It’s a cutie isn’t it? The Brisbane launch put the DS3 through bends tighter than a Scotsman’s wallet and the Citroen ate them for breakfast. It isn’t the most powerful motor in existence but it hums contently no matter what punishment your throw at it.
Before I go into the changes the updates have brought us I’d like to spend a few seconds on the DS range generally. Citroen’s OZ chief, John Startari says Citroen will never be the cheapest nor do they want to be. The problem for the French car maker is the brand awareness, once big in Australia, had a bad case of shrinkage from which it hasn’t yet recovered. There are other models in the range like the gorgeous DS5 but there are so few of them on the road that it is almost criminal.
You’ll remember the stunning and dramatic DS which was once the preferred ride of the French president. It was designed by Bertoni and had that funny uppy-downy suspension. The long low-slung saloon was a revelation and the magic carpet ride was a world first system. It was like sitting in the splendid luxury of a Loire chateau drawing room being propelled at 100kph. It was built for 20 years and when it was released, was so advanced that it must have seemed more like an aircraft than an automobile. Rumour has it that before being released it was debadged and driven around England. People actually thought it was some kind of space craft. You have to remember what else was around at the time, cars the FJ Holden were was typical of 50’s engineering and design. Enough said.
DS was resurrected a few years ago but the bijou sales figures have been slightly discouraging with only 56 DS cars finding homes so far this year, and a total of only 340 Citroens being sold for the same period. It’s a shame because Citroens, particularly DS3s, are pots of fun to drive. They have a 6 year warranty and capped price service, double that of many of the competitors and only Citroens have the bona fide whiff of un vin rouge et un baguette about them. They scream continental flair and are now being rallied to within an inch of their lives, but more about the rally car later.
DS3 has only one spec, the Sport. You get fancy new LED headlights that look like the front window at Tiffany’s. Huge jewels focus the LED/Xenon lights looking spectacular at night, and almost as good in the daylight. For most of us it’s the other way round. In a playful moment, Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, lends her name to the shiny new black 17” wheels, and inside there are cupholders.
Dimitri Andreatidis is Citroen’s head marketing bloke and reckons the DS3 updates make it more flexible. Apart from the 121KW engine giving power and torque over a wider band, you have cup holders. The younger Citroen managers appear infatuated cup holders! Perhaps it’s a Canadian thing! It’s an “in” joke which would lose much in translation so I won’t bother.
So we know it has cup holders which I for one can’t manage without, but in a genius move, all DS3s now have Satnav, HOORAH! Sadly it still has the god-awful auxiliary stalks for cruise control and radio. I had rather hoped they’d been banished to a place far far away. You see, they are mounted behind the steering wheel, and unlike the wipers and headlight controls, the cruise and audio controls are hidden from view. Without a thorough study of the buttons and levers before you move off, you’ll change radio stations when you’re trying to set the cruise, and turn the cruise off when you’re desperately stabbing at things trying to get rid of Micheal Bublé. These are annoyances which evaporate after a little training and so are not a deal breakers.
The interior looks very smart. There are lashings of leather and metal, some of which I suspect is simulated, and a dash treatment of carbon fibre look trim. There is a room deodoriser which for some reason always makes me chuckle. It’s the modern version of a cardboard pine tree hanging from the rearview mirror which smelt rather too much like a men’s lavvy. We don’t know what this one smells like because Citroen says it’s a personal thing which a buyer would choose on purchase. How French is that?
The sound system is rather good with nice rich tones and an easy to use menu. If there is one complaint, it is that you must use the dials and knobs for all the functions. Without the option of touching the screen, navigation isn’t quite as intuitive as it might be. It’s only a small thing and by no means lessens the experience but touch screen options are the norm in the 21st century.
The drive is a cracking experience. The DS really loves being chucked into corners and encourages a driver to be engaged by the trip rather than merely steering a lump of metal from place to place. I mentioned the 121kw turbo petrol which, in a rather cute French way, is the only choice. You do have a choice of transmissions though, oh wait, no you don’t. There is a 6 speed manual and that’s that. You might think this is a mistake but there is sound reasoning behind it. The auto was a decrepit old 4 speed job which simply doesn’t cut it in the era of 7, 8 and 9 speed automatics. The clutch has a long throw and takes a few changes to get familiar with. Sadly the sequential double clutch gearbox from the rally car isn’t available. Now, that is a shame.
The launch was a combination of highways and stimulating Queensland countryside with very tight turns. The latter might tempt the unwary, but don’t be fooled. New cars make us all far better drivers than we actually are. We’ve all seen the bad tempered yobbos on tv who switch the stability control off and delight in getting the tail end out. This is folly that will only end in tears. The DS isn’t upset by bumps even in the middle of a challenging turn and the rest of the ride is fabulous especially for a small car. While I do miss Citroen’s halcyon Hydro-pneumatic suspension, the clever modern setup goes some way to righting the wrongs. Only one Citroen now has the expensive fluid and gas system of old. It is probably as well as I don’t fancy trying to explain what a sphere and an accumulator do.
While the green-ish rolling hills set quite the goal to test handling, a track sorts the men from the boys. Unusually, in a typically playful way, Citroen took us to a go-cart track. Imagine the fun we could have had if the bosses hadn’t been watching over us like mother hawks watching mice. Somehow Citroen cajoled the track owners into letting us throw DS3s around as if they were go-carts. We still managed to push the cars to the maximum of our limits, even if the Citroens had more to give. We were told not to be naughty. The stability control had to be left on and the goal was to have two laps to compete for a signed watch as a prize. It was a hoot. What it did show was the 121 kw power plant had more than enough get up and go. We weren’t allowed to go above second gear which you might think severely limited the performance. In reality I suspect it saved many of us from having to fill in insurance claims. The challenge was enough to make the brakes smell as if they’d recently spent time in hell.
There is nothing I dislike about the DS3. It is perky and cute. It has automatic air-conditioning, automatic wipers, and automatic lights as well as deeply sculptured seats. It has collision avoidance up to 31kph and a full suite of active and passive safety features. The interior trim is classy as well as sporty. The exterior has that Citroen-ness of old. The “floating” roof is there just because it can be.
This is a lifestyle car. Citroen aren’t selling a vehicle as much as they are an image of what you want to be. Yes there are cheaper, or more powerful cars. Yes there are better handlers and those with better equipment but only the Citroen has the chutzpah to put a cute little French sun shade over the instrument panel. You can mix and match colours of soft tops, hard tops, paint and interiors to get tons of different results that are as unique as the people who want to be seen in them. You get 6 year warranty/capped price service/roadside assist and a massive 12 year corrosion warranty. Best of all, it has “pseudo Macpherson Struts”. Can you imagine the fun you’ll have at dinner parties when the conversation come to the inevitable uncomfortable pause, and you stand to casually ejaculate “my DS3 has Pseudo Macpherson Struts, that is all.” With that you sit down and casually continue to scoff your umpteenth un vin blanc with the deadpan face of Marcel Marceau. That alone has to be worth the purchase price surely!
This is one of those cars whose total is far more than merely the sum of its parts. It is a rare ride so you’re unlikely to park next to one and be confused as to which is yours. Yes, that does happen but I’ll say no more.
Would I buy one? UMMMMMM I would want to wait for the Cactus to arrive before I decide, but that’s another story.
Until next time, oui oui au revoir et bonne continuation.
Engine: direct injected turbo, in-line 1.6L 4 cylinder, 121 kw/240Nm, Euro 6
Performance: 7.5 secs 0-100, 5.6L/100k, 129gm CO2
Price: $33,990 hatch, $36590 Cabriolet (plus on roads)