Unveiled at the 2016 Geneva motor show, the DS 3 Performance is at the hot and pointy end of the range. A new 1.6-litre turbocharged engine and a new gearbox are supported by new springs and dampers, the latest Michelin sports tyres and huggy new seats, plus, of course, all the interface revisions of the common-or-garden DS 3.
There are two body styles; hatchback and semi-convertible. The latter has an electrically sliding and folding canvas panel with a heated glass rear screen, and is just 25kg heavier than the hatchback.
Sitting lower and wider than standard on its black wheels, the Performance is a beefy and potent-looking little car. Good colour choices have been added to the palette. Even from a distance it looks more purposeful than the standard car, which is no bad thing. Just watch those rims on kerbs – they sit well proud of the tyre sidewall.
This was never a DS strong suit. The boot here is actually fine for the class, at 285 litres, but there’s barely any legroom in the back. On the other hand, if you can happily pretend the rear seats aren’t there, there are some useful touches in the cabin.
There’s a large, open-faced bin at the base of the centre console, a slim ledge a few inches above it and spacious door pockets. That said, pick the pace up a bit and the door pockets will be the last place you want to leave anything solid.
A limited-slip differential and a widened track, especially at the front, give the DS 3’s nose a real sense of purpose and capability. It’s not the fastest hatch in the world but it has plenty of poke for punching out of corners, with no sign of traction issues on the warm French Tarmac of the test route.
The Michelin tyres are a bit unforgiving over bumps, adding a hard edge to the much-improved damping. It stays super-composed and flat even when attacking tight bends, as long as the road is reasonably smooth, but let’s just say you’ll know when you hit a pothole. The new gearbox is a vast improvement, delivering crisp shifts with minimal resistance through the crucial second-to-third action. Powering out of corners tends to lead to a bit of squirming at the wheel because the mechanical limited-slip diff activates as the turbo kicks in, but keep your foot down and ride it out — the chassis can cope.
In European markets, DS has priced its spicy new baby more or less in line with its turbocharged European rivals, and the fact that it’s tangibly better to drive than its Citroën-badged predecessor makes it better value. It has a bag full of talent on all sorts of roads and you don’t need three world championships under your belt to make use of it. This is a car that finally makes a strong case for itself.
Hot hatchbacks come in two tiers these days; the relatively sensible 200bhp-or-so end and the lobotomy-spec 300bhp-plus brigade. The DS 3 Performance, as part of the former group, makes sense as a daily driver for those looking for excitement without having to burn a hole in their pockets. Younger buyers will inevitably go for the looks and the power.