To be fair the Citroen DS3 Racing isn’t aimed at 40-somethings like me. The orange roof, wheels, grille and dash set your expectations and contrast vividly with the black body; the R screams furious, fast and fun. Which is handy, because that is exactly what it offers.
Citroen’s fastest version of their very good DS3 boasts 207bhp courtesy of the firm’s competition division, Citroen Racing, and a bigger turbo. Allied to a weight of only 1,250kgs it feels quick, very quick, in fact. And fun. Blimey, lots of fun.
The suspension is firm, but not filling-rattlingly so, and allows pinpoint accuracy, helped by wide 215/40 18 tyres. The damping is, quite simply, superb. The car remained composed no matter what speed I entered the bends and you’d have to be certifiably insane to lose control of it on public roads. Bump and rebound are perfectly matched giving a firm ride that never deteriorates into harsh. The DS3R costs a not inconsiderable £23,000 and you can feel that a fair chunk of that has been spent on the dampers and springs; hatchback suspension just doesn’t get any better than this.
It never quells the torque steer, though, which is of epic proportions; 275Nm 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.
The electric-power steering is excellent; even if I didn’t like what it was telling me sometimes I appreciated its honesty and fidelity. A bit like the brakes, which did what I wanted them to time after time without complaint and were firm enough to heel and toe and easy to modulate. Which makes for a boring review.
The interior is bright and fresh, with great, figure-hugging seats. It’s well screwed together too, unlike Citroens of old, and it’s easy to get comfortable. It’s got air conditioning, decent insulation, and a good CD player, so – other than the garish colours – there is little to complain about inside.
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 7 seconds and features rally-honed suspension, do they?
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 Clio 200 is the closest competitor, but I think that the little Citroen just has the edge over them all. A hot hatch should be frisky, cute and a bit brash, shouldn’t it?
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. You’ll find yourself finding reasons to go out and drive it. It’s the spiritual successor to the Peugeot 205 GTI 1.9 – but without the lift-off oversteer.