A range of free-revving petrol engines and strong diesels are available, all of which provide the DS 3 with a good turn of pace. Even the smallest units – three-cylinder petrols with 81bhp, 109bhp or 128bhp – make the DS 3 usefully nippy around town, although the least powerful version runs out of oomph at higher speed.
The two 1.6 HDi diesel engines – in either 99bhp or 118bhp form – are flexible and suit the DS 3’s dynamic character well.
Finally, the Performance models get a turbocharged 207bhp petrol engine that will whiz you to 62mph in a smoking 6.5sec, which is slightly quicker than a Mini Cooper S.
The DS 3 is based on the C3 supermini, but its suspension is tuned to give a more sporty character. Better body control means that it’s not as flummoxed by big bumps or heavy braking, but the ride quality isn’t that great. It’s firm, whatever the road, and fidgets over poor surfaces. Versions with larger alloy wheels are even less forgiving.
DS has given the 3 a lively character to match its looks. The steering responds quickly, so the car turns in to corners sharply and feels impressively nimble around town. At higher speeds the tyres grip well and body movement is reasonably well controlled, but the DS 3 is nowhere near as composed or engaging as a Mini, and the steering doesn’t tell you a lot about what’s going on beneath the wheels.
The DS 3 is civilised for a small car, but refinement is very dependent on which version you go for. The turbocharged 1.6 THP engine is smooth and quiet, whereas the lower-powered three-cylinder units are lower-geared, so aren’t as hushed on the motorway.
The diesel engines are among the smoothest around, but all versions with a manual gearbox have a vague clutch action and a rather woolly gearshift that are less welcome.
Road noise is an issue if you have a car with 17in wheels, although every DS 3 keeps wind noise to an acceptable level.
You sit a long way back from the windscreen, so it can feel like you're driving a small MPV. The pedals are offset, too, which makes the driving position feel slightly awkward. At least the steering wheel adjusts for reach and height on all models, so it doesn’t take long to get comfortable.
The front seats are supportive, although some may find the heavily bolstered sports seats of some models restrictive. In the main the dashboard layout is pretty user-friendly, but the central digital readout can be hard to decipher at a glance and the stereo is unhelpfully low on the centre console.
Forward visibility is compromised slightly by the DS 3’s thick, steeply sloping windscreen pillars, and it’s not helped by the fact that you sit a long way back from the windscreen. The side and rear windows are on the small side, meaning that over-the-shoulder and rear visibility could be better, but overall visibility is fine.
Heated door mirrors and automatic headlights and wipers are standard for the higher-spec trim levels and relatively affordable options for the two cheapest trims. Front and/or rear parking sensors are standard or optional, depending on the trim, as is a reversing camera.
All versions of the DS 3 come with a 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system, which, compared with the Mini’s iDrive or Audi A1’s MMI system, is slow and clunky to use. It does come as standard with a DAB radio, Bluetooth and auxiliary and USB input sockets. On all versions apart from the entry-level Chic, you also get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto interfaces, so you can use your smartphone’s apps through the car’s screen. Satellite navigation is standard on all but the Chic trim and Performance model.
All models have steering column-mounted audio controls – they are a blessing, since the stereo has small, fiddly buttons and is mounted low on the centre console. The information display above it is also on the small side and has a rather dated appearance.
DS is Citroen’s premium brand, and the DS 3 does enough to justify that status. An imaginatively styled dashboard with chrome-rimmed dials and colour-coded panels gives the DS 3's cabin real panache, and the interior quality is a cut above the C3 it’s based on, with plusher materials and more appealing finishes. Inevitably, some of the switchgear and more functional parts are shared with Citroen’s mainstream models, and as a result the DS 3’s cabin doesn’t have the bespoke feel that a Mini’s does.
The DS 3 has a rakish roofline but there’s plenty of head room in the front seats and only the very tall are likely to feel hemmed in. A height-adjustable driver’s seat is standard for all models; cheaper versions miss out on a height-adjustable passenger’s seat.
Storage space for clutter is adequate, but nothing more. The door bins are a useful size and have a special section to hold a bottle of water, but the glovebox is tiny and the cubbies built into the centre console are small.
The centre armrest on pricier versions adds a small, lidded cubby, while a cupholder insert for the centre console is an accessory.
As with most three-door rivals, reaching the rear seats of the DS 3 requires a bit of dexterity, and space isn’t that generous when you’re there. Head room is okay but leg room is tight; a pair of six-footers can squeeze in, but they won’t relish the thought of a long journey.
A trio of rear seatbelts is fitted as standard, but DS’s claim that the 3 is a full five-seater is optimistic because the centre seat is uncomfortable.
Rear storage is better than you might think, with bins in the side panels that’ll hold a few odds and ends or a can of cola.
The DS 3 doesn’t set out its stall as a practical family car, so it’s no surprise that versatility isn’t one of its strengths. The rear seat back has a 60/40 split that means there’s some flexibility in how you arrange passengers and loads. However, the backs don’t fold flat, so your bags will have to sit at an angle.
The DS 3’s boot is usefully larger than that of rivals such as the Fiat 500 and Mini Hatch 3dr, with a 285-litre capacity. It’s quite deep and has a practical shape, too, with flat sides.
Useful as it is, the DS 3’s boot isn’t that big compared with many mainstream superminis, and the narrow load entrance and drop to the load floor mean that it’s not the car for you if you regularly carry lots of luggage.
Folding the rear seats creates a bit more space, but the extended load bay has a step in the boot floor, which makes sliding loads in impossible.
The DS 3 isn’t cheap to buy, even next to other premium rivals such as the Mini 3dr. Decent dealer discounts make it more affordable and, unlike many of Citroën’s mainstream models, it holds its value reasonably well, if not quite as well as a Mini hatch or Audi A1.
With the exception of the automatic model, all of the DS 3’s engines are impressively efficient and two of the diesel versions emit less than 100g/km of CO2. The 1.2 Puretech 110 petrol comes in at 100g/km, which is also pretty good for benefit-in-kind tax for anyone thinking of running one as a company car.
All DS 3 models have a decent standard of kit, but every version is expensive compared with rivals. The entry-level Chic gets a 7.0in touchscreen, a DAB radio, Bluetooth and air-con, but it is only available with the weaker Puretech 82 engine. For that reason, we would recommend stepping up to Connected Chic to get a better choice of engines.
Performance Line is hard to recommend because it's mainly style-focused, so there's not any extra additional equipment for the premium you pay, while the range-topping DS 3 Performance hot hatch is the best version of the car to drive and comes with all the equipment you need, but it's expensive.
The DS 3 did pretty poorly in our most recent reliability survey, showing an average of 53 faults per 100 cars. Although DS didn’t appear as a manufacturer in that survey, sister brand Citroën did and was rated near the bottom, in 28th place out of the 32 brands included. Not a great showing all round.
Stability control and six airbags may be standard, but automatic emergency braking is standard only on the top Prestige and Performance Black trims, and either optional or not available at all lower down the range. That is one of the reasons it was awarded just three stars when tested by Euro NCAP in 2017, but there were other factors. These include poor head and chest protection for rear-seat passengers and a strong risk of whiplash for those in the front and rear, while the protection offered to children was also rated poor.
Security experts Thatcham Rsesearch awarded the DS 3 four out of five for its resistance to being stolen and three out of five for its resistance to being broken into. All models have deadlocks: an alarm is standard for the top three trims only.