Citroen DS3 review

imageCitroën’s latest DS3 might be one model too many, says Neil Lyndon.

I am walking through a prosperous town in the south-east of England early on a Saturday evening. The young groovers are beginning to come out for their larks. A new Mini passes on the street, driven by a young man with a girl in the passenger seat. On the tail of the Mini comes an almost identical couple in a new Citroën DS3.

The second car makes the first look as out-of-date as if its occupants were wearing Bay City Roller braces. Suddenly, the car that has been the epitome of contemporary chic for the last 10 years is mercilessly exposed as old hat.

Two cheers deserve to be raised for this development. One: for the triumph of the exuberantly modern in the DS3 over the self-consciously retro cynicism of the Mini. Two: for the return to Citroën of positive élan in design. We’ll hold the third cheer until Citroën produces a car with technical advances to match the brio of the DS3’s styling. Instead, as witness the new DS3 Ultra Prestige, they are in danger of skipping buoyantly into self-parody.

The first appearance of the DS3 in 2009 was a proper bouleversement, as they say in automotive circles. Named after the immortal DS of the Fifties, the DS3 made no attempt to emulate the technical and design excellence in that unique car. Instead the DS3 was a new departure for Citroën – a car that was unashamedly intended to be a fashion accessory.

For at least 20 bleak years, Citroëns had been drearily designed and shoddily built. The DS3 emerged like a ray of sunshine. It may have been nothing more than a rebodied C3 supermini, but the energy and originality poured into that body made it dazzlingly outshine its competition.

A range of contrasting roof colours, stickers and an array of dashboard colours made choosing your style of DS3 like sorting out jelly beans from a giant jar. Leather upholstered seats, piano-black lacquered surfaces and fake suede inserts jostled together inside the car to form a combination as studiedly fashionable as a 17 year-old’s Saturday night ensemble.

Prices started at less than £12,000, which aimed a fatal dart at Mini’s heart, but then came the DS3 Racing, so sure of itself that Citroën didn’t even bother to price it lower than a comparable Mini. They knew it blew Mini away, even though it used the same engine as the Mini Cooper S JCW.

Drawing on Citroën’s long run of success in the World Rally Championship, the 205bhp DS3 Racing was the most powerful hatchback the company had ever produced. Its suspension and ride had also been tweaked to startling effect by Citroën’s racing division so that, instead of offering a form of transport like the motorised knuckle-duster it resembled, it actually drove with good manners and outlaw gusto.

Now comes the DS3 Ultra Prestige – at which point we have to say to Citroën “This has all been terrific fun but perhaps you’re taking it a little too far?”

The Ultra Prestige is to the original DS3 what that Essex girl Chantelle is to Cheryl Cole. You can see the connection. It’s obvious that they share the same origins and attitudes. Yet one teeters just on the edge of tasteful restraint while the other goes completely over the top.

The leather seats on the Ultra Prestige shade from white to black like the raccoon dye on an Essex girl’s hair. Its white leather dashboard is like the buffers around her dressing table.

It all goes to show that there’s a perilously thin division between being a desirable accessory and looking like a joke.

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