DS 3 Performance long-term test review: final report
It’s true our DS 3 has been through a lot, but would we still pick it over its hot hatch rivals?
My time with the DS 3 was a bit like a fling. During six months, there were plenty of highs and this good-looking hatchback was easy to love, but I quickly realised our relationship wasn’t going to last. It was fun, but it could never have been forever.
Not because the 3 Performance is a bad car – it’s actually one of the most enjoyable hot hatches to drive – but simply because our car was plagued by a turbo gremlin that ended up defining much of the time I was running it.
This was a massive shame because the car had a lot going for it. Its flash design turned the heads of countless people on every journey. Its diamond cut wheels, matt black and gold colour scheme and scrolling indicator lights were eye-catching.
It had the substance to match the style, too. The turbocharged 1.6-litre engine felt like it produced more than the stated 205bhp and 221lb ft. On track, the car was extremely agile, with its set of Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres making it a real giant slayer during track days.
Conversely, if I took the car on a motorway run, it would easily return more than 40mpg. In fact, the best average fuel economy I got between fill-ups was 37.7mpg, which is 12.6mpg short of the claimed combined figure but better than I had expected for real-world use. I’m not particularly light-footed, either.
Much of the car’s life was spent on city streets. Fuel economy was closer to 30mpg here, but that’s more a reflection of London’s traffic problem than any particular thirst for petrol. I’m convinced the engine’s stop-start system helped to save me a few pence in fuel each month.
Admittedly, the car did have some natural flaws. I didn’t particularly like the gold-finish dashboard that came with our 3 Performance Black variant, and the car’s high list price (and fast depreciation) meant it could never be a bargain as a new car purchase. On the other hand, that has made the 3 Performance a rare sight on British roads, which helps to explain why it turned so many heads.
I never understood why the sat-nav couldn’t be shown on screen when I was taking a phone call via Apple CarPlay. Having to tell people I’d call them back so I didn’t miss directions wasn’t an issue I’d experienced before. The ride was also sometimes tiring. The firm suspension and quick damping could send the body vibrating along a rough road.
But to some degree, that gave the car an old-school feel. It wasn’t designed to be a luxury cruiser so it wasn’t particularly good at being one.
Instead, it was designed to hammer along country lanes and charge around race tracks, filling the mirrors of much more expensive machinery. It was very good at that.
The DS was a very fun car to drive. So it was even more saddening when the car’s turbo issue just wouldn’t go away. I never fully understood the problem and I’m not sure DS did, either, because the car had to go in for work on the same issue twice.
The symptoms were simple enough. First, the engine management light would flash on, sometimes accompanied by an ‘engine fault’ warning message on the infotainment screen. Then the turbo would seemingly stop boosting, leaving me with a naturally aspirated engine that produced what I figured was no more than 80bhp.
It wasn’t just annoying – it was dangerous. Pulling out at a busy junction with less than half the power you’re expecting is scary.
Initially, the car went to the Citroën/DS dealership in Brentford west London, where it stayed for two weeks. The fault proved difficult to track down, but eventually the mechanics fitted a new turbo electric valve (free, under warranty) and the issue had gone when the car returned.
Disappointingly, a little over a month later, the turbo stopped boosting again. Not wanting to waste more time swapping parts without fixing the issue, DS opted to take the car in at its press office garage for a proper check. This time, an exhaust sensor was labelled as the culprit. It was replaced and the car returned to me in good health, so I expected that to be the last of the problems.
I got two months of reliable motoring out of the DS and began to fall for its charms again, before the engine management light flickered on once more. This time the turbo never stopped working and the light did eventually go out, but it means I’m not sure if the issue was ever fully rectified.
I did some research online and the problem doesn’t seem to be one that’s common. For that reason, I’d say you’re unlikely to suffer the same issue should you jump in a 3 Performance. Unless the numberplate ends in VZT, that is…
Whatever the cause, a lousy fault turned what could have been a very exciting autumn and winter into one filled with frustration.
Nevertheless, as is often the case in a turbulent relationship, there were still plenty of fun times. Brimming the car with four people and their luggage for a trip to Yorkshire stands out as one of my favourite memories, and the car’s powerful sound system meant the lengthy slog up the M1 wasn’t lacking entertainment.
All in all, I’ll look back on the DS 3 Performance model fondly, but my car in particular – as much as I bonded with it at times – wasn’t faithful enough for me to really miss it.
Good news: DS’s recurring turbo fault has now gone following the fitment of a new exhaust gas sensor. Hurrah. So what have I learned now I’m not grinding my teeth at the sight of an engine management light? That the DS is one of the most focused hot hatches in its class.
It’s excellent at charging along B-roads, but the trade-off for the car’s sure-footed body control is a slightly tiresome ride on cracked city streets.
It’s a similar story with the engine. When spinning freely, the unit is muscular and engaging, but at low revs a noticeable amount of turbo lag can make driving smoothly in traffic more effort than it should be.
This theme continues inside, where DS has got the racy stuff, such as the lovely bucket-style seats, right while the less exciting stuff, such as the multimedia system, is far from the best in class.
Clearly, the car has been developed with a hard focus on performance. That will make it alluring for some (me included) but probably a step too far for those seeking lots of versatility.
DS 3 THP 210 S&S PERFORMANCE BLACK
Price £22,995 Price as tested £23,345 Economy 36.3mpg Faults Power loss (fixed) Expenses None Mileage 5925
So the DS 3 is broken again.
This time, it’s apparently an exhaust gas sensor that’s sending the engine settings haywire and causing the turbo to stop working. The unpredictability of the issue makes driving anywhere a nightmare because the turbo can switch off without notice and suddenly I’m faced with a naturally aspirated 1.6. On two occasions, I’ve pulled out at a busy junction expecting 205bhp only to be given gutless, sluggish acceleration that has me glancing in the rear-view mirror for fear of being rear-ended.
The replacement of the turbo electric valve that the DS technicians carried outthe last time this issue arose was to no avail. We’ve now been told by DS that the issue will be fixed once a new exhaust sensor is fitted.
This has me confused, because before I handed the car back to be fixed, I took it to my dad’s garage (he’s a mechanic). He plugged in his ECU reader and it said the fault was related to a ‘turbo boost sensor’, so neither part that DS has noted. Odd.
Taking the car for a thrashing or stretching its legs on a motorway seems to temporarily fix the fault. It’s as though the slow pace and low revs of urban driving trigger the issue, leading me to think that something is getting clogged up during fuel-rich periods and clears when the exhaust pressure rises. I suspect this is why there were no problems when we took it on a track day late last year.
A search online suggests my car’s problem isn’t common so I’m inclined to cut DS some slack. But the fact that the issue has happened twice is disappointing, not least because when it does work, the 3 Performance is an excellent driver’s hatch so I’m missing out on quite a lot of fun.
After two weeks of investigation, DS says the problem has been solved and it is returning the car to us. We only have a few more weeks left with the car, so I’m praying to the electrical gods that they’re right.
DS 3 THP 210 S&S PERFORMANCE BLACK
Price £22,995 Price as tested £23,345 Economy 37.1mpg Faults Loss of power Expenses None
Turbo fault before a track day
After the car had grown sickly, the Robins & Day London West dealership found that a turbocharger electrovalve and air flow meter fault was causing a loss of power. That’s not something you expect of a new car, but to DS’s credit, a courtesy car was provided and new parts were sourced and fitted within a couple of weeks, all under warranty.
With the car back in our hands, I figured the best place to check whether the problem had been rectified was on a circuit, so off we headed to the challenging Bedford Autodrome for a track day.
Sitting in the pitlane, faced with a queue of sports cars, supercars and mega-hatches – including our own Ford Focus RS long-termer, which had also been brought along for the day – I began to wonder if my decision to take to the track so soon after a mechanical issue was a wise one. Please don’t break today, DS, I thought…
About 20 minutes later, with the speedometer needle edging past 130mph along the back straight, I was fairly convinced that the car was back to full fitness. Even the significantly more powerful Focus RS could manage only 7-8mph more at the same point on the track.
The DS’s brakes survived a real pounding at the end of the straight, while its hunkered-down chassis meant the fast left-right that followed was met with satisfying composure – so much so that we’d claw closer to almost any car in front.
Commitment into hairpins was rewarded with useful lift-off oversteer – the sort that tightens your line rather than your butt cheeks. Around the whole lap, only the fastest sports cars could beat our DS.
At the end of the day, I’d completely forgiven it for the earlier problems. Let’s hope it stays that way.
DS 3 PERFORMANCE BLACK THP 210 S&S
Mileage 3627 Price £22,995 Price as tested £23,345 Economy 26.5mpg Faults Power loss (rectified under warranty) Expenses None
Developed a fault
Just as I was starting to really enjoy driving the DS 3 Performance, it’s developed a fault. I’m not sure what’s wrong, but the engine management and service lights have illuminated and the infotainment screen occasionally flashes up an ‘engine fault’ message. On top of that, the turbo occasionally feels as if it’s not boosting, so performance is rather sluggish. Off to the local dealership it goes.
Source: Autocar Online