The anti-retro Citroen DS3 might not sell big numbers, but that just goes to show that you cant always judge influence in terms of volume. The DS range, which has sold 300,000 cars in just 30 months, is crucial to Citroen as it makes their quirky brand values safe and so more appealing – for the private motorist.
The DS3 is a great little car with a loyal following and by turning it into a Cabrio, Citroen has opened it up to a whole new demographic. Thats the good news; the bad is that the needs of this demographic are already well served by the rather good Mini Convertible
and Fiat 500C
The DS3 Cabrio looks very similar to the hatchback from the outside with a couple of important changes.
The rear lights now have a rather funky 3D-effect to them that sounds trite and over-designed until you see them in the flesh when they are simply mesmerising. The attention to details throughout the whole car is astonishing and nowhere more than here; Citroen has even hidden a DS logo on the side of them
Other than that its the roof, of course, thats the giveaway that this is a new model. Its not a proper convertible like the Mini as the roof slides back like the Fiat 500C (or the Citroen 2CV, if were being crude), leaving the sides of the car in place. This is a huge advantage for the manufacturer as its a whole lot cheaper to manufacture a simple, bolt-on roof assembly than to lop off the entire roof above waist height.
This approach isnt just advantageous for Citroen, as its also the lighter solution (the Cabrio weighs just 25kgs more than the hatchback) and helps keep the car rigid, to the benefit of ride and handling. It also probably suits inclement climes better as it gives more effective protection from the elements when the weather is marginal and allows the roof to be furled on the move the Citroen DS3 Cabrio can be made watertight at speeds of up to 75mph. The roof, available in three colours: black, blue, and an attractive tan pattern, can be opened or closed in around 16 seconds, which is pretty impressive.
Oh, the interior is lovely. Elegant, well-made, beautifully designed, and oozing big-car class which means that its already one up on the Fiat 500C, which might be urban chic but does wear its poverty spec as a badge of honour.
Its a full five-seater too, something neither the Mini or Fiat can boast, although your passengers will need to be very friendly as it is a bit tight in there. No such problems for the driver, though; the driving position is perfect with the wheel and seat both offering a wide variety of adjustment.
The boot is also the biggest in its class, although you will need to post your luggage through the small-but-beautifully-designed boot lid. Thats fine for suitcases but you might struggle with half-a-dozen carrier bags full of shopping.
There is a vast range of interior and exterior options available, with carefully considered textures and materials adding to the premium feel of the cabin. Few cars are as comprehensively customisable as the DS3.
We were flown to Valencia to drive the Cabrio, presumably to escape the snow and ice of chilly Britain. Well, it didnt snow while we were there but it did rain, which taught us two things; the first is that the roof is utterly waterproof and makes a lovely noise in the rain, like that of a tent, instantly transporting me back to childhood camping holidays. The second is that the DS3 can scrabble for grip on wet, tight corners when you attempt to put 156bhp through the front wheels all at once.
Other than that it is all-good. Its not the most engaging of the triumvirate (the Mini leads the field here) it is still very, very pleasant to drive. The ride is good and only starts to suffer when you crash into larger potholes, and while the steering might be a bit numb, it is perfectly acceptable and only pedantic motoring journalist will find much to moan about.
We were only allowed to drive the THP 155 version on the launch, which betrayed a worrying lack of faith on Citroens behalf: you field your best car is how one executive put it to me. It is a lovely engine though and pulls well if you keep the turbo spooled up. It also returns up to 47.9mpg according to official figures, which will equal an easy 40+mpg in reality.
The VTi 82 and VTi 120, with three and four cylinders respectively, are also available with the 120 probably being the sweet spot in the range for the majority of motorists as it isnt much slower than the 155 and should prove to be cheaper to run under real-world conditions, despite posting identical official fuel consumption figures.
High-mileage drivers and diesel aficionados will have to wait until the end of the year for a manual diesel (no automatic gearbox will be offered in the oil-burning model), and while we dont have any fuel consumption figures at this time Citroen did say that it will produce just 95g/km of CO2.
Value for Money
The DS3 isnt that cheap to buy but should be decently economical to own if you consider whole-of-life costs, something that its strong residual values will help.
Obviously you will need to play the options game carefully, as wacky combinations of interior, exterior, and roof colours might suit your taste but will limit your cars appeal in the second-hand market
The Citroen DS3 Cabriolet deserves to do well. Its thoughtfully designed, beautifully executed and drives as well as it needs to. It feels much bigger and more grown-up than either the Mini Convertible
or the Fiat 500C
and its premium feel renders the latter car obsolete at a stroke, leaving only the former as competition.
If hard-core, open-top driving pleasure is your bag then the Mini Convertible will do a wonderful job for you. For everyone else, the French car will probably be the better companion given our weather and roads. That it looks so fabulous is the icing on the cake.