Citroen's hot hatchback is appealingly intense, and good fun, but its high price and firm ride let it down

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This is the Citroën DS3 Racing, a 204bhp, 1.6-litre turbo’d hot hatch that's a new chapter in the French maker’s fresh-faced DS range.

It may be an evolution of the 154bhp DS3, but the alterations wrought to it by Citroën Racing – who have earned themselves some significant silverware in the WRC – are enough to drag it up into a more serious class of hot hatch.

If you're in the market for an entertaining hot hatch, it's hard not to find this appealing

With 15mm lower ride, 30mm wider track, bigger brakes and carbonfibre body addenda the DS3 Racing has already proved that its aggressive looks are matched by its aggressive performance. Citroën quotes 0-62mph in 6.5sec and a top speed of 146mph.

The DS3 Racing's brakes have received some attention too, with four-piston calipers and upgraded discs at the front. Two distinctive exterior colour combinations are also offered, one black with an orange roof and the other white with a grey roof, and the DS3 Racing also features plenty of Citroën Racing branding. Kit levels are ample and include climate control, USB and Bluetooth connectivity.

Well, to get straight to the point, out on the road the DS3 Racing's ride is firm. Enough that it’s a compromise that some may not want to take given the many talents of the softer, cheaper and more liveable DS3. It’s not rock solid as you may expect, but the vertical damper travel has a solid springiness to it that results in uncomfortable compression and rebound at speeds.

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Still, this is only one element of the DS3 Racing’s ride, and the rest of it is well judged for the UK. Slow speed ride is acceptable, and it settles on motorways so that it can be quite a liveable cruiser. For many the impressive acceleration and outright brutality of the Racing will more than compensate for its shortfalls in terms of finer damper tuning, and if it does then the torque steer - induced by the engine's 202lb ft - that struck regularly in damp conditions is also unlikely to put you off.

In essence the DS3 Racing is exactly what it needs to be. It has acceleration that arrives in a stampede and never fails to make you feel good about what man can do with machines, and the steering and cornering ability brings a deftness to the whole package that allows a real sense of connection to the car – even if it falls short of the best in class.

Our test also took in some track driving, where it became evident that the DS3 can be a very entertaining circuit weapon, as much for its occasionally unpredictable on the limit behaviour as for the progressive and involving handling it delivered the rest of the time.

Elements of this edginess do come through on the road in subtle shimmying of the rear axle and a sense that if you lift off at the wrong time you could find yourself viewing the rest of the corner through your side window.

However, this is part of the DS3 Racing’s appeal. If you want something that’s really approachable, the 150 is a better bet. The Citroën is flawed, but appealingly intense - and for enthusiasts only. If you’re reading this it’s likely you appreciate why that matters.

It is important that the DS3 Racing feels like more than your average junior hatch, because at this price it has some very senior competition. For this amount of cash you can have all manner of delights, including the Renault Mégane Renaultsport and VW Scirroco 2.0 TSI. Which is where the Citroën comes unstuck.

Yes, the Mini JCW that is its main rival is nearly the same price and yet it sells well enough, but the existence of one overpriced car in a class is not enough to justify another.

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Just looking at the Citroën DS3 Racing makes it clear that it has a specific target audience, and despite its flaws – price and all – we like its brazen style and performance.

If you do too, then there is unlikely to be anything out there that quite satisfies the urge in the same way. But for all that we’re glad it’s here, with rivals that offer better ride, handling and usability in the same price range (and some much cheaper) it’s a difficult one to recommend you spend your money on.

Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

DS 3 Racing 2011-2012 First drives