The Citroën DS3 is an upmarket, stylish supermini, but does it have what it takes to beat the Mini?

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Not even the most ardent of Citroën admirers would accept any connection between the Citroën DS3 and the original DS, the firm’s iconic model. The DS broke new ground in several areas and 12,000 were ordered on its first day of launch in 1955; the DS3, on the other hand, is, in effect, the three-door variant of the regular C3 hatchback.

The Citroën DS3 exists for two reasons. The first is a need to counter the firm’s own decade-old push downmarket, a trend that has taken it into direct competition with Far Eastern brands such as Kia and Hyundai. And the second is to capitalise on the burgeoning market for premium-feel, customisable small hatchbacks created by Mini.

The DS3 may evoke memories of one of its most iconic models, the DS, but it is decidedly un-retro

Chic, small runabouts used to be home turf for French manufacturers. But over the past decade Mini – or rather, BMW – has opened up fresh, profitable sales in that area. Fiat has enjoyed similar success in recent years with the Fiat 500, while Audi has jumped on the bandwagon with the Audi A1 and Vauxhall has attempted to follow suit more recently with the Adam.



DS3 shark flick B-pillar

For the Citroën DS3, the company has taken the underpinnings from the regular five-door C3, tweaked the suspension settings and slightly stretched the wheelbase, then plonked a more daring body on top. 

In the case of the three-door hatch, the result is a car that, bizarrely, is longer than the C3 (by just 88mm). It is considerably longer than the Mini (by 249mm), too, but slightly shorter than the Alfa Romeo Mito (by 115mm). 

Citroën offers a massive range of customisation options

Externally, the most striking design cues are inset LED strip lights in the front bumper and a ‘reversed’ B-pillar that points up from rear to front. It also falls shy of the roof, allowing buyers to choose between a floating roofline or have the lid disappear altogether by opting for a black finish. 

There are four trim levels: entry-level DSign, mid-range DStyle, sporty DSport and range-topping Ultra Prestige (the latter two being available in conjunction with the 154bhp petrol and 113bhp diesel engines only). It wouldn’t be Citroën without a smattering of special editions, too. These often offer extra value and are worth keeping an eye out for.

Standard equipment on the higher-spec models is relatively generous, but customisation is a core element of the DS brand. You can spec the roof with colours and graphics, and choose different door mirrors, side strips, wheels and even key fob designs.

LED daytime running lights are among the DS3’s most distinctive details. They only activate when the headlights are switched off.

The nose treatment cleverly incorporates Citroën’s double chevron in the grille and the DS badge above it. The boot is the only place where you’ll see the Citroën name on this car. And even then, the DS badge sits above it.

Significant modifications were introduced for the limited-run DS3 Racing. The ride height was 15mm lower, the tracks were widened by 30mm and carbonfibre featured as part of the body addenda.


DS3 interior

Anyone expecting a night-and-day transformation from the C3 in the Citroën DS3’s cabin is likely to feel mild disappointment. True, the freer options list allows buyers to play with the colours of the fascia and gearknob and there are more seat fabrics to choose from than usual. But the view from the driver’s seat is still remarkably similar to the one you’ll find in the C3.

That’s not an unforgiveable sin, because the five-door’s dash is already one of the most appealing in the class. But it does make the move upmarket tougher. Sure enough, the budget clearly didn’t stretch to higher-grade plastics for the bottom of the fascia; the aux-in and 12V sockets are covered by cheap black plastic flaps and the glovebox feels flimsy. The Mini may have similar flaws, but it does a much better job of hiding them.

The DS3 is more pleasant for back seat passengers than a Mini Hatch

The DS3 Racing is markedly different inside from the standard car. Bold flashes of carbonfibre and body-coloured plastic undoubtedly make for a more appealing interior, but of course this is reflected in the price.

The driving position is slightly offset, but on the whole we had few problems settling into the front cabin. The seats do major on comfort rather than lateral support, though.

In the rear, the DS3’s extra size over a Mini translates into a useful advantage in knee and leg room. This can be helped further if the front passenger makes use of the space freed up by the deeply scalloped glovebox to push the seat forward.

But the overall level of rear accommodation is still compromised, this time by a low roofline. Anyone north of 6ft tall will find it cramped in the rear seats. At least boot space, at 285 litres, is well clear of a Mini’s.

The DS3 cabrio's cabin is little changed from that of the hatch. Because the majority of the car's roof structure remains intact, including the main arches, body rigidity doesn't suffer too much and it's refined with the roof in place. The canvas hood folds back to any of three positions quickly and quietly at the push of a button.


The 154bhp DS3

The most popular version among buyers is the 1.6-litre petrol engine producing 154bhp; that’s closer to the Mini Cooper S’s level of grunt than a mere Cooper’s, and the performance backs that up. Which is to say that the turbocharged Citroën DS3 does feel like a hot supermini rather than a fashion item.

Citroën claims a 0-62mph time of 7.3sec, and our 0-60mph time of 7.7sec – set on a slightly damp test track – supports that. This pace is comfortably clear of the Mini Cooper and only slightly shy of the Cooper S.

The DS3 and Mini engines have very similar power outputs

What impresses most is the manner of the power delivery; not chasing a headline figure has allowed Citroën to give the THP unit an excellent spread of power and torque, to the point where it really doesn’t feel like a turbocharged powerplant.

The 118bhp naturally aspirated 1.6 is lacking in excitement compared with the turbo. The diesels may have economy on their side, but they’re no great shakes when it comes to putting a smile on your face.

The entry-level 81bhp 1.2-litre three-pot engine, which replaced the 1.4-litre four that was part of the original engine line-up, hasn't been sampled in the DS3, but our experience of it in the Peugeot 208 suggests that its performance is mediocre.

As you would expect, given the huge price differential, the DS3 Racing offered a marked improvement in performance. With 204bhp from an uprated version of the DSport's 1.6-litre turbo, the Racing was capable of 0-60mph in just 6.5sec and a top speed of nearly 150mph.

Should you want to overtake in a hurry – or you just fancy getting involved – the transmission surprises by adding to the experience. We’re still not entirely convinced by the five-speed gearboxes in some DS3s, which often feel sloppy even when new. But the six-speed unit in the higher-spec models is a revelation for the brand; it’s slick and precise, with a positive action.

More basic DS3s make do with drum brakes at the rear, but the DSport gets discs all round (283mm ventilated items up front, 249mm solid ones at the rear). Overall stopping power is excellent; we were particularly impressed with its stability during our wet braking tests, and the overall figures are better than both the Mini and the Mito can manage. What’s more, there’s greater pedal feel than in any other Citroën of our recent acquaintance.


DS3 cornering

Citroën could be on a sticky wicket here with the DS3. It has long been known for giving its cars a soothing ride, with dynamic ability much further down the list of priorities. Against Mini’s ultra-sharp Cooper S and even the Alfa Romeo Mito, that approach would be swiftly punished. 

Sure enough, more restrained DS3s that we’ve experienced have majored on comfort rather than agility. But the DSport has a more highly tuned version of the same suspension set-up.

There is a big dynamic difference between the DS3 and C3

The results are impressive; it is hard to believe this car is related to the comfy but clumsy C3. The front end is quick to settle upon turn-in, and the DS3 remains stoically composed thereafter. Body control is excellent in the DSport, and not too bad in other models, either. 

Occasionally – but only when really pushing on – you might encounter a little understeer, but a brief lift of the throttle is usually enough to bring the rear end around and nudge the nose back towards the inside of the corner. And anything approaching a slide is dealt with in a friendly, progressive fashion by the subtle stability control system.

Citroën regulars will probably find the ride a little firm on DSport models, especially so in the Racing, but on mainstream DS3s it remains well judged. Occasionally the torsion beam rear end gives itself away with a unified jolt over a pothole, and road noise is more pronounced than in the C3, but on the whole the DS3 is more compliant than a Mk2 Mini.

The steering could probably use a little more feel, but it still manages to be smooth, precise and consistent, without ever transmitting the sort of tugging kickback so common in a Mini Cooper S.



The scope for customisation means Citroën DS3 buyers might have to show restraint with options if they want to preserve resale values. But then Minis have faced (and overcome) similar issues.

Indeed, the figures suggest that the DS3’s trendy image will do it no harm when it comes to selling it on; its predicted residuals are a class above other cars that wear the chevron and almost on a par with the Mini, putting Citroën’s offering some way clear of the Alfa Mito.

Choose options carefully as they bump up prices and harm used values

The personalisation programme is more about the look of the car, with external colour choices that can be complemented by a range of funky graphics and the cabin available in a choice of colour schemes, some a little more fashion-led than others.

While there is a decent range of more normal options, all but the 1.2 DSign model come with alloy wheels and air conditioning. A selection of option packs are a cost-effective way of up-speccing your car, even if you don’t want every item that’s included.

All models are reasonably efficient. The DS3 DSport’s free-revving powerplant meant that it rarely had an easy run during its time with us; with this in mind, a test average of 35.8mpg is more than respectable.

The e-HDi 90 diesel records an impressive 91g/km of CO2 in its cleanest guise (otherwise it's 95g/km) and a claimed average of 78.5mpg. Okay, a 0-62mph time of 12.5sec isn’t what the DS3 is supposed to be about, but there aren’t many superminis as stylish as the DS3 that can match those economy and emissions numbers. The more powerful e-HDI 115 also dips under 100g/km with a 99g/km output and combined economy of 74.4mpg.

The DS3 also marks a break with Citroën tradition by eschewing the big discounts of old. You’ll still be able to strike a deal, more than you would with a Mini, but this is a car that Citroën dealers will, for once, not get into four-figure discounts with.

Due to its limited production run, residuals of the DS3 Racing are strong. As well as this, its shared engine with the DSport means a competitive 44.1mpg.


3.5 star DS3

It would be easy to dismiss the DS3 as a cynical attempt to harness a classic model’s reputation and ramp up the eventual sticker prices by offering a lengthy options list. But to do so would be to dismiss what is, on the whole, a compelling car and, in the shape of the DS3 1.6 THP 150 DSport, comfortably the most convincing performance car from Citroën in a generation.

The company’s cleverest move with the DS3 has been not to aim this model too high. It offers well balanced handling that has the capacity to entertain while offering no nasty surprises, although you have to pick the right engine and trim combination to get the best from it. In our view, that is the 1.6 THP 150 Sport; other models are less convincing as a performance hatch, but they’re more comfortable and easier to live with than either an Alfa Romeo Mito or a Mini.

Citroën has served up a credible Mini and Alfa Mito rival

All DS3s can compete with any rival on style, while the wide number of personalisation options will appeal to many, as will strong resale values. 

DS3s are also cheaper than Minis. Flaws remain – we’d like to see greater distance between its cabin and those of lesser Citroëns, for example – but the DS3 is a convincing and desirable rival for the ubiquitous Mini.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

DS 3 2010-2015 First drives