Cabrio retains much of the driving enjoyment of the hatchback
Citroen's DS3 hatchback has been a huge sales success for the firm, going up against the Mini and Fiat 500 in the premium small car segment. With both of its main rivals having open-top versions it was only a matter of time before Citroen joined the fray with this soft-top DS3, called the Cabrio.
Against the aforementioned rivals the DS3 Cabrio has a tough job, but it goes about it in the right way with statistics that improve upon the others' flaws. A larger boot, more customisation options and five seats are all areas in which the DS3 Cabrio plays a trump card in the hope of stealing sales from the existing competitors.
The DS3 Cabrio aims to be more usable every day than its competitors, but its essence is contained within a sliding electric roof. The multi-layer fabric construction retains impressive sound insulation but folds neatly back to three positions: over the front seats, to the back of the roof and then folded down onto the parcel shelf.
Also key to the car's appeal is the breadth of customisation options, with many body colours and several roof designs to choose from. There are various graphics, wheels and interior trim parts to change if desired, as well as the more conventional range of choices - three familiar trim levels and three evolutionary engines.
Citroen has spent a lot of time refining its petrol engines as much as possible but the DS3 Cabrio lacks a diesel engine at present. Aside from this notable omission against the Mini in particular, the range covers initial bases for low-to-average mileage drivers. The decision to leave the door frames and pillars intact maintains stiffness for good handling.
The DS3 Cabrio is in many ways very similar to the hatchback on which it is based. It drives almost as sharply, weighs little more and enjoys a cabin nearly as quiet. The roof is not a perfect solution but is an accepted norm for the class, and the car looks particularly well suited to it. Those who like the hatchback will love it, but prices can seem rather high.
The DS3 Cabrio range is relatively expensive to buy, especially when considering this, the priciest option. It has a less extensive options list than some of its rivals, though, which hints at its higher standard equipment list and arguably better basic value for money. Benefit in Kind is cheap for the basic 1.2-litre engine but outside the ideal window for the two 1.6-litre units. Residual values are likely to be strong enough, if perhaps not as strong as those of certain alternatives.
Practicality is a secondary concern to all convertible superminis, and therefore it's only right to judge the DS3 Cabrio in relation to its direct rivals before looking at the wider picture. Against the competition it does have a larger boot and a bigger access aperture, and the legitimate fifth seat - something the key rival cars lack - could be priceless for some owners. Against a normal hatchback, though, the boot is difficult to get to and to make the most of.
In keeping with its stylish design inside and out, the main instrument cluster and centre console look great, with a glamorous and confident edge to the design. The main dials also do their jobs well, providing all the information you need in a smart, fashionable way, without overcomplicating matters. The large central media interface screen on this model is also encouraging, with a clear readout and responsive touch recognition. The main problem is that some of the associated buttons and dials are too far away from the screen itself.
As standard all DS3 Cabrio models come equipped with what Citroen calls 'Sport suspension', which essentially means the ride is firmer than it really should be in a car designed for cruising around town in style. With the roof in place the sound insulation is good, although very blustery days do create wind roar. With the roof slid back, however, there is a lot of wind buffeting around the cabin, which for those with long hair might be annoying.
Not all the DS3 Cabrio models are created equal in this regard, with the most expensive DSport model the only one to benefit from an alarm. All models use an immobiliser to help prevent straightforward theft, and each also features remote central locking. Otherwise there is little to praise on the security front, and perhaps on such a noticeable car Citroen could have tried harder to include a greater deterrent to potential thieves.
As is normal for almost every modern car, each of the DS3 Cabrio models shares the same high safety kit specification. A full spread of active safety systems monitor each wheel's behaviour and correct any aberrations or abnormalities by braking individual wheels or simply cutting power from the engine. The rear bench seat has three proper three-point seat belts and there are airbags throughout the structure, offering a measure of protection to everyone in the car.
The roof pillars are fixed to ensure the body is almost as stiff as that of the hatchback, and Citroen's engineers have been successful in maintaining enough of the hard-top car's sense of fun. The turbocharged petrol engine in this model is lazy enough for relaxed driving, but pulls harder in the upper reaches of the rev range, giving keener drivers something to aim for. It's no hot hatch but nor is it without talent.
The interior is littered with coloured trim, both leather and plastic. These are the sorts of finishes that easily show dirt and damage, and so aren't especially well suited to the hardships of being a family bus. The three rear seats do increase the Cabrio's family appeal though, and there are Isofix child seat mounts on the outer rear seats. How appropriate an open-top car would be for a child's potentially delicate disposition is a choice for individual parents.
A first car usually needs to be affordable and the DS3 Cabrio is on the very uppermost fringes of that. Sometimes wealthier parents provide a gift for their children after passing their tests and this would probably have to be purchased that way. This range-topping model is simply too expensive to be a viable option, even before considering the inappropriate power of the engine and the associated insurance rating.
Citroen has not fared well in ownership satisfaction surveys and most of its problems stem from electrical gremlins. The DS line has done an impressive amount to turn the brand's image around in younger people's eyes, but the company will need to see its cars rise up the reliability charts before the wider public will be convinced. The DS3 Cabrio is too new to evaluate with any finality, but one test car at the launch did have electrical issues.
While the fixed roof frame is a boon for maintaining chassis strength, it does mean that even with the roof slid back access is made no easier for rear passengers. Long doors mean that it's easier to hop into the back than in some rival cars, but the other side of the coin is that once seated, front seat occupants have a long reach backwards to grasp the seat belt.
The stereo is a victim of something Citroen has been guilty of many times before in the modern era, which is squeezing too many small buttons into an already small space. As such, especially when in this model the buttons are so far from the readout, it can be thoroughly awkward to operate the stereo on the move. This top-spec model does have Citroen's 'Connecting Box' Bluetooth and USB connections, but DSign and DStyle models do not.
As well as the usual breadth of sensible colours covering black, white and monochrome shades in between, the popular red shade is carried over from the hatchback along with a chocolate brown and a vibrant yellow. Around 20 percent of UK hatchbacks are specified in red and the colour looks great on the Cabrio. Some of the interior trim can be coloured to complement the body shade, but since large swathes of trim are involved this is heavily dependent on taste.
The DS3 Cabrio can be difficult to reverse with the roof all the way back where it blocks the line of sight, and it isn't much better with the roof up. The small rear windscreen effectively creates the effect of wide C-pillars and those without excellent spatial awareness will struggle not to bump the rear corners. Citroen knows this, which is why even the basic DSign model comes with rear parking sensors to help prevent unwanted bumps.
Space saver fitted as standard (DSport only).
Petrol engine options - 1.2-litre (81bhp); 1.6-litre (118bhp); 1.6-litre THP turbo (153bhp). Transmission options: five and six-speed manual gearbox depending on model. Trim levels: DSign, DStyle, DSport.