DS 3 - First Drive

DS 3, front action
DS 3, rear action
DS 3, two cars static
DS 3, front static lights
DS 3, cabrio front action
DS 3, cabrio rear action 2
DS 3, cabrio rear action
DS 3, front seats
DS 3, dashboard
DS 3, front seats leather

HOW important is the pretty DS 3 to the company selling the car to we Brits?

Well, about as important as it gets - we buy more of this chic little French number than... the French themselves.

More, in fact, than anyone, anywhere - 16,500 of them here last year. So it was fitting that we got to try the latest, gently fettled version even before the French. Oh la la!

You may reckon the car you see here is a Citroen, but no longer. It is part of the three-strong DS family (several more are planned) that the parent PSA group has spun off in the hope of tempting buyers towards a more stylish future, with useful improvements to the bottom line.

You mess with success at your peril in the car market, which is why something like this new DS 3 looks a lot like the old one. New face and some trim details apart, it is the old one on the outside.

Inside, in the way of things in the iPhone generation, the button count has shrunk by 20 in favour of a touchscreen for everything from temperature control to sat nav, where there's a system installed.

There are a couple of new petrol engines on the list, including a fire breathing DS 3 Performance version with more than 200 horses and the sort of performance figures (under seven seconds to 60mph and better than 140mph all out) that will make it an object of desire to the petrol heads among us.

Selling in much bigger numbers will be a humbler range of petrol and diesel engines, joined in the new line up by a 130 horsepower petrol unit that manages a modest 105g/km of tailpipe emissions.

Prices of this latest DS 3 start at £13,995 for the PureTech 82 model, a £700 increase on the outgoing range. Adding a convertible roof gives you a DS 3 Cabrio and adds the potential for a suntan and £2,300 to the bill.

But by the time you've fallen for the charms of the DS 3 the price or what's under the bonnet will be much less important than its looks.

it's surely the look of the DS 3 that tempts keyboard fingers to Google 'DS3' and start dreaming about engine choice, colour and extras.

Keyboard fingers will be useful too if you engage the car's Mirror Screen ability, to show on the seven inch screen precisely what you've got up on your mobile phone (via Apple CarPlay or MirrorLink). That means no need to pay for sat nav in the car, for instance.

Should you then not pay full attention to the road ahead you might activate another new feature of the latest DS 3 - its active city brake system that panics before you do and puts the brakes on by itself if needed. At lower speeds (up to 18mph) that means the car stops (very smartly indeed) before you hit anything.

The new DS 3 also gains front and rear parking sensors and a reversing camera (extra useful on the Cabrio, whose opened roof hides the view rearward), plus hill start assist on cars with a manual gearbox, meaning the brakes stay on for a couple of seconds as you go for the clutch on a hill start.

Slipping into the newcomer it is apparent that here is a car with some serious style, from a dash in blue (on a metallic grey body) and enough smartly shiny plastic to look the bee's knees. Hip-hugging seats and a chunky leather wrapped steering wheel (with mildly annoying squared off bottom edge) set you up for the drive ahead.

Which, in a £19,495 DS 3 Prestige BlueHDi 120 provided a car with enough performance to entertain, a ride that was mostly well judged and a little jagged on only the worst surfaces - and a splendid 63mpg on the trip computer after a modestly demanding drive.

Switching to petrol power in a £21,595 Cabrio THP 165 brought instant smiles, not only from a smooth and potent engine (and 46mpg after a pretty gentle drive on crowded roads) but from a power folding roof that kept the breeze away at a motorway canter and was a sunny delight in town.

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