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THE RAG TRADE
Published on Thursday 23 May 2013 05:26
Ten Second Review
As open cars go, the Citroen DS3 Cabrio isn't the most committed thing, but instead pursues compromise with some determination. The folding fabric section of the roof leaves all of the side pillars in place so you still get the DS3's sharky silhouette with a modicum of soft top feel. It'll appeal to those who think they might like a soft top sometimes. A little bit.
Can we be frank here? Citroen's last stab at a small open-topped car, the C3 Pluriel, has a very strong claim on being the worst new car sold in the last ten years. It was dreadful in so many respects, so the bar's not set very high for the next stab at this market. Even if you've never clapped eyes on a DS3 Cabrio you know it's going to be better than the execrable Pluriel, a car that would leave you unable to put the roof up if you got caught out in a downpour. Fail. For a start, the DS3 hatch is a genuinely good car, something you'd never really claim for that original C3. Then you would just have to have faith that Citroen had come up with a roof mechanism better than the Pluriel's work of quite staggering idiocy.
Fortunately the news is largely good. I say largely because if you're a fan of true wind in the hair motoring, you might find the DS3 Cabrio's roof a bit of a half-measure, but there are going to be a whole slew of customers who quite like the idea of the occasional bit of al fresco driving without all of the compromises that come with a full soft top. Rest assured. A reanimated Pluriel this most certainly is not.
You'll search in vain for a diesel DS3 Cabrio as Citroen are only offering petrol motors, for the time being at least. The entry-level unit is an 82bhp three-cylinder 1.2-litre, which is fine for schlepping about town but most will be drawn to the bigger 1.6-litre engines. The 120bhp 1.6 VTi engine looks set to be the most popular, as it offers a great compromise between economy and performance, but the 156bhp THP turbocharged unit really is the jewel in this line-up and well worth saving for if you like a bit of zest.
That's enough to take it through 60mph, from a standing start, in around 7.5s and onto a top speed of over 130mph. Like the best of the modern turbo petrols, there's barely a hint of turbo lag with the performance surging forth from low revs. The gearbox is the slickest unit Citroen has come up with for a long time, with excellent weighting and a positive feel to the shifting action. Although the driving position may not suit everyone with its widely spaced and slightly offset pedals (and the view to the rear is heavily compromised when the roof is folded down), the DS3 Cabrio's inherent rigidity means that it doesn't lose a great deal to its had top sibling in terms of handling ability - and the roof adds just 25kg to its weight. Wind buffeting can usually be overcome by adjusting the position of the fabric roof slightly. It's very flexible - in that regard at least.
Design and Build
Perhaps calling this car a 'cabrio' is going a bit far. If we were being entirely truthful, it's a DS3 with a giant fabric sunroof that slides back into a rather ungainly concertina. Still, what it lacks in engineering boldness it makes up for in ease of use and even a degree of practicality. Compared to a MINI convertible, you get twice as much boot space (245-litres) and a smart cantilevered boot lid means you'll be able to access the boot in tight spots. Unfortunately, the aperture that you need to post things through is pretty small.
The roof is easy enough to use. Just prod a button by the rear-view mirror and it'll do its thing at speeds of up to 75mph. That's because it just runs back in its tracks without folding like a conventional soft top. A second press of the same button will send the roof right back over the rear seats. It can even lift the hood a little when you go to open the boot; just enough to provide clearance.
Market and Model
With a price premium of around £2,500 over the DS3 hatchback, the DS3 Cabrio is about par for the course for soft top conversions of this type, so in terms of price, this car sits between the smaller Fiat 500C and the rather more convertible MINI Cabriolet. There are some very smart Cabrio-specific bits on this car, such as the 3D-effect rear lights and imaginative options like the cool Granit Blue leather upholstery finish.
Safety equipment includes ESP stability control as standard, an advanced ABS braking system and six airbags. Like the DS3 hatch, there's serious scope for personalisation, with numerous finishes for the mirrors and rubbing strips, different wheel colours, six dashboard colours, five gear knobs. Whichever bodywork colour you choose, you even get a matching key fob. Unfortunately there's no automatic gearbox on offer.
Cost of Ownership
Even the thirstiest of the DS3 Cabrio models will return better than 43mpg on the combined fuel economy cycle, so you're never going to be saddled with something profligate, no matter which model you choose. The 1.2-litre entry-level car should, with a light right boot, get better than 60mpg on the combined cycle, while with the normally-aspirated 1.6 VTi, you're looking at 47mpg. Residual values of the DS3 hatch have held up very nicely. Perhaps this was due to a gradual take up, resulting in no faddy boom and bust for this car and there's no reason why the Cabrio shouldn't expect similarly sturdy retention figures.
The Citroen DS3 Cabrio isn't exactly rocket science. In fact, some might accuse it of being slightly lazy car design; that it's a half-baked attempt at making an open-topped car. They would be missing the point though. This is the sort of car that many buyers in this country want and here's why. We don't get to drop the tops too often in a country where it can rain for 200 days in a year. Therefore it doesn't really make much sense lugging around a 200kg folding hard top roof for the rest of the time. The DS3 Cabrio represents an elegant solution that retains most of the character and style of the hatchback model it's based on.
If you're really intent on getting the full al fresco experience, it might disappoint a little. There are still door pillars to look past. If you're okay with that and just want to feel the sun once in a while without the wobbly body or lumpen styling of most small cabriolets, this one could be a winner. I'd back the DS3 Cabrio to be one of the outside successes of this year.