Published on Sunday 9 March 2014 21:53
Ten Second Review
Citroen's DS3 Cabrio is anything but a conventional convertible - but then, that's exactly why you might buy one. You don't get a full-blown folding roof, but then neither do you get the usual compromises in rear seat and luggage space - and there are no speed restrictions on soft top use. If you thought you could neither justify or afford a cabriolet, then this car aims to make you think again.
The small affordable cabriolet. It's a lovely idea in principle, inexpensive open-roofed motoring for those rare occasions when the sun makes an appearance. In practice though, there are often frustrating compromises to be made in a car of this kind. Here's one though, that doesn't require you to make too many: Citroen's DS3 Cabrio.
Let me explain. Wouldn't it be nice if a model of this sort didn't buffet you roof-down and shimmy over bumps? Wouldn't it be neat if you could react instantly to the weather and retract its top at almost any speed? And wouldn't it be good if you could actually fit three people in the back if need be - and more than a token amount of luggage? None of the cars which most readily come to mind as affordable open-tops - say the MINI Convertible, the Fiat 500C or even the Mazda MX-5 - can satisfy on all these counts.
This one can. No, it's not a full-blown convertible - but then Citroen argues that to be a good thing, the resultant design better suited to enjoyment of our testing roads and changeable climate. Is it? We're going to find out.
On paper, you might be tempted to view this car's kind of folding soft top as little more than a giant sunroof, but in practice, it's much more than that. True, you never get the full 'wind in the hair' feeling that you would in a classic conventional cabriolet lacking this Citroen's fixed side panels but there's quite enough exposure to the elements in the fully open position to give you that real cabrio feeling, though buffeting is reduced because you're better hidden from the blustery conditions. I should also point out that, as with any proper convertible, rearward vision with the roof down is pretty awful, hence the standard fitment of rear parking sensors.
My favourite feature though relates to the way - unique in my experience with convertible cars - that this roof allows you to instantly react to the conditions you're driving in. Press a little button on the overhead console and you can open or close the roof in just 16s at any speed up to 75mph. With the roof closed, refinement is near-on as good as it is in the fixed top DS3.
As for engines, well I tried the top petrol THP 155 variant where rest to sixty two mph occupies 8.2s en route to 132mph. If you don't need to go quite that quickly, then you can get the same engine with 35bhp less in the normally aspirated VTi 120 model, a car that manages 62mph in 9.9s on the way to 118mph. More laid back folk can choose a more lethargic 4-speed automatic version of the 1.6-litre VTi or an entry-level three cylinder 82bhp 1.2-litre VTi petrol variant that's impressively efficient but takes nearly fifteen seconds to get to the 62mph benchmark. That leaves only the sole diesel option offered from launch, the e-HDI 90 Airdream, with a 1.6-litre HDi unit game enough to propel the car to 62mph in 12.5s.
Design and Build
You'd be forgiven for not realising this to be a Cabrio at first glance. After all, the profile of this model is identical to that of its fixed-top counterpart, which means you get the same cool 'shark fin' B-pillar, the same 'floating' two-tone roof and the same sculpted front end with its distinctive LED light signature.
The soft top is electrically operated by a button on the overhead console that works to three main settings - 'intermediate', 'horizontal' and 'total' - all of which, impressively, are accessible at any speed up to 75mph. Prodding the button once will slide the canvas back so that it concertinas like a busker's accordion above a rear screen which, if you continue to press the button, will hinge forward to lie on the parcel shelf, before the folded canvas sandwich motors back to take its place. The roof acrobatics take only 16s from start to finish and when the whole thing's open, there's a pop-up wind deflector that springs out of the top roof rail to quell the worst of the turbulence.
Of course, when you do have the roof down, you don't want it to take up so much space at the back that there's no room for people or packages. In this DS3 it doesn't. Take rear cargo space - 245-litres in all, just 40-litres less than you'd get in the ordinary hatch version. Plus you can extend it by folding down the same 60/40 split-folding rear bench you'll find on the DS3 hatch, revealing up to 980-litres. Even more impressive, given the size of this car, is the rear seat space on offer. This is the only model its class - and one of the very few convertibles you can buy - that can actually take three people across the back seat.
Market and Model
Expect to pay somewhere in the £15,000 to £20,000 bracket for your DS3 Cabrio, so you're looking at a £2,400 premium over the fixed-top version that many will assume this car is at first glance. Most Cabrio sales will be accounted for by either 1.2 or 1.6-litre VTi petrol versions - and there's a £2,400 premium to go from one to the other. At the top of the range, a £20,000 budget is required for the most desirable THP 155 turbocharged petrol model. The single 90bhp 1.6-litre diesel variant that was offered at launch is pitched just above the two mainstream petrol variants, requiring a budget of around £18,000.
Though the base model doesn't include air conditioning, all the other variants have it and of course, every model comes with electric operation for the folding fabric roof that's central to the design of this car. Other standard kit across the range runs to front foglamps, 3D LED rear lights, dark tinted rear windows, sports suspension, rear parking sensors, cruise control with a speed limiter and a decent quality six-speaker CD stereo. You've to stretch to the top trim level for Bluetooth connectivity though, which comes as part of Citroen's upgraded 'Connecting Box' Hi-Fi system.
Cost of Ownership
When it comes to running costs, best of the bunch is the e-HDi diesel of course, which wears 'Airdream' badges that denote especially impressive returns - 78.5mpg on the combined cycle and 95g/km of CO2. Almost as noteworthy is the entry-level three cylinder 1.2-litre VTi 82 petrol model, which manages 57.6mpg and 112g/km.
Beyond these two variants, you'll pay a bit more to keep your car on the road - but the figures aren't excessive. Both normally aspirated and turbocharged manual 1.6-litre petrol variants return 47.9mpg on the combined cycle and put out around 136g/km of CO2. I should point out though that if you opt for the 1.6-litre VTi automatic, those returns take a bit of a hit, falling to 40.9mpg and 154g/km. There's a Gear Efficiency Indicator on the dash to try and help owners get as close to those figures as possible in normal day-to-day motoring.
Insurance can sometimes be a bit of an issue with convertibles, but in this case, the groupings aren't much different to those of the DS3 hard-top model. That means an affordable entry-level group 10 for the base VTi 82, but then that rises to 16 for the VTi 120, 20 or 21 for the diesel and 23 for this top THP 155 turbo petrol model.
We live in a country where it can rain for 200 days in a year. Even if you can make a rational argument for owning a convertible in such a climate, it might be difficult to justify carting around the heavy, bulky cabrio roof that such a car will need, a top that when folded will minimise both bootspace and rear passenger room. With this DS3 Cabrio though, the downsides have been minimised. Here's a convertible that makes real sense for the part of the world we live in.
Of course, it's not designed to suit someone really intent on getting the full al fresco experience. The looks don't shout 'convertible' and there are still door pillars to look past. But if you're okay with that and just want to feel the sun once in a while without the wobbling bodywork, practical compromises and awkward styling of most small cabriolets, then this car could be exactly what you've been looking for.