2016 DS 3 Performance review
Our Rating

3.5/5

2016 DS 3 Performance review

The first proper hot hatch from DS Automobiles since it launched as its own entity, the DS 3 Performance features an attractive list of winning ingredients like a powerful engine, sports suspension and wickedly aggressive looks.

DS enters the hot hatch market with a blistering version of the DS 3

Introduction

If you’re a hot hatch aficionado, you might remember that a few years ago Citroen made a hardcore version of the DS 3 called the DS 3 Racing. Inspired by R3-spec rally cars, it was a brutal little thing but unfortunately short lived.

Half a decade later and DS has decided to dust off the blueprints, bringing its new DS 3 Performance to market earlier this year – available either as a hatch or a convertible and as a full production model no less.

It’s a bit more subtle than the orange-on-black Racing model, but it’s still a proper little monster with a ground-hugging stance and 18-inch alloys, carbon fibre side mouldings and a twin-exit tailpipe, along with the option of a matte black paintjob of brushed gold detailing.

Although it isn’t as obviously lairy as a Ford Focus RS or Mercedes A45 AMG, it’s sporty and assertive in its own way, a more fashionable approach to B-road blitzkrieg than many other hot hatches. But does DS’ haute couture for the roadways attitude translate to ‘haute moteur’?

Performance

Performance Rating = 4/5

Power for the DS 3 Performance comes from the same peachy 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that’s appeared in various states of tune in several fast Peugeots recently.

It’s got fairly good pedigree behind it then, and it’s powerful too: in the DS it makes 205bhp and 300Nm of torque. There’s more power than you’d get in a Golf GTi, a MINI Cooper S or a Fiesta ST then, while maximum power doesn’t kick in until 6,000rpm, making it surprisingly revvy for a turbo engine.

Fitted with a six-speed manual gearbox with shortened gear ratios, it revs linearly and aggressively up to the limiter, with 0-62mph taking just 6.5 seconds and it’ll run all the way to 143mph if you show it enough tarmac.

The fact it comes with a Torsen limited slip differential placed between the front wheels also means there’s not a sniff of torque steer or traction loss to be found even when you’re properly giving it the beans, and at all times it feels well sorted and decently quick.

Throttle response is really good for a turbo car with little to no lag to speak of either, though our one real complaint is that it’s not a particularly characterful engine. The exhaust note sounds good on cold starts and when you’re blipping the throttle, but it fails to reach any real crescendo higher up in the rev range and just sounds a bit flat throughout.

Make no mistake, this is a quick car but delivers its turn of pace effectively though with no real flair. The shortened gearing also means it can bang into the limiter harder and more quickly than you’d expect, like when you are mid-way through an overtake on the motorway.

Ride and Handling

There’s absolutely loads of grip with the car feeling at ease even when you’re chucking it in hard.

Ride and Handling Rating = 3.5/5

There’s no doubting that DS is taking the car seriously though: this is no puffed-up DS 3 with a simple paintjob and some half-baked attempts at making it go a bit faster. It sits close to the ground on sport suspension that’s been lowered by 15mm, while track has been increased by a full 26mm at the front and 14mm at the rear.

It’s a squat, beefy little monster, and its impressive list of performance tweaks also includes the limited slip differential we mentioned earlier, along with big Brembo brakes and Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber stretched paper thin over the steamroller-sized alloys.

As you might expect, there’s absolutely loads of grip with the car feeling at ease even when you’re chucking it in hard, the steering has a nice weight to it as well and the car feels precise and well balanced even when you’re caning it hard.

Tip it into a tight corner quickly and you can feel the front diff work its magic, hooking the front end around and allowing you to reapply the power early and shoot off towards the next horizon.

DS claims that the car is meant to be a bit more ‘everyday’ than other hot hatches with damper settings, spring rates and a steering setup supposed to reflect this, and while it’s not as hyper-stiff as something like the Civic Type R, hit a bad patch of tarmac and the ride is decidedly on the “OOF!” side of the fence.

Refinement is an issue therefore, with lots of noise in the cabin from the wind and the road, while the shortened gears means the car sounds boomy when you’re just mooching up a dual carriageway or a motorway.

The clutch is a little high and a little light, while the Brembos are incredibly effective at scrubbing off speed but bite so sharply that they’re difficult to apply smoothly when you’re approaching a braking zone at full pelt.

It’s a bit of a mixed bag then, but the one major problem that we have with the car is that it just doesn’t feel all that fun. It’s controlled and fast enough to snap knicker elastic, but in a way that’s almost it: it’s just fast.

Hot hatches, French hot hatches in particular, are meant to be fun more than anything else, but to us the DS 3 Performance just doesn’t feel as immediate, as lively or ultimately as enjoyable at full lick as something like a Fiesta ST or Cooper S.

Did you know?

The DS name has different meanings in English and French: in English it stands for ‘Different Spirit’, while in French it’s pronounced déesse and means ‘goddess’.

Interior and Equipment

Interior and Equipment Rating = 3.5/5

With a pair of high-backed and imposing bucket seats, even if you don't have a clue about cars will be able to tell that the DS 3 Performance is something a bit more sinister than your average hatch.

The seats cement you in place well, are comfortable and don’t cut into your blind spot in the same way that some other bucket seats do, but they do take up quite a bit of room and make it hard for passengers to clamber in and out of the back.

Visibility as a whole isn’t great in the cabin either and the driving position feels slightly awkward, while head and legroom in the rear in particular is pretty tight as well.

Aside from that, the interior is otherwise pretty much standard DS 3, right down to the integrated air fresheners on the dashboard, though some might find the gold dash a bit overkill. Equipment includes a new seven-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay, automatic lights and wipers plus a reversing camera.

Sat-nav is a costly extra for anybody who wants it though, as you’ll either have to fork out £1,000 for the GT Pack or buy the range-topping Performance Black model. There are a couple of slightly odd ergonomic quirks to the DS 3 as well, with slightly awkwardly positioned controls, no cupholders in the front and a tiny glovebox.

The boot does at least make up for the cars lack of space with 285 litres, which is bigger than many rivals like the Audi S1 and the MINI Cooper S. Fold the rear seats down and luggage space increases to 980 litres, which makes it one of the most practical boots in a car of this size and type.

Cost

DS claims that the car can return up to 52.3mpg with just 125g/km of CO2, making it one of the most efficient hot hatches around.

Cost Rating = 3.5/5

The DS 3 Performance is priced from £21,490 while the Performance Black trim starts from £22,995. It’s a little pricier than rivals like the Fiesta ST and Cooper S which undercut it significantly, but it is cheaper than cars like the Audi S1, though the S1 has more power and four-wheel drive.

However, DS claims that the car can return up to 52.3mpg with just 125g/km of CO2, making it one of the most efficient hot hatches around, on paper at least. Truthfully we managed to coax only 35.7mpg from it, but then we were driving it rather, err, spiritedly.

Our Verdict

A beefed-up hot hatch that looks this cool and which goes this tenaciously is surely a recipe for success in our book, and yet we can’t quite escape the niggling feeling that the DS 3 Performance has something missing.

Aesthetically, mechanically and functionally it’s all there, but there’s a chuckability – that joie de vivre – which the greatest hot hatches exude, but that this one just doesn’t seem to.

It can’t compete with the best in its class and serious drivers might therefore walk away slightly disappointed, but in spite of that, if you’re in the market for a car that is as gorgeous to look at as it is rapid, then there’s still plenty to like about it.

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