DS’s decision to re-introduce a hot hatch at the peak of its three-car range in 2016 was met with much excitement, not least because car’s predecessor – Citroen’s DS3 Racing – had given the likes of Renault’s Clio 200 and Mini’s Cooper S a fair run for their money. Quick, good looking and unashamedly French, the limited-run Racing was arguably only held back by its £23,100 price, a figure so great that in 2020 it equates to more than £29k. For a three-door supermini.
The DS 3 Performance was different, though, firstly because its DS bonnet badge implied a change of image, and, at £20,495 in 2016, it was better-priced, too (the two-tone Performance Black pictured here cost £2.5k more). There were other things going for it, too, including the fact that its arrival coincided with the facelifting of the DS 3 lineup, so the car wore glitzy new LED lighting and sat on snazzy 18-inch wheels with Brembo brakes, which set off the new roof spoiler and front splitter. The DS 3 was now in its seventh year of production, but with funky French design at its core, those few changes did wonders for the still-competitive supermini.
The power of the new THP 1.6-litre unit actually gave the car a class advantage, with the boosted four-pot producing 208hp out of the box and driving the front wheels through a six-speed manual and standard-fit limited-slip diff. At 1,175kg it wasn’t particularly porky, either, so performance befitted the name: 62mph came up in 6.5 seconds and top speed was 143mph. Compared to the Clio 200 Turbo – which had been dethroned thanks to its auto-only gearbox – and Fiesta ST, the DS seemed technically superior. And in purely aesthetic terms, it even squared up to the Mini’s Cooper S.
Well, it did externally anyway. The cabin, even in 2016, was a different matter. The fitment of a 7.0-inch central display screen with Apple CarPlay, along with standard inclusion of mod cons like cruise control and climate control meant it was equipped well enough for the time. But the dash design was clearly tied to the 2009 original, with the hard-plastic fascia and buttons looking (and feeling) very last decade by 2016. In contrast, the well-bolstered sports seats are right up there with the RS 200’s Recaros for effect and they’re mounted lower, too - even if taller drivers might find the wheel’s reach adjustment a little short.
The DS 3 Performance’s original power advantage is sufficient to ensure that it remains a front-runner even in comparison with 2020's class. Its kerbweight means that with 177hp per tonne it ranks 20hp/tonne ahead of the present three-pot Fiesta ST. The French car wins for torque, too, with 221lb ft from 3,000rpm meaning that even by today's measure it remains energetic. That front-axle diff and the factory-fit Michelin Pilot Super Sport boots are able to make best use of the motor’s keenness, so – like the old DS 3 Racing – the Performance gets up and goes as well as any.
Where the THP motor feels its age is in low speed operation. The DS unit has a more obvious step-change in performance than rivals, driven by what feels like a heavier reliance on high boost to produce those headline stats. At lower revs, the DS is a little laggy, making it difficult to smoothly operate in traffic - although you do learn to compensate with extra clutch slip and some determined use of the gear lever. There’s reward in the latter as the transmission is slick with a shortened throw and positive action through the gate; the process made all the more involving thanks to tightly stacked ratios.
This energy really does suit the whole package, because the three-door DS’s firmed-up chassis and relatively short wheelbase (just 2,452mm long) insists on being driven hard. The ride isn’t brittle but it’s definitely unyielding, while the cabin’s isn’t very spacious, particularly in the back - where no-one is likely to thank you for sitting over the back axle. But the wanton tautness does make it easy to get an inside rear wheel cocked with some speed and a flick of the wheel.
The steering is quick and light, too, adding to the sense of agility at all speeds. Moreover, with those 215mm-wide Super Sports and great body control under load, the Performance feels stable during high speed cornering so you can play with the balance using a trailed brake or lifted throttle. Find the right stretch of tarmac, ignore some of the very non-2020 rattle that tends to emanate from the very plastic dash and it’s a genuine riot, melding pace and playfulness with the sort of confidence that typically puts the fun into a familiar B road.
Most hot-looking DS 3s on Britain’s roads are actually Performance Line models wearing sporty trim but using run-of-the-mill engines. The number of proper Performances available is, to be frank, tiny, which is frustrating should you be in the market for one - but obviously a major plus if you own one. Comparative rarity is certainly not something the DS 3 Performance’s rivals can claim, which probably adds to the appeal somewhat – if you discount the fact that the high volume of Performance Line models will leave most convinced that your car is a sheep in wolf’s clothing. That’s not unique to the DS, though, thanks to the likes of Ford’s ST-Line.
If you manage to source a genuine DS 3 Performance, however, the pound for pound value in entertainment terms is really rather high. True, they don’t hold their actual values particularly well - so £10,000 can buy you a well-kept, sub-40,000-mile example (you can almost half that for the earlier Citroen DS 3 Racing). Used Mk7 Fiesta STs, despite being considerably more common, are no cheaper, while Mini Cooper Ss tend to rank just above them. DS 3 Performances aren’t especially pricey to run, either, with 40mpg achievable on a motorway run and economy in the low 30s around town, so long as you resist embracing that punchy boost, that is. Of the pricey consumables will inevitably include the boots; today’s performance-equivalent Michelin PS4 cost about £125 per corner.
The DS 3 Performance brings a lot to the table, though, with a feisty character and funky looks to that outweigh its lack of practicality and low-speed operation. As a drivers’ option, it really does feel rewarding - so long as you can ignore the Clio 200-shaped elephant in the room, which outguns the DS in both flair and finesse. They’re available for seven grand or less, but sales ended in 2012, so the 200’s less popular (and circa-£11k) turbocharged predecessor is more relevant here and as such, it leaves the DS with breathing room. That doesn't make it perfect by any stretch, but there's definitely merit to tracking one down.
SPECIFICATION | DS 3 PERFORMANCE
Engine: 1,598cc, four-cylinder turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive, limited-slip differential
Power (hp): 208@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 221@3,000rpm
Top speed: 143mph
MPG: 52.3 (NEDC)
CO2: 125g/km (NEDC)
Price new: £22,495
Price now: c. £10,000
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