A fine hot hatch from Citroen

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Citroen treks into uncharted territory with the extrovert DS3 Racing hot hatch. Andy Enright reports.

Ten Second Review

Citroen has a decent track record when it comes to fun hatches but, to date, there’s been one ingredient conspicuous by its absence: a decent dollop of power. But no longer. The DS3 Racing is a seriously potent hatch that combines flamboyant styling with a capable chassis and a 200bhp engine. The only downside is the limited availability.

Background

AX GT, BX GTI, Saxo VTS. Great up-tempo Citroen hatches all, but look at the power outputs. Just 85bhp, 120bhp, and 118bhp respectively meant that while they were huge fun to punt round a corner, when the road opened up, they would be left behind by rivals with a bit more heft to them. True, Citroen’s 167bhp Xsara VTS offered somewhat more shove but its lumpen styling never endeared it to the masses. But now Citroen has a properly potent hatch on its books in the impossible-to-ignore shape of the 204bhp DS3 Racing.

The Racing is based on the 154bhp DS3 1.6THP DSport which surprised more than a few by lifting the 2010 Top Gear ‘Car of The Year’ award, seeing off competition from both supercar and mainstream manufacturers including Jaguar, Bentley, Honda, Peugeot, Bugatti, Pagani and Koenigsegg to take the sought-after top spot. For a hot hatch, the DSport is a brilliant all-rounder, but the DS3 Racing ramps up the heat by several notches.

Driving Experience

The engine that powers the DS3 Racing has been been developed by Citroen in partnership with BMW and it’s a little gem, wearing its turbocharging so lightly that it feels like a bigger capacity normally-aspirated motor. You may have tried a version of it already if you’ve driven the MINI Cooper S or the Peugeot 207 GTI and it’s probably the best small capacity petrol engine around at the moment. Plumbed into the snub nose of the DS3 Racing, it propels it from rest to 60mph in just 6.3 seconds which puts its performance firmly in the first division for affordable hot hatches. Maximum torque also steps up from 240Nm to 275Nm and is available over a wider range to improve acceleration and engine flexibility.

Get under the DS3 Racing’s skin and you’ll find bespoke suspension settings and dampers, front and rear tracks widened by 30mm and the ride height dropped by 15mm to give it a hunkered down stance. Braking has also been uprated, with four-piston callipers acting on higher spec discs at the front. A switchable ESP stability control system gives enthusiastic drivers more room for manoeuvre. Superb damping and a noticeable lack of torque steer are further dynamic high spots.

Design and Build

It’s fair to say that if you like your fast hatches stealthy, avoid the DS3 Racing and buy a Golf GTi instead. There are two look-at-me colour schemes and that’s it, one with a pearlescent Obsidian Black body and a Sport Orange roof, while the other teams a Polar White body with a Carbon Grey roof. The orange or grey roof colours are matched to the alloy wheels, door mirrors, chevrons, grille surround, tailgate spoiler and dashboard trim. There are also carbon fibre components such as the rear diffuser, front bumper, side rubbing strips and wheel arch extensions. The interior has received the same shock treatment and gets carbon fibre inserts on the centre console, steering wheel and door cards. The look is finished off with ‘Citroen Racing’ logos on the doors and seats, and the DS3 Racing signature on the tailgate.

Those who haven’t driven a Citroen recently might well expect the interior to have all the structural integrity of a Christmas cracker, but the DS3 is very well screwed together. It’s not perfect, though, as the stereo and satellite navigation are

incredibly fiddly. Although legroom is OK, headroom is very restrictive for anyone on the taller side and the modest width of the rear bench means only two adults can really sit comfortably. The boot is 285 litres which is large for the supermini class

and the 60:40 split rear seats make it easy to extend that capacity in stages.

Market and Model

With 1500 enquiries arriving through Citroen’s website and only 200 right-hand drive destined for the UK’s shores, the DS3 Racing certainly isn’t going to be short of takers and nor should you expect any of Citroen’s usual discounting on the £23,100 list price. Yes, you did read that correctly. Given that a MINI Cooper S JCW retails at over £23,000, the DS3 Racing doesn’t look bad value at all. And if anyone should ask about the stage-ready livery, Citroen can draw upon a far more convincing recent rally development backstory for the car than the MINI can.

Standard equipment includes 18” alloy wheels, auto dimming mirrors, auto headlamps and wipers, rear parking sensors, DS3 sports seats and carbon fibre bits. There’s also automatic digital air conditioning, Bluetooth with USB connectivity and an eight-speaker stereo, an advanced ABS braking system and six airbags. The only options are the sat nav and the arguably OTT graphics.

Cost of Ownership

The 1.6 THP engine returns only 44.1mpg on the combined cycle but that isn’t bad going when this DS3’s performance is taken into account. Economy and the 149g/km CO2 emissions are both competitive against other superminis with similar levels of va-va-voom. The DS3 is also equipped with a gearshift indicator that prompts drivers to change gear at the opportune moment for best efficiency. Residual values should stack up well in the short term at least, given the DS3 Racing’s oversubscription.

Summary

The extrovert Citroen DS3 Racing is a fine hot hatch that has been given an enormous injection of charisma. Fortunately it’s not all mouth and no trousers. Citroen has taken a very long time to leverage its motorsport success but the DS3 Racing is a fitting tribute to the geniuses who have helped Sebastien Loeb to seven consecutive World Rally Championship titles. It’s a genuinely top drawer hot hatch, though maybe not one for those who want to keep a low profile.

The DS3 Racing is quick enough to worry serious sports cars and should also shake Renault out of its complacency. The Renaultsport Clio 200 has had its own way for a while in this division, but it looks as if it now has a real fight on its hands.

The Citroen is cut from very different cloth, offering the sort of turbocharged punch that aftermarket tuners will be queuing up to stiffen still further. Citroen has hit on a cracking formula with the DS3 Racing. Long may the winning streak continue.