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If you want a premium small SUV that's a little different, this improved DS 3 model might fit the bill, thinks Jonathan Crouch.
Here's an interesting stat. it won't be long before SUVs account for a quarter of all car sales. And premium brands account for 11% of all worldwide car production but 37% of automotive segment profits. Which explains why the Peugeot/Citroen conglomerate needs the DS brand. And why, back in 2018, the DS brand needed to launch its first bespoke-designed small SUV, the DS 3 Crossback. The 'Crossback' name was there to differentiate the car from the older Citroen-derived DS 3 small hatch that the brand had previously been selling, but that's long-forgotten now, so in its facelifted form we're looking at here, this car is merely called 'DS 3'. There's more to the updates here than merely a change of name of course: a smarter look, a bit more interior luxury and a useful upgrade for the E-TENSE EV version. Let's take a look.
You get the feeling that the DS brand is still deciding quite how its products should ride and handle. Dynamically, this one is amongst the better cars on its kind in the small SUV segment. To be more specific, the steering's pleasingly accurate but could do with a tad more feel for the times when you're pushing on through tighter bends. Body roll is well controlled for such a relatively high-sided small car. And the ride's relatively pliant, feeling good at highway speeds though it can be upset by deeper potholes and sharper speed humps. Under the bonnet, nothing's changed in the combustion range - well, not for petrol people anyway: the previous 1.5-litre BlueHDi diesel option is no more. DS offers the Stellantis Group's usual three cylinder 1.2-litre PureTech petrol unit in 100hp manual form (a six-speeder), or with 130hp mated to EAT8 eight-speed automatic transmission with column-mounted shift paddles. As usual amongst premium models, you get a driving modes system, this one offering 'eco', 'normal' and 'sport' settings. The alternative to these two units is the all-electric 'E-TENSE' variant which as part of this mid-term update, has been usefully improved. A new hybrid synchronous motor gets an extra lug of power (155hp, up from 132hp) and draws from a new 54kWh battery (50.8kWh usable) which can now take the car up to 249 miles between charges (up from 212 miles previously). The 260Nm torque figure is as before and this allows the DS 3 E-TENSE to sprint from rest to 30mph in just 3 seconds and reach 62mph in 8.7s. As is the current trend, there's plenty of semi-autonomous driving technology on offer (most of it optional). The 'DS Drive Assist' package combines 'Active Cruise Control' and 'Lane Keeping Assist' in a form that sees the vehicle managing both steering and speed.
Styling's an emotive subject but most will probably agree that this car still offers quite an interesting take on 'B'-segment supermini-based SUV design. It's 4.17-metres long, 1.79-metres wide and 1.53-metres high, which means that it sits amongst the bigger contenders in this segment - cars like the Honda HR-V and the Audi Q2. The DS 3 sits on the Stellantis Group's CMP platform, the same as that used for the Peugeot 208 and the Vauxhall Corsa. The visual changes to this updated model are quickly covered: revised headlamps, now of the LED variety across the range, flanking a re-styled grille, wider and enhanced with gloss black or chromed diamond tips, depending on the model. The identifying DS WINGS have been tweaked to subtly join the grille and headlamps. The bonnet gains a Clous de Paris embossed insert, the 17 and 18-inch wheels have been re-designed and the rear has been refined, lights and boot emphasised with a lacquered black strip. This features polished stainless steel 'DS Automobiles' badging. Nothing's very different inside, though all variants do now get a large 10.3-inch high definition central screen with a redesigned gloss black surround. Connected navigation and intelligent voice recognition are offered by DS IRIS SYSTEM. Users can personalise the central screen and the 7-inch instrument panel, complete with head up display that projects essential information in the driver's eye line. As before, the cabin features an over-riding diamond-shaped theme - the digital instrument pack, the dashboard switches, the air vents and many other interior fitments all bear this shape. Also as before, you can trim the cabin out to a very high standard indeed, with special leathers, alcantara and pearl stitching. More practically, you get a reasonable array of storage compartments including cup holders and a broad, functional sliding armrest. The seats are particularly comfortable thanks to a special bi-density foam the brand has developed. But over-the-shoulder vision is somewhat compromised by the rear 'D'-pillar. In the rear, the window line in the rear is rather high, so if you've got kids, you might want to make sure they're OK with that. And the boot capacity, though reasonable at 350-litres, is a little down (50-litres) on what you'd get in a rival Audi Q2.
Expect DS 3 pricing, as before, to start from just under £26,000 and range up to just over £40,000. There's (thankfully) a simplified trim range, starting with 'PERFORMANCE Line' and 'PERFORMANCE Line +' levels, where the seats, the dashboard strips and the door panels are embellished with Alcantara. The PERFORMANCE Line + level gets extra equipment such as a central armrest, mats and lighting for the sun visors and footwells. Next up is the 'RIVOLI' level, which offers the brand's new Basalt Black grained leather seats (which are optional lower down the range) with scale-effect Basalt Black trim. A Pebble Grey upholstery with combined Nappa Leather/cloth is also available. At the top of the range, 'OPERA' trim features a Basalt Black Nappa Leather interior with the brand's signature 'watchstrap' seat finishing. Safety-wise, all variants get a 'Safety Park', which includes an Emergency Braking System, Lane Keeping Assist, Speed recognition and Intelligent Speed Adaptation. Other standard features include an alarm system, a space saver spare wheel, air conditioning and a 10.3-inch touchscreen, with 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring, Bluetooth and a DAB digital radio with eight speakers.
Let's get to the exact figures that the DS 3's various engines can produce, all of which are helped by the light weight of this car's underlying CMP Stellantis Group platform. We'll quote WLTP fuel figures and WLTP emissions readings. The base PureTech 100 petrol manual derivative manages up to 49.6mpg and up to 128g/km of CO2. For the auto PureTech 130, the figures are up to 47.1mpg and up to 135g/km. Few direct rivals can better these figures. If you want to do better in a DS 3, you need to be looking at the all-electric 'E-TENSE' version, which uses a new 54kWh lithium-ion battery (50.8kWh usable) that can be re-charged to 80% of its capacity in just 30 minutes from the right plug point. The 11kW wallbox that owners will want to fit in their garages will re-charge the car in five hours. When out and about, a 100kW public fast-charging point will perform a full charge in 90 minutes. With a fully replenished battery, up to 249 miles of WLTP-rated driving range is possible. That's partly due to the efficiency of this updated model's improved electric motor, plus the powertrain's ability to recover energy. Also adding to efficiency is a heat pump, there's thermal pre-conditioning and aerodynamic optimisation at the front and wheels and the brand has lowered ground clearance by 10mm on models with tall and narrow 17 and 18-inch wheels.
It takes a lot to create a premium brand. More than currently separates a DS product from the Citroen, Peugeot and Vauxhall models whose engineering it will share? You be the judge. We'll simply say that this is a genuinely different option in a crowded class. It's individualistic, charismatic and, in its own way, quite unique. As this DS 3 has to be to justify the prices being asked. And in summary? Well as we said when reviewing the larger DS 7, we like this car most because it feels special - or at least it will for the right kind of buyer. That customer will love the painstaking attention that's been paid to almost every detail of this design. Again, it's certainly true that in some respects, the execution here isn't perfect - but then there's something rather soul-less and clinical about perfection. Ultimately, this car, like its brand, is aspirational. If you are too and you're shopping in this segment looking for something a bit different, we think there's just a chance you might like it very much indeed.
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