(Pocket-lint) - In a world obsessed with the cult of retro, the Citroen DS3 stands out against the likes of the Fiat 500 and Mini. Its looks would make even Marty McFly do a double take, with a futuristic design that is as eye-catching as it is functional.
You see the DS3, for all its gimmicks, is a quality car both inside and out. It is not without its foibles and quirks, but Citroen has a proper top-notch super-mini on its hands with the DS3. Now it comes in cabriolet form, ready to take on Fiat and Mini’s similar offerings.
The looks of the DS3 cabriolet might not be for everyone. They are certainly different from anything else that's out there. We absolutely love them, but can understand why others might prefer more straightforward offerings. Don’t forget either that the more unusual car designs tend not to age quite so well - take the Ford Ka, for example.
Still, from the outside, the DS3 has more design talking points than most. On the rear is a set of clever infinity mirror lights. A highlight on the vehicle, when lit up at night they look as if they travel the whole way through the car. Those lights have a tiny silver DS logo mounted on each and just above them, a chrome strip separates the roof from the boot.
It is a car you can explore, noticing different bits and pieces every time you walk over to unlock it and hop in. Just a note on colour schemes, which are highly customisable with the DS3: the 155 DSport cabriolet model we tested came in purple and silver, which is okay for some. But we did spot a few yellow and black-and-white and black models at a recent Citroen press day. We suggest opting for those.
Inside, the DS3’s outlandish approach to things continues, but never to the detriment of quality. It is a pricier car in cabriolet form than a lot of the Minis and Fiats, but build quality is a touch better. Compared to the Fiat 500, where there is lots of plastic to give away its price bracket, the DS3 hides most of that in places you wouldn’t normally spot.
We like the colour-matched plastic strip that runs along the dash, as well as the easy to read speedometer and spots of leather on the doors, if you go for that option. The roof is nicely put together and all the controls have a satisfying weight to them that gives the impression of durability.
A special hat tip has to go the the DS3’s front-mounted LEDs which come as standard on both the cabrio and the conventional hatchback. They look like the gun Batman carries about in The Dark Knight Rises, which is definitely not a bad thing. In fact, spotting the DS3 zip past at night with those LEDs lit, it certainly catches your eye, even if it does have a purple roof.
The driving position on the DS3 Cabrio is pretty good. Seats are nicely supportive with plenty of room on the headrest and a decent amount of side bolstering, should you fancy giving the thing a throw about a B-road.
The car has nice big mirrors, which is great because, when you have the roof the whole way down, rear visibility becomes zero. Parking sensors do come as standard, which should save you from the odd reversing mishap, but really it's just a lot easier to drive with the roof at three-quarters open.
We found the brakes on the DSport model we tested particularly impressive. Given they aren’t Brembo branded or any of the other usual uprated systems you find on a hot hatch, they certainly stop the thing nicely.
Steering has a serious lack of feel to it, but not necessarily to the car's detriment. If you are opting for a range-topping DSport expecting it to drive like a hot hatch, it won't. This is a car geared to the city, with nice floaty suspension that will smooth out roads and a steering rack that makes slo- speed manoeuvres a doddle.
We do feel slightly that the DS3 Cabrio’s gearbox and clutch could benefit from just a little more feel. They are fantastic to use in traffic, with a nice. long first gear so you aren’t shifting up and down all the time, but each gear needs more of a notch to it, just so you know you have it in the right one.
Inside the DS3 Cabrio we tested was a turbo-charged 155hp 1.6 litre petrol. There is a cheaper VTi 120hp petrol for £17,425 as well as a 82hp for £15,045. Of the three, the mid-ranger strikes us as the one to go for: £19,675 is a lot to pay for a three-door cabrio and while the engine has some fun to it, don’t expect hot hatch levels of performance, those are reserved for the DS3 Racing.
What we will say, is that the 1.6 litre petrol we tested absolutely loved to be revved. The engine had a nice bit of turbo kick to it around 3000rpm, which certainly makes it more fun when driving it hard. The problem is that the loose steering feel means you don’t quite have the feedback from the road to blast the car about safely.
Either way, the engine is definitely strong, makes a good exhaust note and ensures the car pulls plenty if you give it a bit of gas. Reliability has been an issue in the past with Citroen but so far no major problems have been recorded with the DS3. It seems to us like this little 1.6 is a bit of a corker.
At around £2,600 more than the normal DS3, the cabriolet needs to add something special to the drive to justify the cost. For the most part, it does. None of the handling is gone and buffeting is kept to a bare minimum via a wind deflector. In fact, short of just opening the roof when you fancy it, the DS3 Cabrio behaves very much the same as the normal hatchback, which is a good thing.
It also has one serious trick up its sleeve, in that you can close and open the roof to the car at up to 75mph. Should you hit a summer shower on the motorway, this could mean the difference between a soaked interior and a dry drive home. It works too - we tested it. No other cabriolet can come close to that sort of speed for opening and closing.
The boot might be an issue for some, as it opens differently than the conventional DS3. The small aperture left for putting away your shopping could cause issues for some, but its a minor niggle and something we don’t expect would become a big issue during ownership.
Cleverly, no space is lost because of the roof, so you still get 245 litres of space to play with. Plenty on a car of this size. So if you want a cabrio and don’t mind the added cost, the DS3 could be the right choice.
For the money, the DS3 Cabrio in range-topping form is just a touch too expensive. Go for the mid ranger however and you have a really fun car on your hands. It definitely has things covered in the looks and quality department, while that 75mph closing roof is a real party trick.
The handling and ride is also perfectly suited to city types, so if you fancy something to cruise about town with the top down this Summer, then this could be the car for you.
Whether it compares to the Mini or the Fiat comes down to choice. If you like the look of the 500, then save some cash and go for the 500C - it doesn't quite match the DS3 in build but certainly has the personality. As for the Mini, that is a much less-unrefined experience, with more direct handling but without the laidback approach of the DS3. In the end it comes down to what you want from your driving experience.
A second-hand convertible Cooper S will keep the boy racer happy, but then the refinement on long journeys might be an issue. Saving cash on the 500C could mean you can splash out elsewhere, or alternatively, if you fancy a decent cabriolet cruiser, which is easy to drive, the DS3 Cabriolet is for you.