The improved little DS3 offers style with citycar running costs in BlueHDi 120 diesel guise. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Want a bit of style but don't want to pay through the nose? The Citroen-derived DS brand thinks it has the solution with this improved DS3 in pokey diesel BlueHDi 120 guise - and it makes a pretty persuasive argument. With the DS3's trademark sassy lines combined with 78.5mpg economy and 94g/km emissions, it's cheap to run. It's not quick but it'll still generate grins when you throw it at a corner or two.
As motorists we tend to want the best of all worlds and most of the time the compromises we're forced to make aren't all that appealing. Want a car that's fast and reliable? Well it's probably not going to be cheap. Fancy something stylish that's good to drive? That'll probably run up a big bill too. The people at DS Automobiles have created a contender in the DS3 BlueHDi 120 that manages to neatly jink around many of the impediments to getting the small car you wanted. How about a model that's affordable to buy, fun to drive, offers decent reliability, looks great and costs next to nothing to run? If you'd given up on ever finding such a vehicle, it's time to get excited all over again.
With 120PS on tap, the DS3 BlueHDi isn't going to be the quickest car we've ever laid our hands on, but the sprint to 62mph is not so much demolished but gamely negotiated in 9.4 seconds en route to a top speed of 118mph. In actual fact, the DS3 feels a bit quicker than the bald figure state, due to the fact that it has 285Nm of torque at its elbow and that allows you to feel a smooth surge of acceleration from around 2,000rpm. The ride is fairly firm, but front end grip is excellent and body control is more than good enough to entertain on a British B-road. The steering could use a little more heft and refinement can suffer if you choose bigger alloy wheels but the front seats offer plenty of lateral support. There's a slight offset to the pedal box and the steering wheel could use a bit more adjustment range but these are small quibbles. All in, the DS3 BlueHDi 120 delivers a very sharp driving experience for what is ostensibly an eco special.
Design and Build
To the uninitiated, the DS3 is still quite a sight. The basic shape of the car is traditional supermini with gentle curves marking its extremities and the wheels pushed out to the corners producing a squat, purposeful stance. The key change with this facelifted DS3 is the introduction of the DS brand's corporate front end, with the so-called 'DS Wings' sculpted around a vertically-orientated chromed front grille that wears the DS emblem and is flanked by smarter LED headlamps. There are now more personalisation possibilities too, including options for the roof, the bodywork and the mirror housings. The real drama, however, remains in the detail. From that 'shark fin' B-pillar to the contrasting roof panel, the DS3 is ferociously unconventional. It has the look of a concept car but the French brand has built it and you can buy it. For a modern supermini, this car is relatively compact. It's 3950mm long and 1710mm wide, which is similar to the Ford Fiesta, but the designers have worked hard to maintain plenty of interior space. The cabin is much as before, but benefits from the addition of a freshly-added 7-inch colour infotainment screen that incorporates the latest smartphone-compatible technology. There are smarter trim choices too and the option of classic DS 'watchstrap leather' seating and laser engraving on the dashboard trim and the door mirrors. The DS designers claim there's room for five adults, with legroom in the rear enhanced by the slender backs of the driver and front passenger seats. In the tail, the boot of the hard-top version is 285-litres which is large for the supermini class and 60:40 split rear seats give options for extending that capacity.
Market and Model
The BlueHDi 120 variant is available in 'Elegance', 'Prestige' and 'Ultra Prestige' trim levels. Prices start at just over £17,500 for this BlueHDi 120 vaiant, but you'll need nearly £22,000 if you want this engine with the Cabrio bodystyle. Still, at least all DS3 models are better equipped than they used to be. All variants now get front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera with visual indicator guide lines on the 7-inch centre dash infotainment screen. That display is a fresh addition to the car and gives owners access to the latest smartphone-compatible 'MirrorLink' and 'Apple CarPlay' connectivity systems. The options list includes LED headlight technology and items such as cruise control with a speed limiter, a classy MP3-compatible stereo system with a sub woofer in the boot and the MyWay satellite navigation system. Safety equipment includes an 'Active City Brake' system that can autonomously brake the car if an accident hazard is detected at urban speeds. ESP stability control is of course standard along with an advanced ABS braking system and six airbags. Personalisation is a term that is cropping up with increasing regularity when we talk about trendy small cars and this revised DS3 further embraces it with things like a laser-etched dashboard strip and a screen-printed rear window. There are wider colour and wheel options too. As before, the roof, the mirrors, the dashboard, the rubbing strips and the wheels all come in various colours and whichever bodywork colour you choose, you get a matching key fob.
Cost of Ownership
The DS3 BlueHDi 120 turns in the sort of cost of ownership figures that are more readily associated with a tiny citycar, not something with a torquey turbodiesel engine. You won't need to pay road tax due to its 94g/km emissions - and being able to squeeze 78.5 miles from a gallon of diesel certainly isn't bad going. The DS3 is also equipped with a gearshift indicator that prompts drivers to change gear at the opportune moment for greater efficiency. Residual values aren't too bad but certainly not as healthy as the MINI Cooper D. The DS3 is also a bit more expensive but when you start specifying the MINI up to the level of the DS with gear like Pepper Packs, navigation and such like, the MINI loses both its initial price advantage and its overwhelming superiority on residuals.
The DS3 BlueHDi 120 hatch isn't one of those cars that over-promises and under-delivers. In fact, there hasn't been any big promotion of this derivative. Most might never think that the ostensibly racy-looking DS3 had a model in its range that offered such a blend of frugality and fun. True, it's not a particularly rapid car in a straight line, but ask any hot hatch driver who knows his salt and they'll always prioritise handling over horsepower. Both would be nice, but then you tend to pay through higher running costs. And running costs are where the this French contender slams home a real advantage. You just don't expect cars like this to reward you with 78.5 miles per gallon. You'll need to do your homework with this DS3 to understand why it represents decent value, but when the penny drops you'll wonder why it took you so long.