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VEHICLE ANALYSIS: (Citroën) DS 3 facelift

By Glenn Brooks | 2 January 2015

Main part of the recent facelift was new headlights

Main part of the recent facelift was new headlights

The newly updated DS 3 is now bordering on true premium qualities and status. But with PSA insisting that DS is a brand, why is there still Citroën badging?

The answer to that question is that the DS brand is still in a transition phase. On the DS 3, you'll notice the double chevron logo in a couple of places inside the car, while the word Citroën appears in big letters on the tailgate. Eventually, this will change, and of course, the Citroën DS4 and DS5 are yet to have mid-life facelifts, at which point they will become the DS 4 and DS 5. Well before decade-end, DS should be an independent brand in EU markets, just as it is already in China.

The SMMT is yet to issue year-end registrations as I type this but the brands' combined sales figures for the first eleven months of 2014 show a 5% YoY rise compared to the market's overall gain of 9.4%. Despite that effective decline, DS continues to find much favour with British buyers and the newly renamed DS 3 is the best seller. 

PSA was fortunate that 2014 was a changeover year for the Mini three-door hatchback and cars were in short supply for many months. And with the cabrio still not replaced, the DS 3 remains the obvious alternative for anyone seeking a premium sporty hatchback or convertible. There is the other main issue of BMW Group products always being the opposite of cheap, while the age and dinky size of the Fiat 500 is another bonus for Citroën. What about the Adam? It's selling better than it once did, but the Vauxhall name is a hindrance for brand snobs.

One of the most remarkable things about DS is how readily people accept its relatively high pricing, given that the parent brand's name is, as stated earlier, still much in evidence on the cars. The vehicle lent to me was in DSport trim, and powered by PSA's 88kW/120hp 1,598cc diesel. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard and the car costs GBP19,320. Of course you don't have to pay that much for lower-spec cars, pricing starts at just over GBP12,000 for the PureTech 82hp engine in DSign trim. The highest Ultra Prestige model grade offers the choice of either the 120hp diesel or else a BMW-PSA 165bhp turbo petrol engine. Each of these is listed at more than GBP22,000 but that's still cheap compared to the equivalent Mini. 

The Puretech engine family is PSA's newest and also now features in the Peugeot 208 and Citroën C3. This 110-130hp series is manufactured in France at the Française de Mécanique plant in Douvrin. The press car's 285Nm of torque was ample for the slippery conditions during the test period, and the 10.4 seconds it takes to reach 62mph from a standing start makes it competitive in its class. Likewise, a top speed of 118mph. The CO2 average of 94g/km gives it a big advantage over some rivals, while the Combined fuel economy is an equally compelling 78.5mpg. In normal conditions outside the EC's test cycle, owners will typically see better than 50mpg, possibly even 60mpg. It should also be noted that the Extra Urban cycle number is an amazing 88.3mpg.

The genius of the DS 3 is that it doesn't look like an economy car. PSA is also learning about all the little things that premium really means. The manic-flashing indicators that were your first impression as you blipped the original DS 3 unlocked have been banished. In their place, a slowly curling arc of orange appears around each headlight. This is not dissimilar to Audi's sequential light sequence from the R8 and newly facelifted A6/S6/A7/S7 ranges.

The car looks beautifully put together on the outside and the 17" rims fill the wheelarches perfectly. It's a shame the way the hatchback has been designed in that your hand gets dirty opening it, and rear wiper is a bit on the small side - both are less than ideal in salty, wintery conditions.

I much prefer this car's interior to that of the Adam, 500 and Mini, even though if you look closely, you can see that PSA hasn't spent a huge amount on updating it. But what it has done is effective. For example, the top of the dashboard is finished with a soft-to-the-touch, tactile covering. This provides a contrast to the smooth lacquered effect of a dashboard trim strip. You can specify different finishes including blue, white, shiny black and aluminium or carbon fibre effects for the dash, and the gear lever knob is also offered in several colours. 

There is standard leather trim on the steering wheel, with chrome-look or aluminium-effect inserts. You can further customise your car with various roof graphics, door mirror colours, wheels and wheel centre caps. The car I sampled had its keyfob matched to the roof colour, which was a novel touch. However, we have all been taught to think that premium equals weighty and sadly, this key is just too light and flimsy-feeling rather than heavy and rubbery-finished.

Something else which should hopefully change for the second generation model due around 2017 might be a different colour filter for the instrumentation. The current car's is an orange that reminded me of 1980s Mazdas and Toyotas, and this is also used for the HVAC and door mirror controls. And while we continue to get used to soft lighting for door handles on so many cars, on this one you and your passenger must prod around in the dark to find them. May we please also have automatically folding mirrors? You have to press a button to get them to do that.

You couldn't say that the DS 3 steers as well as the latest Mini and on the 'Black Bellone' alloys and 205/45R17 tyres the ride is close to being hard. But against that, there is very little lean into bends, grip is excellent, as is braking thanks to discs at the rear. It's also roomy and you're not banging your elbow on the door trim, while the gear lever is very well placed, as are all other controls come to think of it.

The DS logo appears on the steering wheel, the sides of the tail lights, the bonnet and boot but as mentioned earlier, Citroën chevrons are on the wheel centres and also mark a button below the CD/radio player. Your rear passengers will be happy with the views out, thanks to long and deep windows. Some of that is due to the DS 3's age. Now, weight is all, and cars are being designed with ever smaller areas of glass as one way of making lighter vehicles. Fortunately, the PF1 platform of this model was developed with weight saving in mind long before it became fashionable to do so. 

As the A55 series DS 3 shares its architecture with the C3 and 208, it makes sense for all three cars to be built at the same plant. This takes place at Poissy in the western suburbs of Paris. The same factory should build the successors to all three, from 2017, on PSA's EMP1 platform. Expect a five-door body style, in addition to the existing three-door and cabrio DS 3s.

In summary, it's clear that PSA is on its way to honing the DS cars into being worthy of high pricing levels. More models are needed in Europe, though - there is a big opportunity for a B segment crossover and a C-SUV too. Some such additional models are already available or planned for China, along with a larger model, so by 2020, expect DS to have a nicely rounded out range of vehicles, worldwide. By then, will we all be amazed to recall that just 120,000 vehicles were sold across the globe in 2013? Of that, 85% were in Europe. Figures for 2014 are not yet available.

Yves Bonnefont, the CEO of DS, says he has a target of selling 50 percent of DS vehicles outside Europe by 2016, which is ambitious. Is it achievable? Provided China stays stable, yes probably. Once DS is fully up and running as a high-margin brand in all markets then who knows, maybe it will even become available in North America, as has been hinted at.