By James Wong
So this website’s supposed to be all about driver’s cars, right? What is a Citroen doing here, you may ask. It’s traditionally not known to be a sporty brand, instead more well-understood whenever it is mentioned with ‘air suspension’ and a floaty ride.
However, we don’t feature just any car. This particular DS3 is endowed with the Prince motor, also found in the R56 MCS as well as the Peugeot RCZ and the new BMW 118i. It’s a malleable engine that also happens to produce a rather exciting 154bhp/ 240Nm. Citroen has worked hard to make sure this car drives well, which is made all the more delightful when Cycle & Carriage Singapore decided to bring in the 1.6 THP model with a 6-speed manual gearbox. Surely, these are all ingredients for a hot hatch – something that surely qualifies to be on our pages.
The interior is wonderfully trimmed, comfortable and cossetting, although – I quote – it is a little like a designer handbag. Never mind that the gear knob is dark purple too, because it feels positive slotting in and out of its evenly spaced gear ratios. Acceleration is surprising, the engine giving a particularly strong punch between 2,000rpm and 3,500rpm before tapering off sharply in the top-end. It’s no point bringing this motor to its redline – you can drive more efficiently by riding on its torque wave and changing gear before it gets too tinny. A couple of blips and the engine betrays none of its turbocharged roots; in fact, it sounds and feels naturally aspirated and is very linear. No irritating sudden surges of power here.
The chassis feels whole and supple, delivering confidence on low to medium speed corners and a reassuring steering helps, too. However, the car’s handling limits are rather low as the body rolls quite considerably before you decide to go any faster and besides, by that stage the rear tyres are already chirping, signalling their grip limits. This is not a car you will be lighting up the track in, that is for sure.
What’s certain though is that the car is fun to drive, notwithstanding its rather excessive body roll at high speed. The engine and gearbox are a great combination (perhaps with a too high a clutch position) and it is easy to find the car’s limits. Consequently, you know when they are exceeded and when you can exceed them.
That said, is it a true hot hatch, taking into account of all of the legendary French hatches like the 205 GTI? No. Modernity has killed the high levels of fun you can have in the older cars. Things like lift-off oversteer is not easily accomplished in the DS3, which to be fair, happens to be fun for enthusiasts but a death keel for unknowing drivers. Safety regulations and more cushy limits ensure that we won’t see the ease of extreme handling in front drivers any time soon. Instead, they are likely to be more comfortable, practical, safe and powerful – not Lenspeed’s ideals.
Still, if you’re looking for a capable modern hatch with a manual twist, this is an interesting alternative. Just don’t try selling it in the next 5 years or so. You’re likely to need a comfortable chair to nurse your shock in doing so.
See our video review on this car here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HjquxR7D5Ug
Thank you to Gerald Yuen for allowing me to drive his vehicle.