From £11,750
Appealing and comfortable, but lacks a little driver appeal
12 February 2010

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.


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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.

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16 February 2010

I've never liked Citroen transmissions. I've not tried anything in the newest C5, C6 etc though, but my experience based on the C4, old C3, ZX, BX etc was that they always felt "loose". Light, but never 100% sure whether it was in gear, what gear and if that gear would move me forwards. Something akin to Vauxhall gearboxes of the late 90s. Sounds like they've not improved the linkages at all for this DS3. I also don't like electronic power steering. It just removes every ounce of road feel. My current Nissan has it and I find it disconcerting that the only way I can tell what the tyres are doing is through several layers of padding on my backside! Having said that my Nissan has the best system I've found in terms of weighting - speed (not engine speed) sensitive helps and really feels nicely weighty and linear on the motorway. Do we reckon any manufacturer will make an electrical power steering system that has genuine feel?

16 February 2010

[quote theonlydt]I've never liked Citroen transmissions. I've not tried anything in the newest C5, C6 etc though, but my experience based on the C4, old C3, ZX, BX etc was that they always felt "loose". Light, but never 100% sure whether it was in gear, what gear and if that gear would move me forwards.[/quote]

I can second this, I normally buy old cheap cars but a few years ago I succumbed to temptation & bought a nearly new Saxo Furio on finance- the gearchange was awful, this was confirmed to me when not long after purchase it leapt out of gear & then apparently had no gears... not very handy in a single-lane one way street!

The AA arrived promptly as ever & said the gear linkage had just come apart, a common problem apparently. He made a "temporary repair" which was certainly still going when I got rid of the stupid deathtrap.

Ive had the misfortune of driving another Saxo recently, a borrowed VTR, & as you say you cant even tell if you have pushed the lever into gear or not. Ive experienced more sporty gearchanges on a 1987 Fiesta 950 Popular, & that barely even qualifies as a car.

16 February 2010

PSA gearboxes have alweays been poor.

That first thumbnail shot, it looks like a little white van!

16 February 2010

[quote Richard H]That first thumbnail shot, it looks like a little white van![/quote]

Totally agree, that reverse sharkfin pillar looks woeful, and very van like!

This car is a shocker, premium pricing and premium kerb weight, but rubbery 5 speed box and trim parts from a Tesco Christmas cracker do little to lift the cabin.

The teams behind the Mini Cooper and forthcoming Audi A1 can sleep well for now.

16 February 2010

They have ruined the letters DS for a generation, it looks tatt, I saw one last year on the road, dark grey with a pink roof, ugh!

16 February 2010

So its another (poor) attempt to steal sales from the MINI with rehashed body work while still using the underpinnings of another (usually rather dull to drive) car....... I sat in one of these at the MPH show, and yes its reasonably well put together and seemed comfortable, but no matter what you do it (different coloured roofs, wheels, decals, strips and (god forbid) the different coloured gear sticks and keys, it is still a Citron and not a MINI BMW can sleep well as mentioned above!

16 February 2010

I don't think high gloss reflective surfaces are a good idea in cars. Save it for the living room, where it can look nice.

16 February 2010

[quote Autocar]1.6 THP 120 form[/quote]

It's not a THP engine, just naturally aspirated.

16 February 2010

How disappointing. I'd read all the rave reviews of the flagship model, but I just knew the models further down the range wouldn't be as good.


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