DS 3 first drive review : Fun French fancy

Rolling out originally with the chevrons of Citroën on the front, the DS 3 has had a revamp and refresh, now sitting pretty in the avant-garde livery of DS Automobiles.

Ok, so they may be one and the same, but with the DS 5, DS 4 and now the DS 3 getting a more established identity, we’re well on the way towards seeing DS Automobiles establishing itself as a fresh brand, looking to bring you exquisite French design and challenge some of the premium German cars that are so common on the roads.


The DS 3 has been something of a success, and what’s perhaps surprising is that the DS 3 has sold more in the UK than it has in its home country France. In this latest twist of the tale, DS Automobiles is looking to pitch the DS 3 as an alternative to the Mini Hatch, another car that’s been a success in the UK, and for many of the same reasons.

A cursory glance at the new DS 3 reveals that the lines are very similar to the previous model. That’s a trend reflected in the DS 5 and the DS 4 too and we’re happy with that: it’s not a brand new model, but there are subtle changes to the exterior, as well as an update to the interior.

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The look and feel of the DS 3 is very much the same however. DS Automobiles says that this car embraces the spirit of avant-garde, but for us this is a young and fun 3-door hatchback. It’s a good looking car, distinct enough to set it apart from many of the similar compacts, but really going head-to-head with some cars like the Mini (particularly) or the Fiat 500, sitting in that space offering something that leans more towards quality while still staying compact and, importantly, original is design.

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The changes on this model are really about leaving the Citroën brand behind and that means reworking the front of the car around the grille. That grille pattern is now more unique and more DS, cutting across the front of the car and underlining the new headlight cluster. It gives the DS 3 a smarter look, adding a little prestige.

The DS 3 – and the DS 3 Cabrio that sees a parallel launch – is still about personalisation, with a wide range of colours to choose from, so you can have contrasting body and roof options for not a lot of cash and in some cases, free with particular trim levels.


There are Chic, Elegance and Prestige trim levels, before stepping up to Ultra Prestige, Performance and a new Performance Black that tops the range. TheDS 3 in its new guise starts at only £700/$1,050 more than the old model, but you are getting more kit for standard. Alloys are now standard, rather than offering asteel wheel with trim at the bottom end, which helps move the DS 3 more into line with some of its notable rivals.

We still think the DS 3 looks good. It’s the same overall body shape as it was before, but it offers slightly softer lines than the likes of Audi or VW and offers a slightly more practical arrangement than the Mini Hatch, with a higher ride and larger boot opening and more headroom for those rear seats.

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We’ve always had a soft spot for the interior of the DS, marking itself aside from some of the compact cars of Citroën with more elegance. Much of the interior of this DS 3 reflects that of the previous model. The driver display is the same and the general layout is too, but now the 7-inch touchscreen is standard, dominating the central cluster of controls.

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The line that DS is pushing with this move is that it’s enabled them to reduce the clutter in the interior: there are 20 fewer buttons and controls, as more is handled through that central display.

The interior is light and airy, even with the dark finishes that DS offers, thanks to the spread of the windows. It’s a compact car, sure, but there’s plenty of space in for the driver and passenger. The back seats are comfortable, but there’s not a huge amount of legroom, even if there’s plenty of headroom. If you have a long-legged driver, you’ll probably find it a bit of a squeeze in the back, but that’s a given for this size of car.


For the driver, however, things are neatly arranged and we like the looks of the floating driver display cowl. The quality of the interior is good too. Leather is widely used once you’re up to the Prestige level, with highlights and touch points having a quality feel to them. Soft plastics are also used, with DS avoiding some of the finishes and textures that put its Citroën cousins slightly less premium place.

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There’s also bags of character. Like the Mini Hatch or Fiat 500, this is a car that uses funkier design without getting too ridiculous, where some of it’s German rivals can be a little serious in the interior. It’s not all perfect though. The armrest blocks access to the handbrake and there’s no hill hold, so you’ll need to be deftly-footed on the clutch at times, although we’d rather have that armrest as it’s a comfortable addition on longer drives.


Then we have the touchscreen. This gives you plenty of modern features – including Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink for Android – but the removal of buttons isn’t necessarily a huge bonus. We found it a little tricky to navigate, and the menu button is a long way down at the bottom of the centre stack. There are also no steering wheel controls, nor any crossover into the driver display, so it feels as though you spend a little too much time jabbing away at the screen and looking into the centre of the car, rather than being able to keep your eyes on the road.

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There’s a lot of technology on offer with the base Chic level of trim giving you air conditioning, an integrated air freshener, that 7-inch touchscreen,Bluetooth, USB, DAB and mood lighting. Stepping up to Elegance brings LEDfog lights, sports pedals and plenty more, and finally the Prestige brings things like powered folding heated mirrors, LED Vision lights, satnav, and active city break to stop you driving into the car in front when you’re not concentrating in busy traffic.


But there are some elements of the DS 3 that are really good. The seats are really comfortable, especially with the leather finishes and the unique “watchstrap” design and there’s plenty of adjustment in the steering column to get a comfortable position. All trim levels get a leather steering wheel, although this increases in quality as you step up the trim, although as we mentioned, we miss any sort of steering wheel controls.

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The DS 3 is naturally set for a fairly sporty ride. With wheels starting at 16-inch and increasing to 17-inch on the higher trims, you don’t lose that fun feeling when you’re on the road. The suspension is comfortable though, soaking away those broken road surfaces and easing out speed bumps, even if we found the road noise to be a little higher than we expected – a product of lower profile tyres and not too much body insulation we suspect.

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There are a range of engine choices (we drove the 130 and 165 petrol engines, there are a range of diesels for those more interested in economy), and the exhaust note gives you a sporty feeling too, as does the detailing of the rear splitter, sitting alongside the chrome exhaust pipes. We found the PureTech 130 to give a surprisingly sporty soundtrack, but it’s still an economical option, with CO2 emissions rated at 105g/km.

There will also be a THP 210, for those looking for sportier performance. DS doesn’t pitch this as a hot hatch, more a gentleman’s GT, for those who want something with a bit of poke without turning into a boy racer. It take you from 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds, so it’s no slouch.


On the road the DS 3 is a fun car to drive. The visibility is good, with large wing mirrors and the steering is weighty enough to feel purposeful. In the THP 165 mated with a 6-speed manual gearbox, there’s enough power to pull this compact car up the hills, and the acceleration to give you an exciting drive. It takes 7.5-seconds to hit 62mph, which in real terms, is racey enough to stay in contention with the rest of the traffic.

We found that it also returned over 40mpg in the mixed driving we’d been doing, some motorway, but much on twisty-turny A roads, with plenty of junctions. All in all, it’s a fun drive. It perhaps lacks the twitchy “go-kart” drive of the Mini Hatch, but it’s certainly not lacking in character.

First Impressions

We’ve always liked the DS 3. We liked this car when it was a fresh idea from Citroën and we like it now it’s leading the charge from DS Automobiles. It sits as the starting point in the DS family, better looking and fresher than the DS 4, and facing less-serious executive competition than the DS 5. To us, that makes it the star of the show and that’s a feeling that’s reflected in strong sales of the older model.

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The DS 3 is fresh and funky. We like the drive and we like the looks. Yes, this isn’t a rethinking of this compact hatch and it’s very much the same character as the original, but if you’re looking to upgrade, there’s probably enough of a change to help you move from your 5-year-old car to the new DS 3.

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The DS 3 starts from £13,995/$20,993 with PureTech 82 engine and manual gearbox with Chic trim, rising up to £22,495/$33,742 for the top spec THP 210 engine withPerformance Black trim. Somewhere in the middle is a sweet spot, giving your blend of unique styling, plenty of creature comforts and an exciting drive.


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