Test drive: Citroen DS3 Racing

19 Oct 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on Test drive: Citroen DS3 Racing
Citroen DS3

The TotallyMotor Verdict

You can’t judge a book by its cover. Well, actually you can. It does depend, of course, on how descriptive that cover is, but in this case, the case of the Citroen’s very hottest DS model; the DS3 Racing, it pretty much does exactly what it says on the tin.

The plot of this rally-tuned automotive tale is given away right from the off, with little in the way of surprise or suspense for the driver. Study that ‘Racing’ title, take in the attention-grabbing ‘Racing Spirit’ graphic teasers, and, make no mistake; those 18-inch wheels, wide carbonfibre-encrusted bodywork and menacing back-box burble all mean business.

If you expected a soft, warm and romantic read I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed. The hero of this rollercoaster thriller is only interested in one thing. Action.

This is the fastest, most high-spec; most expensive DS3 you can buy, at £23,100 on the road. And yes, it’s supposed to be quick; really quick, but it also has to deliver around-town-manners and everyday ease of use.

A tall story indeed, but it’s the ‘Racing’ promises that are the most important to fulfil. And we’ve got the ‘perfect’ rainy, muddy and gloomy late-February Wednesday to turn the Racing’s pages, explore every chapter of performance, grip, comfort and ride; hopefully arriving breathlessly at a truly exciting ending that doesn’t involve too much overly farfetched fiction.

First impressions:

I’d been keen to meet the Racing ever since sampling its DS3 DSport sibling – on which the R is based. The DSport was nippy without being scary, chunky and hunkered, and came up with the driving enjoyment goods around every bend and on every straight. An engaging all-rounder indeed, but the Racing, on first in-the-flesh impressions, looks to have pulled the volume knob off at 11 and tossed it in the bushes.

Looks like there’ll be no softly, softly here.

We’re driving the Obsidian Black with Sport Orange roof R-car today; the colour scheme that Citroen says looks to be the most popular from initial customer orders. There’s a Polar White under Carbon Grey roof paint option too, which would be my personal Racing choice.

I’m just into white cars right now and the liberal sprinkling of real carbonfibre found on the Racing really stands out on the Polar White paintjob. Polar White also brings an unpainted carbon front grille, where Obsidian Black’s grille is colour coded orange. A tiny detail I know, but black carbon on white paint just looks so good and I’d want show it off; love it, clean it and polish it.

This car is aimed at people like me and so far I’m happily accepting the Racing’s invitation.

Again according to Citroen, many of the initial Racing orders, which are, as it happens, subject to a six month waiting list, are currently being placed including the optional £450 ‘Racing Spirit’ graphics. It seems that we’re proud of our hot hatch-loving history here in the UK, and we’re not ashamed to show it.

The rear quarter panels, roof and dashboard all get the Spirit decals affixed, should you plump for them, and mix the graphics with the other standout styling features and you’ve got one rolling advert for back lane-fun.

The basic DS3 shape is a pleasing one and to top this curvy cake off with plenty of carbonfibre trim detailing; inside and out, big Racing-bespoke wheels and over 200bhp just seems to me to be a great idea. But I like cars like this. And if you’ve read this far down, you probably do too.

Into the interior:

I always try to put myself in the intended buyer’s shoes for each of our TotallyMotor New Car Reviews, and with the Racing I think it’s fair to say that those shoes would be mine anyway. Well, trainers rather than shoes, and trainers specially selected for a thin sole that let me feel the pedals better.

So, thirty-something, auto-enthusiastic, performance-oriented and not afraid to stand out from the crowd while driving this burbling turbo-brute. Yep, that’s me, and like a boy I’m excited as I slip inside the R.

First up, and as obvious as a clip round the ear, is the Sport Orange colour-coded dashboard. A wide orange expanse, complete with those goading go-faster graphics, is the first of many racing cues inside the Racing.

There’s that lovely carbonfibre again, laid-in around the leather trimmed steering wheel and making me feel race-inspired right away. Look up into that side-to-side orange swathe of dash and there’s a red-surrounded, driver-focused mixture of analogue and digital clocks that further connect you to the Racing’s sporting intentions.

Grip the steering wheel pistol-grips, scooch down in the embracing Citroen Racing Sports Seats and prepare to do battle with your favourite bends. The DS3 Racing certainly delivers in terms of look and feel of a quick little car, but also thankfully apparent is the space and air of the original DS3 cabin.

The car might’ve been developed by the team behind Citroen’s all-conquering World Rally Cars; Citroen Racing, but they didn’t get it all their own way. Pop your heads inside a World Rally Car and you may, or may not, think that’s a good thing.

Apparently the racing engineers wanted to strip away all that was hefty from the DSport donor car’s interior to help overcome every car’s performance nemesis; weight. And while the Racing features lightweight carbon parts and five per cent lighter wheels at each corner, it actually weighs about the same as the DSport, thanks to its interior extras. Citroen want you to have fun in the Racing but not at the expense of everyday creature comforts.

You won’t find a rollcage, skimpy carpets or a bench where the back seats should be.

But you will find everything from the DSport, and more. Rear parking sensors, auto headlights, auto wipers, digital air-con, Bluetooth and an eight-speaker USB stereo are all pleasant and correct, as are liberally sprinkled chrome detailings, Racing mats and leather trimmed extras. Can’t tell you about that multi-speaker stereo though; I didn’t even think to switch it on!

Also present, and a little bit of a bug for me from the DSport, are the aluminium drilled pedals. On this wet day with the Racing and like the damp day with the DSport, my wets soles found the rubber-studded pedals slippery when wet. Some foot on carpet rubbing and footwell heating sorts the slip, but I’d be looking to fix this issue with my own Racing.

Perhaps by ‘roughing-up’ the surface of the pedal’s rubber studs?

Anyway, I’m taking in all the good stuff – apart from the pedals as the pre-fired engine purrs beneath me. It’s quite a powerful-sounding purr; by no means kitty cat, and with the engine temp gauge telling me we’re good to go, it’s time to see if there’s some bite behind the sharp style and sports exhaust.

An easy snick into the first of six ratios in the closely-gated gearbox, a lift of the mid-weighted clutch and the Racing sets off at a gentle pace through the car park. I remember this gearbox from the DSport and its quick to engage and the ratios are right. The Racing is, however, 15mm lower on stiffer, tuned shocks and springs, and 30mm wider than the DSport.

Its also got over fifty more ponies thanks to a bigger turbo and remapped ECU.

I notice the stiffer suspension over the first of a few speedbumps. Yes it’s stiff; the way it has to be if you want that flat and fast cornering, but it also feels solid and in control of the road-holding tasks. The quicker steering is quickly apparent as I decide to dodge the next big bump turn the Racing a touch and direction is immediately and steadfastly changed with inputs bringing instant response.

My smile widens.

It’s a right damp squib of a day with rivers of standing water and mini minefields of mud-pats plaguing the black-top before me; all under a constant lash of fresh rain from the leaden sky. Might as well floor it.

A short lag in power as the small, 1600cc 4-pot engine stutters at the initial surprise of an unexpected full-power command, from next to no revs. This is always the nature of a relatively small-capacity engine powered-up by turbocharging. The engine has to make an initial burst of fast-flowing exhaust gas to spin the turbo and pressurise the extra air forced into the engine, with the extra fuel; to make the extra power.

All of this takes a split second to happen, but once you’re at speed and making turbo-boost you won’t find any more lag. Just keep the Racing on the boil and you’ll be going extra hard in no time. Entirely instant acceleration only comes with huge-capacity V8 engines, and they won’t return anywhere near the Racing’s 44.1 combined mpg or its 149g/km CO2 rating.

Speed builds quickly; matching the ever-increasing surge of turbo-energy. Maximum boost from the turbo is 2.2bar or about 30psi – quite a big dollop of forced induction indeed and that’s how you make 204bhp from a 1.6-litre engine. And while the ‘little’ motor is certainly working hard under the hood, it doesn’t feel like it’s thrashing around out of its depth.

It feels torquey and tough.

The Racing will hit 70mph in second gear, running the 62-sprint in just 6.5sces, which is proper, premiere league hot hatch speed. The tick-over purr opens up into a rushing roar in time with the throttle action, while the gears find their home accurately, and the world disappears behind. Citroen quote a 1km standing start dash at 26.5sces and a top speed of 146mph.

146mph!

You’d want to feel fully in command at 140mph and while we didn’t get anywhere near that on the public roads, the surefooted and composed DS Racing offers the sort of easy to drive confidence, mixed with a little wide-eyed adrenaline, that leads me to believe she’d be safe at big speeds; perhaps on the track. The braking, courtesy of Italian retardation experts, Brembo, is impressive and even in these grim conditions, the car hauled up with a firm authority.

The quick steering; if a little light at higher speeds, points the Racing to your intended line with acute accuracy, while that lowered suspension does its thing over almost all of the road surface conditions I threw at it. She’s rally-inspired and motorsport team-prepared, so I showed her some thoroughly soaked and potholed back lane rally stages.

For the most part she lapped it all up. There was none of the bash and crash that can come from stiffer suspension; the price you pay for controlled bodyroll, and ride, grip and comfort were right where they should’ve been for this kind of more focused car.

The only over-stiff suspension behaviour was during extreme compression and rebound cenarios, when the shortened-travel and less compliant shocks made the R#39;s body-bounces somewhat hard and fast. However, I only noticed this through a couple of big dips in the road at reasonably quick speeds, and it’s only a surprise for the first couple of times, then it just adds to the thrill ride.

You might hear talk of torque-steer; the snatch at the steering wheel as the wide tyres feeding big power to the road search out ruts and grooves; snaking the front-end as you make many mini corrections to your direction. It’s always going to happen with even moderately powerful front-driving cars. You can switch the ESP right off, but leave it on and it lets you scrabble and wheelspin some in an attention-commanding performance.

Clever limited-slip differentials (LSDs) can calm torque-steer down, but even they’re not perfect and it’ll probably add around a thousand-pounds to the price. Citroen chose not to bring a calming influence to this power-party, and true apex-addicts might look to the aftermarket for even more front-end accuracy, or indeed to cars from the competition that come from the factory with an LSD. But it didn’t really detract from my Racing fun; in fact a bit of ‘squirrelly’ steering adds to the theatre for me.

Quick, grippy, safe and well-spec’d that’s how Citroen want you to feel about the Racing. And if you like the looks then you’ll find a funky car with oodles of its own character, that can cruise in 6th gear without much of a murmur, or go as hard and fast as anything else. Until, perhaps, some super-Stig takes the Racing wheel in search of every apex; exposing any fine dynamic flaws that probably wouldn#39;t even register with us mere mortals.

And how many of those quick-selling 200 UK-bound Racing units will actually end up in the hands of a tame racing driver?

Safety and gadgets:

ABS and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EDB) and Emergency Braking Assistance (EBA) back up those big ‘n’ beefy Brembo brakes, with the hazard warning lights automatically flashing under emergency braking. While six airbags take the strain should the situation truly deteriorate.

Ten second sum up:

The DS3 Racing slots nicely into the very-hot hatch-pack and delivers on its promises in terms of outright speed, quick handling and an exciting driving experience, but without loosing anything in the way of creature comforts. It’s a lot of fun, it’s well spec’d and it’s a little bit of a show off. If that kinda sounds like you then, I’m sorry to say; you’ve got about six months to wait!

Prices and availability:

The Citroen DS Racing is priced at £23,100. Only optional extras are DS3 Racing Spirit graphics at £450 and MyWay Signature sat nav at £800. Available to order now, but with a wait of approximately six months for delivery.

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