We’d like to apologise upfront for the many references to the Mini Cooper.
And that’s not just because the Citroën DS3 shares two of the Mini range’s engines – the normally aspirated 1,6-litre 88 kW unit that powers the base model DS3 Style, and the turbocharged unit, detuned to deliver 13 kW less than the Cooper S’s 128 kW. It also has a two-door bodyshell, offers a myriad of customisation options and plays in the market of the savvy, super style-conscious city slicker.
The new C3-based DS3 hails a slight change of character for the French motor maker. Citroëns have historically been oddball, leftfield choices, and one’d expect them to be mad to try taking on the mighty Mini.
And yet on paper and in practice the DS3 offers more than the Mini. And here or there a little less, too.
For starters, the DS3 makes a Mini look dated. Citroën’s insistence that the DS3 isn’t about being retro-modern counts in their favour as Mini designers (along with those of the Porsche 911) continue to scratch their heads in search of what line or crease to change and then calling it an “all-new” car every three years.
The DS3 looks fantastically modern, its pseudo B-pillar shark fin being undoubtedly the highlight of the side profile. Up front it’s aggressive without being overdone and only at the rear, well, let’s just say the designers didn’t want to miss their lunch break when they were about to get started on that. Citroën: 1. Mini: 0.
The interior draws heavily from the new C3 and that’s no bad thing, but the here the Citroën’s slightly generic look just doesn’t wow as much as that of the more premium looking Mini cockpit. The DS3 is certainly as customisable as the Mini (both inside and out), so buyers can specify 7 different dashboard trim colours, varied gear knob colours, four different wheel colours and even roof tattoos.
What the Citroën loses to the Mini in interior suaveness, it makes up in space. Unlike the Mini, the DS3’s rear seat can be used for more than just dumping your drive-through takeaways on the back seat when in a hurry. Adults can consider it for short trips, and there’s more space in the boot for their bags, too. Nice one, Citroën.
Take the DS3 out on the road and it impresses even more. Well, up to a point, anyway. The French are masters at engineering comfortable (and none more so than Citroën) suspension, so thanks to its longer wheel travel, the DS3 rides more comfortably than the Mini. Of course, there’s a trade-off for that comfort, and that means dynamically an overall less sharp feeling combined with more body roll under cornering.
The dynamic shortfall is present in the power and drive trains too, because acceleration isn’t as brisk, nor is the throw of the gear lever as short, or as satisfying, as in the Mini. It all comes down to what you’re after: if you want needle-sharp steering and a seat-of-your-pants driving experience, go for the Mini. If you’re less fussy or comfort matters, the DS3 is your choice. But on paper, the Mini takes this round.
Price-wise, the DS3 reclaims lost ground, with the flagship model pegged at R255 000 compared to R280 000 for the aging Mini.
No matter how one looks at it, the Mini has some serious competition. DS3 buyers won’t necessarily miss the Mini’s extra sharp handling and would most likely be unable to regularly extract that type of dynamism anyway.
The Mini Cooper, good as it is, isn’t the ultimate pocket rocket. For that you’d have to look at some the cars made by Renault. So you can buy the Mini, with the knowledge that it’s neither being the hottest hatch nor being the biggest or the most comfortable.
Or you can take heed of that and just buy a Citroën DS3.
MODEL: Citroën DS3 1.6 THP Sport, manual
PRICE: R255 000
ENGINE: 1,6 litre, turbocharged four-cylinder petrol, 115 kW, 240 Nm
PERFORMANCE: 0-100 km/h in 7,3 seconds, top speed 214 km/h, 6,7 litres/100 km
VERDICT: Watch out, Mini