DS 3

Meet the Citroën that isn’t really a Citroën

It’s not every day a brand- new marque is launched, and this isn’t one of them. What you’re looking at is the same Citroën DS3 that’s been on sale these past six years, but now you’ll have to do a remarkable amount of prodding and poking about in the engine bay before you’ll find any sign of the famous company chevrons. Because this is no longer a Citroën, but a DS.

Citroën has at last cast the DS 3 adrift, armed with a sizeable facelift, an interior upgrade and, most interesting to us, a new 130bhp, three-cylinder, 1.2-litre engine. I think the new cosmetics work well, giving the car a face that trades the prettiness it had to spare for a sense of presence it has hitherto lacked. The interior is less pleasing, lacking the class, charm and quality of the Mini Cooper at which it is so clearly aimed. There’s a lot of plastic appliqué in here, not much cohesion and I gave up trying to bend the new touch screen to my will.

I expected nothing of it on the road, because I found its predecessors so insipid. Happily, then, the new engine brings much needed character: it has some lag as you might expect from such a small engine, but its performance feels better than the numbers suggest and it’s quiet when you want and pleasantly fizzy when you don’t.

Most of all the car responds well to having a little less weight in its nose. Having never felt anything other than a professional duty to drive any DS quickly, I found myself hoping that pockets of traffic would clear so I would be able to squirt it through some bends. In such an environment, it was fun and didn’t annoy at all.

But we should not get carried away. Looks aside, a Mini Cooper is a better bet to anyone who enjoys driving. It’s quite a lot quicker and more entertaining even than this. Nevertheless, if you like the look of the DS, the reality of driving it almost certainly won’t disappoint so long as you choose the new 1.2 turbo. And for DS, that’s proper progress.

For Citroën – or DS I should say – bigger challenges remain. The DS3 was always the best of the breed even when there was no space between its letters and digit. The DS4 had remarkably little to commend it to anyone other than a fashion victim, while the DS5 threw away a potentially winning hand by being equipped with the worst ride quality of any alleged luxury car that I have driven.

But I wish the DS 3 well. I don’t really care whether it’s a marque or a model, it is another substantial improvement from Citroën, a company that seems slowly to be finding its appetite for making interesting cars again. The step might be small, but it’s unquestionably in the right direction.