First Drive: Citroen DS3 Red

THE DS3 is a big seller for Citroen in the UK, with 36,000 or so having passed through showrooms since its introduction a few years ago.

It’s long since been known as a stylish hatch with a choice of efficient and/or fun engines, and the personalisation options are one of its biggest attractions to the people who buy it. You could spend all day poring over the details of how to build ‘your’ DS3.

Now there’s a special edition called the DS3 Red for people who would rather all the styling work had been done beforehand. And what styling – the red grille that neatly incorporates the Citroen badge, the mirror caps, the roof and the alloy wheel centre caps are one heck of a sight for sore eyes. With the choice of body colour limited to black or white, the bright red details are not for the faint-hearted.

On the inside the red trim continues, creating a bold horizontal band that runs across the dashboard and creates the impression of splitting neatly into two prongs at each end, one being the door mirrors and the other being the interior door handles. Although it’s a bit brash at first sight, you soon appreciate the appeal.

You can base roughly the same looks on either DStyle or DSport trims. There’s a little more kit on the latter, like larger alloys that fill the wheel arches more convincingly, but both are very obviously aimed at the style-conscious younger – or at least younger at heart – buyer. Incidentally, DS3 sales are split almost exactly down the middle between men and women.

As a special model the entry-level DS3 Red DStyle nets you Bluetooth and USB connectivity on top of the ordinary version’s standard kit, as well as a couple of extra speakers for the uprated stereo. DS3 Red DSports add the same audio upgades, plus a ‘City Signature’ pack made up of automatic headlights and wipers, rear parking sensors, electric heated and folding door mirrors, an auto-dimming rear view mirror, interior ‘mood lighting’ and a front central armrest.

Tested here is the DS3 Red DSport with a punchy 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine, known as the THP 155 after its count of metric horsepower. It’s a known quantity; smooth, refined and in the main very user-friendly, if a little sonically restrained. It pulls noticeably harder beyond 4,000rpm, but it’s flexible from around 1,500rpm onwards making it easy to stroke the car along at a relaxed pace.

That’s perhaps where this model really excels, because despite the useful performance on offer there are a few chinks in the DS3’s driving experience armour in the way it can shuffle slightly sideways when hitting mid-corner bumps and imperfections. It’s not quite torsionally stiff enough for really keen drivers, and the Red edition’s predefined emphasis on overt style is a plain indicator that the model’s intended heartland lies away from twisting B-roads. True drivers’ cars aren’t where the larger sales volumes are to be found anyway.

The styling is purely a matter of taste, but one physical reality is that the reach- and rake-adjustable steering wheel doesn’t pull out towards the driver as far as many longer-legged folks would like it to, which means you have to sit closer to the pedals than you’d choose to. The driving position is still good; just not ideal unless you prefer to sit closer to the wheel anyway.

One impressive aspect of life behind the wheel of the DS3 is how well it settles itself on patchy roads. It’s not soft or particularly plush – very little short of a Rolls Royce actually is – but it feels measured and stable. It’s the sort of trait that inspires driving confidence and a closer bond with the car.

It’s easy to feel relaxed and at ease in this DS3 thanks to high-quality leather coverings for the sculpted steering wheel. The gear lever is topped with a hard plastic knob which will suit some people more than others, but the six-gearbox beneath it is slick and precise.

The DS3 has always been very likeable, and if you like the way the Red version looks then you’ll definitely like it from the driver’s seat.

FACTS AT A GLANCE

Model: Citroen DS3 Red DSport THP 155, £17,780 on the road.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 133mph, 0-62mph in 7.1 seconds.Fuel economy: 47.1mpg.CO2 rating: 135g/km.

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