The DS3 Performance combines the style of French design and the thrust of hot-hatch culture
The stylish compact is improved in all the right places, and drivers might enjoy the turbocharging of the four-cylinder THP engine
France can be beautiful in June. It is a fine time for dining, shopping – and driving to see old Hong Kong friends in fresher, warmer light. And Citroen’s luxury marque DS embodies Gallic automotive style. Its DS3 Performance is worth a look on your next trip to Europe as it might make your visits there all the more enjoyable. You’ll be lucky to find a DS3 Performance beyond a parallel importer in Hong Kong, or indeed on the mainland, where the brand begins with the DS 4S THP 130, from 144,900 yuan (US$21,030). However, this squat and chunky 1.6-litre test car might be all you need for Europe. If you are based in London, a British version will get you out of town for about £23,000 (US$29,954). If you are based on the continent, or drive there a lot, get a left-hand drive version. The ouestfrance-auto.com website, for instance, reveals DS3 Performance models such as the 165 horsepower three-door, five-seater for €20,800 (US$23,112) and a 208hp 2016 model for €25,990.
The marque hopes its customers can evoke the design and engineering pedigree of the Citroen DS “Goddess” model of 1955 to 1975, and the vrroom of the 1980s hot hatches. These fast, small cars were the stealthy stuff of boy racer dreams; donuts executed at midnight in supermarket car parks and – given its practicality, affordability and speed – the death knell, at least at the time, for the two-seater sportscar. Think back to fun and – mostly French – flash of the Peugeot 205 GTI, the Renault 5 GT Turbo, the Citroen AX GT and the Volkswagen Golf GTI Mark II.
The DS3 Performance appeals to the inner boy racer and holiday driver with big, wide wheels, low swooping arches, a twin exhaust and a rear spoiler. Its interior is basic, with a handful of simple buttons and a preference for mechanical over the electronic switching. However, its menu and volume buttons are low on the centre console and can be obstructed by the gear-stick in some positions. The storage space above these controls seems too shallow to be of much use. The interior might also seem a little rough after the back seats of luxury cars in Hong Kong. The test car’s passenger side footwell also had a break in the upholstery that exposed a scary bundle of multi-coloured wiring.
Even so, the DS3 Performance is as close to being a go-cart as probably any car. It reports bumpy surfaces well and clings to the road as though on rails, and with hardly any roll. Rarely have British roundabouts been so welcome. The DS3 Performance is a reboot of the short-lived DS3 Racing. The test car is improved in all the right places, and drivers might enjoy the turbocharging of the four-cylinder THP engine. The manual six-speed gearbox also gives this supermini the guts of a hot hatch. The test car’s suspension is also 15mm lower than the standard DS3 - which might explain its road-hugging gluteus-bashing. The DS3 Performance is very different from the air ride of its DS or “Goddess” presidential limousine forebear.
The test car is also quick, however, achieving 99.2km/h in 6.5 seconds and a top speed of 228km/h. However, the Goddess’ reputation hangs over the DS3 like a fairy godmother, or a spectre. Citroen has said that it aims for DS to be a fully fledged marque by the end of the decade, with two new models launching next year and then each year until 2020.
That at least shows an understanding of the growing value of premium cars – which now account for half of all profit from car sales worldwide – and of the time it takes to be accepted as a premium player. Citroen has added that it does not expect DS to be fully established for another five years after then, in 2025.
The DS3 Performance might suffice in Europe, and be a change from traditional supermini rivals such as the Mini Cooper S, the Ford Fiesta ST or Peugeot 209 GTI. Such competition is as stiff as the DS3 Performance’s suspension. If comfort is what you’re after, steer clear. But if the occasional wheel-spin is something you’re incapable of avoiding, you will find plenty of Gallic charm. The DS3 Performance could also develop a loyal hot-hatch following in Hong Kong, where Renault’s Clio GT 120 EDC (HK$178,800), Clio RS 220 Trophy (HK$278,000) and Megane GT (HK$336,800) already thrive in short bursts and tight bends on the city’s back roads. Just as wealthy Hongkongers might plan to do in Europe next month.