The Citroen DS3R is hard to miss and impossible to ignore.
The orange roof, wheels, grille and dash align your expectations and contrast vividly with the black body; the R screams fast and fun. Which is handy, because that is exactly what it offers.
Citroen’s fastest version of their (already) very good DS3 boasts 207bhp courtesy of the firm’s competition division, Citroen Racing – hence the ‘R’. A spot of engine remapping and a bigger turbo – allied to a weight of only 1,250kgs – ensure that it feels quick, very quick.
The revised engine is epic. It’s flexible, powerful, and only obtrusive when you want it to be, allowing speed gains without fuss and yet you never forget that it is an ‘R’; quite a balancing trick to attempt and Citroen Racing have pulled it off with aplomb. Shame that homologation rules mean that they can only build 1,000 of them, of which the UK will get just 200.
The suspension is firm, but not filling-rattlingly so, and allows pinpoint accuracy, aided by wide 215/40 18 tyres on impressive alloy wheels. The damping is, quite simply, superb with the car remaining composed no matter what speed I cornered at; you’d have to be certifiably insane to lose control of it on public roads.
The DS3R costs a not inconsiderable £23,000 and you can feel a fair chunk of that has been spent on the dampers and springs; hatchback suspension just doesn’t get any better than this. Small surface irregularities are felt but rarely become a problem; harsh surface joins are apparent, but that’s the price you pay for authentic competition control.
It never quells the torque steer, though, which is of monumental proportions. 207bhp is a lot to feed through the front wheels, corrupted, as they are, by the need to steer as well. Some won’t mind this constant reminder of the torque that is available, but I found it wearing after a while and I’d have traded some of the urgency in the chassis for a bit more composure when accelerating hard out of bends.
The electric-power steering though, was excellent, allowing me to understand exactly what was happening at all times – even if I didn’t like what it was telling me on occasions, I appreciated its honesty and fidelity. A bit like the brakes, which did what I wanted them to time after time without complaint.
Inside it’s bright and sporty, with very supportive figure-hugging seats. It’s well screwed together too, unlike Citroens of old, and easy to get comfortable in. It’s got air conditioning, decent insulation, and a good CD player, so other than the garish orange strip on the dash there is little to complain about.
Environmentally the sporty Citroen does better than you might think; 44mpg and 150 gms/kg of CO2 is better than most and goes some way to assuaging any guilt that you might have felt with such a profligate purchase.
Profligate? Well, the DS3R is a discretionary purchase; no one needs a hatchback that will hit 62mph (100km/h) in a bit over 7 seconds and features rally-honed suspension, do they?
I wanted to dislike it, I really did, mainly because it was so loud. I thought that it wasn’t a car for a 40-something like me, but I was wrong. I’d have loved it twenty years ago and I love it now. My new-found maturity allowed me to appreciate the subtle nuances that the chassis was capable of without over-exploiting the engine. My licence was rarely in danger simply because it was so tactile and responsive at all speeds; there is no need to thrash the DS3R to enjoy driving it.
But, if you are biting the bullet and getting a super-hot hatch, what are the alternatives if the Citroen is a bit brash for you? The perennial Golf GTi is the safe, if dull, option, and the Mini Cooper S Works is a worthy challenger. The Renaultsport Megane 250 is the closest competitor, but I think that the little Citroen just has the edge over all of the competition.
And anyway, if it really is a bit too in-your-face, then it’s also available in a slightly more discreet white version, with dark grey replacing the orange.
Like: great suspension, eager engine, terrific handling
Dislike: torque steer, garish interior
Summary: a wonderful, fun car that isn’t flawless – but is the best of its class nonetheless and hugely rewarding. You’ll find yourself finding reasons to go out and drive it.