Stellantis's Parisian premium brand aims to blend fashionable style and on-board comfort to retain its familiar selling point

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Between so many of the Stellantis group’s compact electric cars that are now clamouring for your attention and cash, the DS 3 E-Tense suddenly seems like the forgotten child. It was facelifted at the end 2022, losing its old ‘Crossback’ model suffix but gaining battery capacity, range and motor power in the process. But so many of its all-electric siblings have now been either updated or introduced since then as to make 18 months feel like a very long time.

This was the first of its manufacturing group’s small electric cars to get the upgraded 54kWh battery pack and 154bhp hybrid synchronous electric drive motor that went on to be adopted by the Peugeots e-2008 and e-308, Vauxhalls Corsa Electric and Astra Electric, and the Citroën ë-C4 and ë-C4 X. And while it’s still a rarer sight on UK roads than most of its corporate sibling models, some decent manufacturer price incentives mean it’s not quite the premium-priced pariah that it used to be.

Competing in the increasingly competitive electric compact crossover class, the car can count among its rivals the likes of the Kia Niro EV and Hyundai Kona Electric, as well as the Volvo EX30, Smart #1, Cupra Born and the in-house-hailing Vauxhall Mokka Electric. DS’s aim is to tempt customers with a comfier ride, a plusher interior and, for now at least, a bit more exclusivity than all those can offer, though - as well as with new digital features, to which we’ll come in due course.



ds3 review 2024 02 panning

The 3 E-Tense was the first car to adopt Stellantis’s new 154bhp hybrid synchronous electric motor (up 20bhp on the old one) at the end of 2022, the latter engineered to be quieter at lower speeds as well as more efficient at higher speeds than the permanent magnet one that went before it. It drives the front axle, just as it did on the pre-facelift car.

Despite that power hike, the car remains shy of many of its competitors for both power and on-paper performance, though: a reasonable enough position, perhaps, for the likes of the Peugeot e-2008 and Vauxhall Mokka Electric, but perhaps not for a car with premium-brand positioning. Whether you’re buying a VW ID 3, a Smart #1, an MG 4 or a Kia Niro, you’ll likely end up with more go for your money.  

The motor is fed by a 54kWh (50.8kWh usable) battery that gives it a claimed range of up to 250 miles, depending on model line. That's 48 miles more than the DS 3 Crossback Electric had before it, thanks to the extra 4kWh of capacity.

The new car can be charged at up to 100kW of DC charging capacity, from 10-80% in just 30 minutes, or in five and a half hours by an 11kW wallbox. A heat pump comes as standard.

The DS 3’s axle hardware remains what we might once have considered pretty class typical, before so many ‘rear-engined’ EVs came along and started mixing things up. MacPherson struts do the suspension work at the front, and a torsion beam axle at the rear, with coil springs above each. (DS took 10mm out of the car’s ride height as part of the 2022 revision.)

The car’s exterior style is, of course, for the beholder to judge. DS’s facelift for the car brought in new headlights, and a broader radiator grille with yet more gloss black and chrome. To our eyes, the net result doesn’t stand out for design appeal quite like you might expect it to, especially next to younger, fresher electric alternatives.


ds3 review 2024 09 dash

Some impressively packaged and surprisingly practical cars have entered the compact EV niche of late, leaving those like the DS 3 - which promise lots of convenience, adult-appropriate second-row accommodation and an airy, expansive-feeling cabin, but don’t quite deliver any of the above - suddenly looking a bit behind the curve.

Up front, you board into an only slightly raised driving position and vantage point, but have to lift your heels over a high and obstructive sill as you get in, which feels awkward. Our Opera-spec test car had soft, spongy leather seats with separate adjustable head restraints, massagers and adjustable lumbar support. However, they lacked adjustment of either cushion extension or angle, as well as much in the way of useful supportive structure to their all-round padding.

The raised sills are annoying because you end up having to really lift your heels into the driver's footwell, inevitably plonking them down a little unceremoniously, and then inadvertently wrenching the floor mat loose from its rather flimsy mountings. During a week with the car, I was still doing it on days six and seven.

The car’s second row makes only the kind of space available that you’d expect in a class-average supermini. There's enough, just about, for three older, taller kids, or a couple of smaller adults but taller grown-ups will struggle for both head and leg room in a way they just wouldn’t in a Smart #1.

Up front, there’s plenty of material ritz to the dashboard layout and materials, but far less deep-lying tactile material quality (lots of scratchy mouldings are to be found below knee level; storage cubbies are unlined; soft-touch materials are notable by their absence). DS’s focus was clearly on an eye-catching and unusual fascia design, and some material lavishness with upper-level materials, some of which lands (although the ‘weathered art leather’ decor of our test car looked, to these eyes, a little like it’d had one too few coats of aerosol paint). 

The centre console layout, meanwhile - which takes large diamond-shaped motifs as its theme, and makes features, where it can, out of the air vents, window switches, and more - clearly gives the kind of lead to form over function that makes the latter a distant memory. The multimedia shortcut buttons are glossy, diamond-shaped touch-sensitive keys that much too often need a frustratingly long press to register any contact at all - and they’re arranged laterally so that those farthest from the driver are way out beyond the outer margins of the multimedia screen, where they’re an awkward stretch to reach.

The 10.3in DS Iris infotainment system was updated as part of the 2022 facelift. Although it is clearly related to the systems used by the likes of Peugeot, Vauxhall and Citroën, it isn’t as intuitively laid out or easy to navigate as they are. Wireless smartphone mirroring is now included, though, and the system makes it easy enough to switch between mirroring and ‘native’ modes.

DS has recently added ChatGPT-powered, fully networked voice recognition for the car, available via a remote ‘over-the-air’ software update, but the scope of its functionality seemed limited to our testers. (It could only cope up with very limited, and often wrong, answers to questions like ‘where is the nearest doctor’s surgery?’ and ‘how long will it take me to drive to Bristol?’.

DS gives you a digital instrument screen directly ahead of the driver, and a head-up display, although the former is a little small and seems to squeeze information into cramped space. 

Our test car came with DS’s full Advanced Safety Pack suite of driver aids, among them lane keeping assist, traffic sign assist, active safety braking and an adaptive cruise control system. However, the lane keeping system tends to let the car oscillate between the margins of its lane, rather than keeping it centred when it’s activated. Meanwhile, our test car’s traffic sign assist system had a software bug that made it convert what it assumed were speed limits posted in kilometres per hour into much lower miles per hour figures (45mph, 37mph and 25mph when passing motorway gantries, for example) before it offered to adopt new cruising speeds, so it was useless.

Considering the car's £40,000–plus advertised list price, you have a right to expect better of this interior almost across the board.


ds3 review 2024 19 motor performnce

With 197lb ft of torque (up 5lb ft on the pre-facelift car), the DS 3 E-Tense has plenty of shove around town. But on the open road, it lacks a little oomph and obliges you to err on the side of caution when contemplating an overtake or merging into a gap.

Some confidence returns if you have the car in its faster-accelerating Sport driving mode, which is the only one in which the motor gives you all 154bhp without pushing past the accelerator pedal’s kickdown switch. Low-speed drivability is smoother in Normal or Eco, though, so you’ll find it difficult to settle on a driving mode that suits you all of the time.

There’s a ‘B’ mode for boosted initial trailing-throttle battery energy regeneration too. DS gives you at least a little regen in all of the driving modes, and there are no manual controls to adjust this, so there’s no ‘full coast’ cruising mode, nor a ‘one-pedal’ mode if you happen to prefer one.

The brake pedal is reasonably well tuned, although you can detect some snatchy inconsistency in the pedal response during harder braking, when it seems to take the drive motor a split second to blend in its motor regen. 

Our range-topping test car had 18in wheels and 55-profile Goodyear tyres, which offered traction enough in fairly mild winter conditions, without penalising rolling resistance or curtailing efficiency too much.


ds3 review 2024 21 cornering rear

DS, we know, aims to make distinguishing ride comfort and refinement and easy drivability the dynamic calling cards of its current line-up of cars. But when it comes to compact EVs, actually achieving these relative advantages (without making your car about 50% more expensive than its rivals, that is, à la Lexus RZ) is tough. Because electric cars are generally quiet and easy to drive almost by default.

That may be why the commitment to comfort that the DS 3 E-Tense makes is more of a gesture than an all-or-nothing vow. The car is certainly more softly sprung than some smaller electric cars and retains enough suspension travel to feel supple and absorptive on out-of-town roads, rather than annoyingly firm or faux sporty.

Despite that long-travel suspension, however, it doesn’t ride in particularly plush or isolated fashion. There’s a hum of background road noise present in the cabin that’s typical of rivals, while raised edges and pockmarks aren’t shy about clunking their way through the damping and making their presence felt.

Medium-light steering, accurate handling, and fairly upright, contained body control make the car handle well enough and its compactness is certainly welcome around town. Grip levels are secure, and lateral body movement is checked soon enough to prevent the car from rolling a great deal more than a conventional electric hatchback might when cornering.

So the car’s handling is competent and contained, but it’s the ride that the slight disappointment - especially compared with DS’s brand positioning. It’s often a little brittle at lower speeds, while at higher ones, the lack of progressive damping and good close body control makes the body fidget and toss gently on its springs, both fore-aft and side to side - especially on less well-surfaced motorways. 


ds3 review 2024 01 cornering front

The DS 3’s new motor and enlarged battery and its standard heat pump all help it to hit a competitive mark for real-world energy efficiency and electric range. Our test car averaged 3.8mpkWh while on test with us, giving it a mixed-use range of just under 200 miles. 

Although it typically promised a little more than this via the trip computer, it certainly did better for efficiency off the motorway. In mixed town and out-of-town use, excluding motorways, it probably would be a 220-230-mile usability prospect, which would make it broadly competitive with sub-£40k opponents.

And that, at the moment, is where the car sits, thanks to a UK retail offer from DS that puts a £2750 deposit contribution towards an entry-grade DS 3 E-Tense Performance Line car (bringing it down below £35k), or £3250 towards an upper-level Opera model. 

These aren’t the only incentives around on new EVs at the moment, needless to say, but they do help to put this car into at least slightly more comfortable financial territory.


ds3 review 2024 22 static rear

Driven by the impact of Chinese brands and the competitive pressure they will apply to Europe’s established players, the market for compact, affordable electric cars is likely to prove a tough place to exist for cars like the DS 3 E-Tense over the next few years. 

It will offer no hiding places. If your entrant isn’t sufficiently spacious, efficient, affordable or well equipped, it’ll fall behind in the blink of an eye – and half-hearted grasps at design appeal, on-board comfort and luxury or digital sophistication won’t justify a premium that the fundamentals of the product simply aren’t worth.

Right now, the DS 3 E-Tense is clinging to class standards by its fingernails in some areas, but it’s already behind them for performance and cabin space. Worse still, there are now several fresher entrants into this class - from Smart, Volvo, Renault, Mini and elsewhere - that offer superior style and desirability, as well as stronger rational appeal.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.