The chic little DS3 Cabrio is quite appealing in revised form, even with the least powerful form of BlueHDi diesel power. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
As open cars go, the DS3 Cabrio isn't the most committed thing, but instead pursues compromise with some determination. The folding fabric section of the roof leaves all of the side pillars in place so you still get the DS3's sharky silhouette with a modicum of soft top feel. It'll appeal to those who think they might like a soft top sometimes. A little bit. And in BlueHDi diesel form, a little sensibility is added to the mix too. This improved version also features sharper styling and a bit of extra cabin technology.
The DS3 Cabrio. You used to know it as a Citroen. Now it's a 'DS' product in its own right, DS being the Peugeot Citroen Group's premium brand. This new marque has inherited quite an old design with the DS3, though this Cabrio version actually only dates back to 2012. Now, it's been substantially revised, plus there's cutting edge engine technology beneath the bonnet too. All good then. Well perhaps. What this isn't is a proper, fully-fledged convertible car. Instead, what you get is what amounts to a giant electrically-folding fabric roof though, as the DS people argue, that might very well be a good thing when it comes to issues of weight and dynamic response. In the case of this BlueHDi 100 variant, you also get the potential for over 80mpg and not much more than 90g/km of CO2. All good then. Or is it?
The BlueHDi diesel variant we're looking at here is offered to Cabrio buyers in 100 and 120bhp guises. Even the feebler variant can make 62mph in 11.2s. Like the best of the modern turbo diesels, there's barely a hint of turbo lag with the performance surging forth from low revs. The gearbox is the slickest unit Citroen has come up with for a long time, with excellent weighting and a positive feel to the shifting action. Although the driving position may not suit everyone with its widely spaced and slightly offset pedals (and the view to the rear is heavily compromised when the roof is folded down), the DS3 Cabrio's inherent rigidity means that it doesn't lose a great deal to its had top sibling in terms of handling ability - and the roof adds just 25kg to its weight. On paper, you might be tempted to view this car's folding soft top as little more than a giant sunroof, but in practice, it's much more than that. True, you never get the full 'wind in the hair' feeling that you would in a classic conventional cabriolet lacking this DS model's fixed side panels but there's quite enough exposure to the elements in the fully open position to give you that real cabrio feeling, though buffeting is reduced because you're better hidden from the blustery conditions. I should also point out that, as with any proper convertible, rearward vision with the roof down is pretty awful, hence the standard fitment of rear parking sensors.
Design and Build
Perhaps calling this car a 'cabrio' is going a bit far. If we were being entirely truthful, it's a DS3 with a giant fabric sunroof that slides back into a rather ungainly concertina. Still, what it lacks in engineering boldness it makes up for in ease of use and even a degree of practicality. Compared to a MINI convertible, you get twice as much boot space (245-litres) and a smart cantilevered boot lid means you'll be able to access the boot in tight spots. Unfortunately, the aperture that you need to post things through is pretty small. The roof is easy enough to use. Just prod a button by the rear-view mirror and it'll do its thing at speeds of up to 75mph. That's because it just runs back in its tracks without folding like a conventional soft top. A second press of the same button will send the roof right back over the rear seats. It can even lift the hood a little when you go to open the boot; just enough to provide clearance. The key change with this facelifted DS3 Cabrio 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. Inside, 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.
Market and Model
You'll need a budget of just under £19,000 for a diesel-powered DS3 Cabrio. So you're looking at around £1,900 more than you'd pay for a petrol PureTech 82 petrol variant. With a price premium of around £2,300 over the DS3 hatchback, the DS3 Cabrio is about par for the course for soft top conversions of this type, so in terms of price, this car sits between the smaller Fiat 500C and the rather more convertible MINI Cabriolet. There are some very smart Cabrio-specific bits on this car, such as the 3D-effect rear lights and imaginative options like the cool Granit Blue leather upholstery finish. Safety equipment includes ESP stability control as standard, an advanced ABS braking system and six airbags. Like the DS3 hatch, there's serious scope for personalisation, with numerous finishes for the mirrors and rubbing strips, different wheel colours, six dashboard colours, five gear knobs. Whichever bodywork colour you choose, you even get a matching key fob. Unfortunately there's no automatic gearbox on offer for diesel customers.
Cost of Ownership
This of course is why you'll choose diesel power for your DS3 Cabrio. This BlueHDi 100 model manages an impressive 80.7mpg on the combined cycle and puts out 92g/km of CO2. Mind you, you'll have to make sure that the sums add up for the BlueHDi extra price premium, because the PureTech petrol models don't do too badly. Even the thirstiest of the green pump-drinking DS3 Cabrio models will return better than 50mpg on the combined fuel economy cycle, so you're never going to be saddled with something profligate, no matter which model you choose. The 1.2-litre entry-level car should, with a light right boot, get nearly 60mpg on the combined cycle. Residual values of the DS3 hatch have held up very nicely. Perhaps this was due to a gradual take up, resulting in no faddy boom and bust for this car and there's no reason why the Cabrio shouldn't expect similarly sturdy retention figures.
The DS3 Cabrio isn't exactly rocket science. In fact, some might accuse it of being slightly lazy car design; that it's a half-baked attempt at making an open-topped car. They would be missing the point though. This is the sort of car that many buyers in this country want and here's why. We don't get to drop the tops too often in a country where it can rain for 200 days in a year. Therefore it doesn't really make much sense lugging around a 200kg folding hard top roof for the rest of the time. The DS3 Cabrio represents an elegant solution that retains most of the character and style of the hatchback model it's based on. If you're really intent on getting the full al fresco experience, it might disappoint a little. There are still door pillars to look past. If you're okay with that and just want to feel the sun once in a while without the wobbly body or lumpen styling of most small cabriolets, this one could be a winner, an especially sensible choice in BlueHDi diesel form.