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Driven: DS 3 Performance. Image by DS.

Driven: DS 3 Performance
Is the DS 3 Performance a hidden gem of a hot hatchback?

 



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Driven: DS 3 Performance

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5

Good points: Distinctive looks, attractive interior, pace, a break from the norm

Not so good: Over-light steering, so-so damping, expensive, not as good as the 208 GTi with which it shares so much

Key Facts

Model tested: DS 3 Performance
Price: DS 3 Performance from 23,775
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: three-door hot hatch
CO2 emissions: 125g/km (160 first 12 months, 140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 52.3mpg
Top speed: 143mph
0-62mph: 6.5 seconds
Power: 208hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 300Nm at 3,000rpm

Our view:

It's a strange car, the DS 3 Performance. Originally a Citroen, the DS 3 became the first model to launch under the DS luxury offshoot. Although with the removal of the double chevrons and the addition of new lamp clusters, how much of a 'new' model it was is open to question. Irrespective, the DS 3 has been the most impressive modern vehicle to wear the evocative DS badge. So doing so little to it should preserve the car's enduring appeal.

The Performance version is the flagship, and it has great underpinnings to make the most of the Performance badge: underneath lurks the mechanical underpinnings of the Peugeot 208 GTi - one of our very favourite hot hatchbacks at any price. That means the DS 3 Performance has the 208hp 1.6-litre turbocharged THP petrol engine, a six-speed manual gearbox, a torque-sensing limited-slip differential, sports suspension with a wider track than a regular DS 3, 18-inch lightweight alloys and a mighty Brembo brake set-up.

It therefore has the tools in its armoury that would see a petrolhead drooling, and help it fly straight to the top of the B-segment hot hatch class - a domain inhabited by the 208 GTi and Ford Fiesta ST200, the Volkswagen Polo GTI, SEAT Ibiza Cupra and Renaultsport Clio 220 Trophy - and ruffle a few feathers. But it doesn't. Not by a long chalk. Allow us to explain why.

The DS 3 Performance certainly looks good, especially if you go for the striking Performance Black with its black and gold paintjob. There are no real complaints about the interior, either, which feels of a reasonably high quality and comes laden with kit; you pay an extra 2,070 for the Black over a regular Performance, and (apart from the paintwork) for that you get front parking sensors, a reversing camera, eMyWay satnav, an upgraded audio system and Active City Brake, on top of the already lengthy and pretty much comprehensive kit you'd get on the non-Black car. There's also 3D dials in the instrument cluster, a seven-inch touchscreen in the dash, and the climate control functions aren't lumped into said touchscreen, instead leaving the relevant switches on the console below the display.

The sporty bucket seats are oddly soft in the bolster department, and the ideal driving position never quite seems attainable. Also, the DS 3 Performance is saddled with an oversized and rather mundane steering wheel, despite its flattened-off bottom and carbon-effect trim, and it seems very cramped in terms of rear legroom. Seating four adults in here isn't going to be a cheerful experience.

Nevertheless, we think the Performance has more than enough showroom glitz to tempt in potential buyers, so presumably its links to the 208 GTi secure it a glowing recommendation in the dynamics department? Errr... no. The problem with the DS 3 is the confused ideology of its parent brand, and it's a dilemma we've grappled with before, which is this: is DS trying to be a luxury marque, or a sporty one? DS itself calls the Performance the 'ultimate distillation of power and refinement', which rather sets up your expectations of the car for a more cosseting hot hatch rather than a raw, seat-of-your-pants thrill ride in the mould of the Fiesta ST or the 208 GTi. But it fails to squarely hit the target in either the comfort or pace departments.

We have no idea what DS's in-house skunkworks has done to the suspension, but the Performance doesn't drive half as sweetly as the 208 GTi. The ride is too firm at all times, which leads to nervous skitter and bounce on poorer road surfaces, a trait exacerbated by the aggressive front diff and steering that's severely lacking in feel or weight (another area where the 208 GTi easily has the DS 3's measure). That doesn't make it the most adept of hot hatches, and sadly nor does it make it as luxurious in feel as the urbane Polo GTI when the roads smooth out. That tough damping ultimately makes for a cruiser that's a touch too fidgety for our liking.

The DS 3 is a strangely muted car, too, the exhaust blaring a little under hard acceleration and making a fairly malevolent noise on cold start-up, but it doesn't ever translate into a soundtrack that has the hairs on the back of your neck standing up. The DS 3 Performance is undoubtedly a composed little performer, yet as it doesn't quite scale the highest heights in any one discipline, it leaves us feeling a bit deflated.

There's a lot to like about it, of course, as we do think it looks great outside and in, it is stocked with toys and it's easy enough to drive on a daily basis, giving us back 33.9mpg across 115 miles in its company. That latter number speaks volumes, though, because although we could have driven the Performance further, we felt no real inclination to do so. This wouldn't be so bad were it not for the fact that, at 25,915, it's pretty much the costliest car in this segment - even more than a MINI John Cooper Works (excluding pricey options on the JCW, of course). Cripes, DS is being brassy with its pricing here.

It's not the only expensive Performance model, either, as the 25,655 BRM Chronographes is only 250 less. Wearing an inverse gold-with-a-black-roof paint scheme to the coffee-can look of the Performance Black, the BRM features no extra mechanical upgrades compared to the car we're driving, although it is strictly limited to just ten examples and all owners get a DS-branded BRM watch as part of the deal. Maybe that's enough to overlook the car's flaws when it the time comes to buy.

Nevertheless, for all this carping, we did like the DS 3 Performance, and it's clear to see it's the most impressive product by some distance in the DS marque's portfolio - sadly, that statement doesn't say an awful deal about the 208hp hot hatch, as the DS 4 and DS 5 models are considerably compromised machines. So while we do think the Performance is a decent motor and something a little bit different to the obvious performance supermini choices, we can't for the life of us work out why you'd plump for one instead of the far superior, and slightly cheaper, 208 GTi.

Alternatives:

Ford Fiesta ST200: Until the new Fiesta ST arrives next year, the limited run ST 200 is the pick of the supermini hot hatch class. Still has a stupidly firm ride, but the 200 delivers first-rate driving dynamics. The DS simply does not stand a chance.

Peugeot 208 GTi: Epic... and it's therefore extremely hard to understand what DS has done to it in the transition to the 3 Performance. Pug is near faultless, if a little pricey.

Renaultsport Clio 220 Trophy: Dieppe's hot hatch is substantially improved in 220 Trophy form but it's not as good as the Ford or Peugeot. Probably has the DS 3 Performance covered, though.


Matt Robinson - 29 Dec 2016









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