REVIEW – DS 3 Performance Black

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Exterior Styling

This is the ideal place to start with the DS 3 Performance Black, because it has a big, bold image. Just by looking at the car you can tell it’s no ordinary DS 3. The Performance Black has brawny front and rear bumpers, new 18 inch ‘Black Nemesis’ alloys (what a name!) and the usual hot hatch rear spoiler & twin tail exhaust pipes.

There is just one colour scheme available: matt black with a pearl gold roof and mirrors. I think it’s superb to look at – a real head turner – but boy does it split opinions. Personally I welcomed the gold roof, it pushes the car ‘out there’ whereas a less striking colour would perhaps give the appearance of a ‘slightly modified’ DS 3.

However if you are the type of person who sits on the fence, not wanting to engage with people telling you your car looks ridiculous, then maybe the ‘regular’ DS 3 Performance would be more your cup of tea. The same applies if you want a car that blends in to the masses, and doesn’t shout “look at me”.

As an optional extra, you can also add a graphics pack for £250. And I think it’s a must-have option. The graphics compliment that Perla Nera Back paintwork, and emphasise the sense of occasion that is the DS 3 Performance Black. As with the gold roof, the graphics may have the marmite effect; but it was a winner in my eyes.

If I am to be critical, I think DS could have taken the exterior styling a step further. For example, those big Brembo brake calipers could easily be painted gold, rather than black. A gold lower lip on the front bumper wouldn’t have offended me either.

Other nice styling touches include ‘DS’ logos in the rear light clusters, sweeping front indicators, LED daytime running lights and unique ‘DS Performance’ badges.

Interior Finish

Once you’ve opened the rather large doors, the first thing anyone will notice is the massive, body-hugging Alcantara sports seats. Heavily bolstered and brandishing the DS Performance logo, their sheer size fills the cabin. We’ll come on to rear leg room a little later! These seats were a complete win for me, capturing the essence of a mad hot hatch.

The gold theme continues inside the DS 3 Performance Black, with a rather gaudy gold plastic dashboard. It’s not the gold I take issue with, but the shiny plastic. A more textured finish, or brushed aluminium style, would have looked much more premium.

Apart from the odd splash of fake carbon fibre the interior is largely standard DS3 design. The instrument cluster is funky, but the centre console looks cheap and a little dated. I can only assume that the extra money was spent on mechanical performance as opposed to interior quality.

To give a sporty feel, DS has left the steering wheel completely free of buttons. I don’t mind the concept. But then where do you put all the cruise control and media buttons? Well, DS has fitted two extra stalks behind the steering wheel, neither of which you can see. This might be fine for an F1 driver with years of training, but for Joe Public it means you mute the stereo when you want to cancel the cruise control and set a speed limit of 40mph whenever you want to change music track.

Engine/Performance

Under that little bonnet, DS has wedged a spicy 1.6-litre turbocharged engine that produces 210PS and 300Nm of torque. That allows for a 0-62mph sprint of 6.5 seconds, with the top speed being 143mph.

That’s certainly comparable to, if not a little quicker than, most rivals. It also shows just how quick the modern hot hatch has become.

The DS 3 Performance Black delivered a punch in the back every time you put your foot on the accelerator. It revs happily, and even lets out a little exhaust ‘boff’ every time you lift off at higher revs.

But that’s about all the noise you get, which is a shame: I wanted a noise that matched the bold image. Unlike other manufacturers, DS haven’t opted for any symposer system to feed engine noise into the cabin, be it artificial or mechanical.

All this power is controlled with a close ratio 6-speed manual transmission, which is a traditional hot hatch recipe. However, the actual gear lever could have been slicker; it all felt a bit too vague and imprecise.

The clutch pedal is also a little on the light side. Great in a traffic jam, or for driving round town, but not so good when you want to give it the beans on a B-road blast: it just lacks the ‘feel’ that any driver’s car should have.

Ride/Handling

To keep the DS 3 Performance Black pointing in the right direction, DS has fitted a Torsen limited-slip differential. This is a masterstroke, because even in slippery conditions it tames understeer well. In dry conditions the grip levels are just staggering, heightening the real-world sense of speed.

Overall the DS 3 Performance Black is a real entertainer for spirited drives, inviting you to push its limits. The steering seems to suffer from the same lightness that spoils the clutch. Through town its light and effortless, but with no option to make it heavier it lacks feel when pushing hard. That’s frustrating, because the steering is incredibly direct, and the nose points exactly where you want it thanks to that Torsen differential.

Our test car was running what can only be described as summer tyres. Whilst I imagine they’ll be great once the weather improves, they were far from ideal in cold January conditions. It would certainly be wise to invest in winter tyres for the cold season, to prevent the squeaky-bum moments cold tyres can cause.

The suspension in the DS 3 Performance Black is firm and sporty, so the ride is a little bouncy at lower speeds. That said, it’s a hot hatch, and I’d rather have a firm, composed setup than a soft, wallowy one. Body roll is virtually non-existent, and you are held firmly in place by those sports seats, allowing you to push hard with confidence.

Also giving you confidence are the 323mm, four-piston Brembo front brakes. For spirited driving, the brakes performed exceptionally well. They grab instantly; giving you confidence to brake later for the corners.

However, that instant grab can catch you by surprise when pottering through town. Drive carefully with your grandma in the passenger seat, or you’ll end up seeing those dentures resting on that gold dashboard.

Economy

On paper the DS3 Performance Black averages 52.3mpg on a combined cycle. This is thanks to its relatively small engine with start-stop technology. As you would expect, any amount of enthusiasm with the accelerator will soon reduce this figure.

During our driving stints, which included both spirited B-road blasts and motorway slogs, we averaged around 42mpg. That’s respectable and is a figure I could live with from an ownership point of view.

CO2 emissions of 125g/km mean that the VED when registering the DS 3 Performance Black is £160, and £140 each year after. The new flat-rate scheme is kind to vehicles like this: which now cost the same to tax as a 1.0-litre Peugeot 108.

Practicality

The DS 3 Performance Black is about as spacious as you’d expect given it’s a small hot hatch. The boot space is 285 litres, but it hasn’t really got much width to it. I wouldn’t plan on getting any new born prams in the boot, however it easily deals with trips to the shops.

This is a 3-door only car and getting in and out of the back can be struggle; largely due to those bulky sports seats. The seats also do little to aid the leg room in the back, and adults may find it a little cramped.

The doors are quite large to try and help the situation, but this causes its own problems when it comes to tight car park spaces. Thankfully visibility is good, and the Performance Black gets front and rear parking sensors and a reversing camera to aid manoeuvrability.

For those unfamiliar with limited-slip differentials, they aren’t designed for low-speed, full-lock situations. In car parks you can feel it fighting and grabbing, which is a strange sensation at first.

Ultimately the DS 3 Performance Black isn’t designed to be the ultimate family car: it’s designed to be a driver’s car. I can forgive it for the usual hot hatch quirks, but there are equally-fast, more practical options out there.

Equipment

The list of standard equipment on the DS 3 Performance Black is quite comprehensive. Exclusive to this model is Active City Brake, eMyWay satellite navigation, reversing camera, front parking sensors and an upgraded stereo with centre tweeter and sub-woofer.

As an optional extra you can add Mirror Screen, which adds MirrorLink and Apple CarPlay. I was a little surprised to find that there is no keyless entry option available, or even a start button, which would have added to the hot hatch experience.

Other useful features include cruise control with speed limiter, auto lights and wipers, electric folding door mirrors, DS Connect Box Emergency & Assistance and automatic air conditioning.

These creature comforts are all lovely, but they don’t really contribute much to the hot hatch experience. I would have much preferred to see a sports button, with variable driving modes. In fact, I would happily swap all of the auto thingamajigs for some adaptive dampers and/or a sports exhaust.

Value For Money

The final question is whether or not the DS3 Performance Black worth the outlay: should you buy one? This is where I ummed and ahhed quite a bit, not least because the outlay required is significant: £26,165. Add in the £250 graphics kit and the price of our test car was £26,415.

The DS3 Performance Black may have the looks, the engine and the performance, but then so do a lot of other hot hatches. There is a new Ford Fiesta ST due out later this year and, if pricing is similar to the old model, it will cost around £20,000 or so.

If the DS was a perfect car, then it might well be able to justify its high price tag. But with niggles such as the light clutch, vague gearbox and plasticky interior it falls a little short.

Its creature comforts make the DS 3 Performance Black easier to drive and live with, but that erodes the hardcore performance image created by the Brembo brakes and Torsen differential.

Most surprisingly though is that the DS’s sibling, the Peugeot 208GTi by Peugeot Sport, costs from £23,550. It has all the same mechanical upgrades, the same power, a nicer interior and, if you opt for the Coupe France colour scheme (£950), an equally-bold exterior image.

Facts and Figures

Engine 1.6-litre, 4-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Max power 210PS @ 6,000rpm
Max torque 300Nm @ 3,000rpm
Drivetrain 6-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel drive with Torsen limited-slip differential
0-62mph 6.5 seconds
Top speed 143mph
Fuel tank size 50 litres
Fuel consumption 52.3mpg, combined cycle.
CO2 emissions 125g/km
Kerb weight 1,175kg
Towing capacity N/A
Luggage capacity 285 litres
NCAP rating 5 stars
Base price £26,165
Price as tested £26,415
Company website http://www.dsautomobiles.co.uk/ds-models/ds-3

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