Citroen's DS3 hits the bullseye after taking aim at MINI

MINI beware, Citroen have a bullet with your name on it...and its called the DS3.

It seems that everyone has had a pop at the MINI since it burst onto the scene in 2001 and proved that a fashionable premium quality hatchback could command truly massive sales figures.

Such has been its success that numerous marques have taken a shot at dethroning it.

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Fiat's 500 tackled the MINI on style grounds with retro styling based on an iconic bygone model and an interior that looked an Italian coffee machine.

The Italians struck again with the Alfa Romeo MiTO. Stylish, with some supercar design cues, it looked the part but vague, inconsistent steering and fidgety suspension fell well short of the MINI's lofty dynamic standards.

Now it's time for the French revolutionand Citroen has outdone its continental neighbours with the new DS3.

Contemporary design is the perfect MINI antidote

Contemporary design immediately sets the DS3 apart from MINI, making it the perfect antidote for those beginning to tire of the retro hatchback.

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Despite bearing the name of a past Citroen line - the innovative DS introduced air sprung suspension and cornering headlights between 1955 and 1975 - the new car is fresh and eye-catching.

Features such as the Shark Fin B-pillar, floating clamshell roof and the LED daytime running lights down either side of the front bumper are new and distinctive.

The interior is similarly refreshing.

Crafted from the same Bakelite-style material used for Fiat's 500, but without the retro cues, the gloss black of my test DS3's dashboard looked fantastic, a Sat-Nav screen integrated neatly above a neat cluster of climate control instruments.

A sculpted, flat-bottomed leather steering wheel looks and feels great in my hands and sports seats offer good support.

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The DS3 is larger than a MINI but smaller than a MiTO but surprisingly spacious and trumps both for rear leg room and boot space (285 litres).

A touch more reach adjustment in the steering column would be welcome but its a minor gripe in a really well conceived interior.

Sporty chic offered in DSport trim

In the range-topping DSport trim seen here, the DS3 sits with genuine purpose on 17-inch white alloys.

Twin exhausts and a rear diffuser add some attitude to a car which, Citroen claims, can be specced to be feminine and chic or sporty and masculine.

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DSign, DStyle and DSport specs and a choice of three BMW co-developed petrols and two modern Citroen HDi diesels make up the DS3 range. Prices range from £11,700 to £15,900.

I rolled out of the Advertiser car park in the range-topping 150bhp petrol version, which sits between a MINI Cooper and Cooper S in price terms, but shares a de-tuned version of the Ss 1.6-litre turbocharged engine.

Initially, the chassis felt controlled without being stiff and the torquey engine was easy to get on with. A precise gearbox and nicely weighted steering and clutch action immediately set me at ease with the controls.

Tight handling, perky engine

Only when the pace was upped did the DS3 transform into the kind of car I never imagined would wear a Citroen badge.

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The manufacturer, renowned for its supple suspension, has created a hatchback which turns in with conviction and grips in a (dare I say it) MINI-like fashion.

With suspension so tightly controlled, I soon found myself settling into a flowing, high-speed rhythm through bends and sweeps.

Citroen claim a 7.3-second sprint to 62mph and 133mph top speed and it feels on the money, the 155bhp engine delivering much of its maximum 177lb.ft. of torque across the entire rev-range.

Turn up the wick still further and, at the limits, the DS3 does miss out ever so slightly on an added layer of near-sports-car feedback that the MINI can muster but, overall, the DS3 is a remarkably satisfying drive.

DS3 is impressive, and a huge achievement for Citroen

Make no mistake, the DS3 is a huge achievement for Citroen.

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Staggeringly, I even managed to hit Citroen's fuel consumption claim of 42mpg during my test. CO2 emissions stand at 155g/km.

With the option of a 90bhp diesel engine offering 74.3mpg and free road tax due to its 99g/km CO2 emissions, and servicing packages to rival MINIs award winning off-the-shelf after-sales deals, the DS3 range is the biggest threat to the retro hatchbacks dominance in a decade.

Ladies and gentlemen, the bullet has left the barrel...and Citroens aim is better than I ever imagined it could be.

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