First Drive: Citroen DS3 Cabrio

THE DS3 has been something of a barnstormer for Citroen, selling 36,000 in the UK alone since it was released as an antithesis to the cutesy Mini and Fiat 500. A soft-top version was inevitable, and the only surprise is how long it’s taken to arrive.

It’s not a full convertible where the entire roof folds down into the boot or behind the rear seats. Instead it has a simple sliding canvas panel that folds neatly away into a stack above the boot without taking up any luggage space or forcing the rearward bodywork into a cha-cha-cha.

That helps brings unique advantages in the sector; one dominated by female buyers by a ratio of 4:1. The DS3 Cabrio’s roof is operable at speeds of up to 75mph so as long as you’re not being naughty on the motorway you can always slide the roof back when the sun comes out. It’s like having a huge electric sunroof.

Extra bracing has been added to the chassis to compensate for the loss of rigidity at roof level, and the overall weight increase is just 25kg. That’s as little as a quarter of what’s usually added to soft-tops adapted from hatches. The roof can slide back to just over the front seats, to behind the rears while keeping the rear window in place or it can collapse completely, which blocks the rear view but gives the maximum open-air feel.

There’s a pop-up deflector at the top of the windscreen that’s designed to redirect the air flow over the car and reduce wind buffeting for the occupants, but on a wildly windy day during the test it was difficult to judge how well it copes.

On the other hand the boot could be easily judged, and while its letterbox-type opening is hardly massive it’s marginally bigger than the Mini Cabriolet’s and the Fiat 500C’s, with a much bigger space behind it. The plastic, relatively flexible and lightweight lid opens with a clever design that dodges the problem of parking too close to a wall.

The Cabrio drives just like the hatchback, with a driver-friendly mix of smooth engine, predictable handling and a generally comfortable ride that makes it very easy to live with. Three petrol engines are available at first, from the new VTi three-cylinder 1.2 with 81bhp to two 1.6s; one with a turbocharger. The VTi 120 and especially the THP 155 are gutsier when the occasion calls for full throttle, but the clever 1.2 is perfect for buzzing around town and will be much cheaper to buy and run. It’s definitely the smart choice. An 89bhp efficiency-biased diesel is on the way for high-mileage drivers.

Like the hatchback the Cabrio strikes a good balance of driver feedback, potential for giggles behind the wheel and long-distance comfort. The optional leather, heated sports seats on the test car were fantastic additions that stop you sliding about around roundabouts, while combating any chilly weather. The seats help you to hustle the car along with good pace if you want to, but through town traffic it’s just as happy thanks to well-judged seat padding, smooth power delivery and a generally hatchback-quiet demeanour with the roof closed. Only the window seals let the overall noise insulation down.

The drivetrain of the THP 155 version tested here isn’t the most forgiving if you’re rough with the clutch, but it has a very linear state of tune and lots of torque from about 2,500rpm which means it doesn’t need to be revved too hard to hustle the DS3 along and easily keep up even with rushing traffic around you. Fall below that rev count and it can struggle for a moment, but that’s a common trait in turbocharged engines and can be driven around easily enough.

Fashion and customisation are at the heart of the DS3. It’s a big seller because you can reflect your own personality in the options you pick for it, and its young (and young-at-heart) buyers love that. From zebra-stripe roof decals to coloured alloy wheel caps there are over a million possible combinations.

Image is vital for cars in this sector and both men and women can sculpt the DS3 Cabrio into whatever style they want. The base car’s natural ability to cross the gender divide translates into a unique strength amongst the convertible competition but the Cabrio also drives sweetly, carries five people instead of its rivals’ four and has by far the biggest boot in the class. What’s not to like?

FACTS AT A GLANCE:

Model: Citroen DS3 Cabrio THP 155 DSport (circa £19,500 on the road - TBC).Engine: 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol producing 153bhp and 177lb.ft.Transmission: Six-speed manual gearbox driving the front wheels.Performance: Top speed 132mph, 0-62mph in 7.4 seconds.Fuel economy: 47.9mpg.CO2 rating: 137g/km.

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