Retro chic has been the dominant fashion for quite some time now - manufacturers resurrecting long-dead small cars for reasons of nostalgia. First it happened with some success to the Mini, and then it happened with some success to the Fiat 500. Citroen has noted the common theme and introduces the DS3, albeit a car more emphasis on the chic than the retro.
In fact, the DS3 is almost stubbornly anti-retro, with some fascinating design touches: the floating roof, the B-pillar Citroen would have us describe as 'shark-fin' and the aggressive LED day-running lights. They set the car apart from opposition that is stuck in the glories of the past.
The one retro touch that is allowed here is the introduction of the DS name, which Citroen obviously hopes will lend some cachet to the car. It's actually a new premium sub-brand, the first car in a series of upmarket models on the way from the French manufacturer.
Underneath the sexy clothing lies the less glamorous C3, albeit massively tarted up. Aside from a similar front end the differences are profound enough to cater for both cars' mutually exclusive audiences. One way the DS3 manages this is in the (almost) endless possibilities for personalisation. Citroen is hoping to exploit the me-too desire for individuality that made the Mini so profitable for BMW.
The DS3 is as different to the C3 to drive as it looks. There's incisive handling that isn't compromised by a rock-hard ride. The DS3 benefits from the C3's extra girth, however. Where the Mini is a cramped 2+2 at best, the Citroen is much better suited to carrying friends - perhaps not for road trips though. The 285-litre boot is a respectable size, making the DS3 a more practical option compared to other fashion-led rivals.
The frugal option in the DS3 range is the 1.6-litre DStyle, which offers 99g/km CO2 emissions and nearly 75mpg - this car isn't about being frugal though, it's about stylish fun. Our favourite car is the 1.6-litre THP, with a peppy 150hp engine developed, ironically enough, in conjunction with BMW. This car really does benefit from a bit of zest.
The DS3 is a welcome addition to the trendy hatchback market, providing stiff competition for the Mini that has been hitherto unseen. The Citroen will quickly get very pricey if you go crazy with the options list, but such is the price of fashion.