Refreshed DS 3 brings updated look and new interior, but can it improve on lacklustre drive?

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It has been almost eight years since the emancipation papers for DS’s breakaway from parent company Citroën were signed but, with the ink well and truly dried, the still relatively unknown French premium brand is pushing to be seen as an independent car maker.

A reason many might still see the firm, which boasts a young four-car line-up, as a wing of its Stellantis stablemate is the DS 3, the once Citroën-badged supermini.

Yet supermini is not what the 3 of today resembles. Instead, at 4118mm long and 1800mm wide, the compact crossover is now fighting with the likes of the Audi Q2, rather than the Vauxhall Corsa – something that DS hopes will help push it into the mainstream. With the latest facelift, the brand has also dropped the 3’s 'Crossback'' nameplate, which previously differentiated the supermini - retired in 2019 - from this jacked-up version, which is the sole body type offered. 

Premium is still the name of the game here for DS, with the refreshed 3 bringing with it a variety of new kit – most of which has already been seen on the larger DS 4. This includes a thicker, more refined button-clad steering wheel (which still gives a hint of feel) and a 10.3in infotainment screen that uses the firm’s new smartphone-like Iris system. Infuriating dash-mounted touch buttons return for many of the car’s controls, bar climate, which is still only accessible through the infotainment screen – bafflingly so because a rarely used physical ‘climate off’ touch button remains.

Ds 3 08 dashbaord

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The 3’s unusually comfy seats are back, with our test model, in mid-range Rivoli trim, offering a leather-clad option. Pricier nappa leather seats, which are found in top-wrung Opera guise only, are just a tad more backside-friendly. Either option will keep you soreness-free on long trips. Bolstered sides also keep you firmly in your seat, which is handy given the car’s generous body roll.

Exterior design tweaks come in the form of a chrome-stripped grille, a sharper front lip and wider-set daytime running lights for a “more expressive presence on the road”. At the rear, the DS badge has been replaced by lettering.

Sadly, DS has fettled its engine offering, binning the most powerful, 153bhp, 177lb ft variant of its 1.2-litre three-pot Puretech engine (which we liked in the pre-facelifted model) as well as any diesel powertrains. This leaves the 3 with either a 100bhp (only available paired to a manual gearbox and with the lower-rung £25,950 Performance trim) or a 129bhp version of the same engine to choose from. Both have acceptable economy figures (45.6mpg; 42.8mpg) but it’s the latter – as is found powering the Citroën C5 X – that we’re testing here.

Ds 3 03 front tracking

But it's the eight-speed automatic gearbox this engine is paired to that lets the 3 down the most. While the chassis provides a reasonably smooth ride at lower urban speeds, gearchanges can often be jerky and the decision-making is sluggish when more power is asked for on quicker roads. Matters improve when cruising, which is perhaps unsurprising given the car's sedate 0-62mph time of 9.2sec (up from the 8.8sec of the no-longer-available 153bhp motor).

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In any case, performance – or shortage thereof – is overshadowed by overly generous body roll (more exaggerated than in its electric DS E-Tense sibling) due to the car's perhaps overly soft suspension. Progress is also accompanied by an engine sound more associated with a sub-£20,000 Dacia than a £31,000 premium crossover, which comes across as an oversight for a brand that is focused on refinement. But with DS set to become an electric-only car maker from next year, I doubt this will be the brand's biggest concern. 

Compared with its predecessor, not much has changed under the skin – which is nearly identical to its cheaper and more spacious Peugeot 2008 cousin – leaving it with the issues that plagued it before, such as a lack of rear space that makes potential five-person trips worryingly cramped. Despite these gripes, the 3 is comparatively relaxing to drive, albeit unremarkable.

Ds 3 14 back static

The 3 is a car for those who prefer the way it boldly stands on the Tarmac rather than how it drives, especially with competitors such as the Q2 and Mini Countryman able to offer more engagement at a similar or possibly lesser price.

Because while the DS stands out from the competition, its combustion powertrain options are lacking in any sort of oomph, and neither does this car muster the refinement expected from a £30,000-plus premium crossover.

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If you’ve got an extra nine-ish grand to spare, the 3’s electric sibling is the better car, offering a driving experience more in keeping with what DS is striving for.

Will Rimell

Will Rimell
Title: Deputy news editor

Will is a journalist with more than eight years experience in roles that range from news reporter to editor. He joined Autocar in 2022 as deputy news editor, moving from a local news background.

In his current role as deputy news editor, Will’s focus is with Autocar and Autocar Business; he also manages Haymarket's aftermarket publication CAT.

Writing is, of course, a big part of his role too. Stories come in many forms, from interviewing top executives, reporting from car launches, and unearthing exclusives.