DS 3 review: for all its good points, this likeable crossover isn’t classy enough
It’s not called the Crossback any more. That’s probably the most exciting thing to reveal about the new DS 3, which has been shorn of part of its name to enable it to better sit beneath the larger 4, 7 and 9 in Stellantis’s “French luxury” brand.
The logic is simple: no longer is there a 3 hatchback, from which DS needs to differentiate this small crossover, which shares many of its mechanicals with its Peugeot 2008 and Vauxhall Mokka stablemates.
The trouble is, while the original DS 3 was a strong seller, DS has had a tough job of getting buyers interested in this SUV version; sales have not been as strong as those of the 2008 or Mokka.
So this mid-life facelift is charged with giving sales a fillip. With that in mind, you might have expected some dramatic, headline-grabbing changes yet the revisions are minimal: a few cosmetic tweaks around the front bumper and rear lights, and some detail changes to specification. Is it enough?
Enjoyable to drive
Good ride quality
Some nice interior materials
Cramped in the back and boot
Some nasty interior materials
If you need confirmation that DS is feeling the need to draw attention to itself, you need only look at the posterior of the 3, where the addition of new lettering beneath the rear screen means the boot lid now features the paired letters D and S no fewer than three times.
However, for one member of the DS 3 range, the changes run more than skin deep: the electric E-Tense version is the first Stellantis model to get the conglomerate’s upgraded battery and electric motor, which will later filter through to other models.
Power is therefore up from 134bhp to 153bhp, and as the result of an increase in usable battery size to 51kWh from 46kWh, as well as a series of efficiency savings elsewhere, range increases by 38 miles to 250 miles.
Gone is the diesel alternative, which means if you don’t want an electric powertrain in your DS, you’ll have to opt for one of the petrol models instead – though that’s no great hardship, as both are powered by the 1.2-litre three-cylinder we already know and rather like, here in 100bhp and 129bhp forms, with the mated as standard to an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
The range now starts off with the Performance Line, which has a pseudo-sporty feel slightly at odds with DS’s stated aims of boutique luxury and comfort. Performance Line Plus adds a bit more equipment, before you get to the Rivoli and Opera, which feature more leather and chrome.
The differences between these models encompass not so much equipment as interior ambience, which means even the most basic Performance Line is pretty well equipped; there are great swathes of faux suede, a 10-inch touchscreen, keyless entry, LED lights and cruise control.
Upgrading to the Plus gets you satellite navigation, carpet mats and an advanced traction control system that makes life easier in mud and snow; RIvoli swaps the faux suede for leather, while Opera adds heated massage seats in DS’s now-trademark “watch strap”-effect leather upholstery.
Cost of living
The base model is just under £26,000 which is about what you’ll pay for a similarly specified Mokka, which doesn’t sound bad given that the DS is supposedly a premium alternative
However, it’s worth noting that it’s a pretty steep – £3,000, to be precise – clamber from the 100bhp base model to the 129bhp version. This puts the latter in direct contention with the equivalent Audi Q2 and renders it only £1,500 less costly than the equivalent Mini Countryman. And that feels… punchy.
Having said that, the DS costs less to finance or lease than either the Countryman or the Q2, and about the same as its Peugeot 2008 platform-mate. So if, as most new car buyers do, that’s how you’re financing it, the 3 makes sense there.
First impressions are good when you climb aboard. The interior design, with its heavy reliance on a diamond motif, is unusual and eye-catching. Look a little closer, though, and there are issues – the main one being that this all-encompassing aesthetic comes at the expense of usability.
Take the window switches. They’re located on each side of the gear shifter – where they used to be on BMWs in the 1990s. That’s no longer the case, because BMW realised that mounting them on the door like everyone else is more intuitive and makes them easier to use on the move.
DS has eschewed this logic, however, and bunged the switches into a panel down by your left leg, along with several other switches of an identical design, one that’s so ornate it leaves barely any room for the tiny icons. So you can’t avoid taking your eyes off the road to work out which switch is which.
It’s the same with the main control panel below the touchscreen. This consists of five interlocking diamonds (OK, for all you pedants, five squares tilted at 45 degrees), two of which are air vents. The remaining three are divided into four sections and each of these is a touchpad that controls a function of the car or a shortcut for the infotainment screen.
Question of quality
Unfortunately these are all quite slow to respond, and need a long press to get them to do anything. And because there’s no haptic or aural feedback, you’re never quite sure if what you’ve pressed has had any effect, so these can end up distracting you from looking where you’re going for far too long.
The same can be said of the infotainment system itself. The screen has grown to 10.3 inches and – praise be – you can now adjust the interior temperature from whichever screen you’re looking at, without having to delve into the menus.
But this is still a system that feels as though it’s been specified with the absolute bare minimum of memory; it’s laggy and slow to respond, made worse by the fact that, as with the latest Peugeot & Citroën systems (of which it is basically a re-skin) it features superficial, long-winded animations that not only use up what little memory there is, but mean every change of menu screen or bit of data entry takes just that little bit longer.
Quality throughout the rest of the interior is a bit patchy, too. That big swathe of upholstery that spans the dashboard is good, for example, and what switchgear there is feels hefty and chunky to use.
But allow your eyes – and hands – to roam further down and you’ll find cheap, scratchy plastics of the exact same type you’ll also see in several Citroën models; what’s worse is that DS has opted to use these plastics along the doors, where your hand brushes against them as you reach for the door handle (which is also made of rather tacky plastic).
That isn’t the only area in which the DS 3 disappoints. In the front there’s a reasonable amount of space, although you won’t exactly feel as though there’s room to spare. In the back, though, things become truly cramped, with a shortage of knee room that forces taller drivers to sit with their legs splayed.
The small door aperture will make it hard to load children into bulky child seats, too, and once they’re in there won’t be all that much room for their stuff in the rather meagre 350-litre boot; you get 405 and 450 litres in the Q2 and Countryman respectively, and 434 litres even in the supposedly more proletarian 2008.
All of this is rather a pity, because the 3 is quite likeable on the road. The steering is light and a little over-assisted, but it is at least direct; turn-in is crisp, there’s plenty of grip and the body is well controlled, with little in the way of lean.
And while the sight of such large wheels might instil fear of a crashing ride, it is actually pretty good; the suspension has plenty of finesse and manages to damp out all but the worst bumps, even doing a good job of rounding off rougher, sharper pothole edges.
As well as the more potent petrol engine, I also tried the new, updated electric motor. The latter generates little in the way of motor whine, while the accelerator pedal and brakes are well-worked and progressive.
The extra power of the motor is only really noticeable if you’ve just stepped out of the previous DS 3 E-Tense, but that’s no bad thing because this was never intended to be an electric hot hatch; instead, it offers just a bit more vim to help you keep up with traffic.
What’s more, because the battery is comparatively light, the new E-Tense doesn’t feel heavy and clomping compared with its internal combustion counterpart; it rides almost as well, and handles barely any differently.
The petrol car is still slightly sweeter to drive though; the 3 is small enough that a 1.2-litre engine doesn’t feel overwhelmed (unlike in the larger Peugeot 408) and consequently there’s plenty of mid-range urge so the gearbox doesn’t have to work too hard.
But while vibration is far better damped than in some other applications, the three-cylinder engine’s all-too-audible trill makes the 3 feel a bit too much like an ordinary supermini and less the premium SUV that DS would like you to believe.
The Telegraph verdict
And that, really, is the DS 3’s problem throughout. It’s thoroughly likeable to drive, and in electric form it now has a decent range with good performance to go with the eye-catching design.
But it’s hard to work out what you get over and above (and for much less cash) than a Mokka or a 2008. The 3 still feels too much like its stablemates, albeit with a layer of fancy make-up slathered on in a Parisian boutique in order to try and persuade you to part with more cash. Its premium rivals, by contrast, feel like the real deal, while not costing that much more; they’re roomier and easier to live with, too.
Playing it safe has done DS no favours here, then. Because for all its good points, the 3 is still difficult to recommend as an alternative, either to one of the more upmarket competitors it is priced against or to the mainstream stablemates with which it is, in reality, more aligned.
On test: DS 3 1.2 PureTech 130 EAT8 Performance Line Plus
Body style: five-door SUV
On sale: now
How much? £30,500 on the road (range from £25,900)
How fast? 124mph, 0-62mph in 9.2sec
How economical? 46.3mpg (WLTP Combined)
Engine & gearbox: 1,199cc three-cylinder petrol engine, eight-speed automatic gearbox, front-wheel drive
Electric powertrain: N/A
Maximum power/torque: 129bhp/170lb ft
CO2 emissions: 135g/km (WLTP Combined)
VED: £255 first year, then £180
Warranty: 3 years / 60,000 miles
Spare wheel as standard: no (not available)
Audi Q2 Sport 35 TFSI S-Tronic
148bhp, 46.3mpg, £30,495 on the road
Not the greatest car in the world, but in this form the Q2 seems to make more sense than the DS 3. The interior is less stylish, but higher quality; rear space isn’t great, but it’s still better, and the boot is bigger. What’s more, for the same price you get 20bhp more, give or take, yet identical fuel consumption. All of which makes the Audi, unexpectedly, look better value.
Mini Countryman Cooper Sport
136bhp, 44.1mpg, £32,015 on the road
If you want a small, premium SUV that’s fun to drive, this is it – and given you get much more room inside (not to mention retro looks and a much more recognisable badge), you probably won’t begrudge the £1,500 price premium. Keep in mind, though, that the ride quality is rather firm – and the three-cylinder engine isn’t quite as fuel efficient as the DS’s.
Peugeot 2008 1.2 PureTech 130 Allure Premium Plus
128bhp, 48.5mpg, £28,695 on the road
By and large, this is the same as the 3 underneath, yet it’s roomier, more fuel efficient and this mid-range model is almost £2,000 less. You still have to suffer the same glitchy infotainment system – but at least here you aren’t paying quite so much for the privilege (and the 2008’s snazzy interior manages to be almost as upmarket as the DS’s, while also feeling less contrived)
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