Citroen DS3

Quirky hatch gets the drivetrain it deserves

PETER ROBINSON

FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE

HALF of all first-generation DS3s sold in this country were automatics. Yet, when Citroen Australia learned the recently facelifted model retained the ancient four-speeder, it decided to wait, knowing that a six-speeder was in the pipeline.

Shrewd decision.

The new automatic brings essentially the same seamless PSA turbo-triple drivetrain (here with 81kW, not 96kW) that so impressed the Wheels COTY judges in the Peugeot 308.

While the old 88kW 1.6-litre four-speed auto delivered 6.7L/100km, the new 1.2-litre turbo – on sale early in 2016 – slashes this to 4.7L/100km. And, despite the lower power output, it rips a full second from the 0-100km/h time to 9.9sec.

Now the question is, does the company wait for another restyle that transforms the DS3 from a Citroen to the new DS brand, or launch it as an entry-level Citroen? We know the transformation of the DS4 happens at the Frankfurt show in September, and it’s logical for the revised DS3 to arrive at the same time. For now, nobody is saying.

Citroen Australia wants to launch the DS brand with as many models as possible – ideally DS 3, 4 and 5 – early next year and, given the inevitability of the switch, it makes no sense to introduce the DS3 auto as a Citroen, then relaunch just months later as a DS.

But enough of that; let’s see how it drives.

The new EAT6 transmission is a huge improvement over the old ’box, offering 40 percent quicker shifts to really exploit the turbo triple’s broad spread of power, with max torque from just 1500rpm. A Sport setting sharpens responses, though there are no steering wheel paddles to enhance the fun.

The handling remains agile and entertaining, with tight body control, while the steering is quick and precise, with decent feedback and even a hint of front-drive tuck-in if you lift off through a corner. The ride, too, is impressive given the quality of the handling.

You sit a long way back from the windscreen and the pedals are offset, which makes the driving position feel slightly awkward.

The dash layout is user-friendly, though the column-mounted controls for the audio and cruise functions are hidden behind the steering wheel.

Compared with younger rivals such as the Audi A1 and Mini Cooper, the DS3 is beginning to show its five-year age in the quality of interior materials and design. However, adding a decent automatic, combined with the delights of PSA’s wondrous triple, adds a new dimension to the DS3’s appeal and easily extends the model’s lifecycle until the newgeneration car arrives in 2018.

PLUS & MINUS

Cheap interior materials; needs to be priced under $30,000 Elegant drivetrain; still-funky looks; impressive ride; poised handling

Can we have a manual? Please?

IF THE new-drivetrain DS3 brings an excellent six-speed automatic, why not offer the triple in manual form at an entry-level price? It’s a possibility, says Citroen, though far less significant to the success of the model than the launch of the automatic.

If it comes down to manual or auto, but not both, there’s really no choice but the two-pedal option.