The Clarkson review: Citroën DS3 cabrio DSport (2013)

From the nation that brought you Le Mans... a tent with wheels

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AS I WRITE, the sun is belting down with a fury we haven’t seen for many years. Yet, after one of the coldest, most miserable springs on record, the countryside is still as green as an ecomentalist’s groin. It is truly beautiful out there and I am consumed by an overwhelming need to drive about in a sports car. But there’s a problem with that. You can’t actually buy such a thing these days.

The Mazda MX-5 comes close, but over the years it has swollen up and been given a bigger engine and a retractable metal roof, so that now, while it’s still delightful, it’s a bit too fast and a bit too sensible and a bit too grippy in the corners.

The Caterham 7 is not bad either. But these days it’s aimed mainly at the adenoidal track-day enthusiast rather than the chap who simply wants to slither about Oxfordshire in the sunshine. And it is extremely ugly.

The new Jaguar F-type is not ugly but it’s too expensive and too powerful. Which brings me on to the BMW Z4, a machine that is neither of those things. But it is too smooth and too polished. It’s lovely to behold and lovely to own but it’s not a sports car.

An Alfa Romeo Spider. That was a sports car. So were the Fiat 124 Spider and the MG. The Triumph TR6 was a sports car too, as was the Sunbeam Alpine. These cars were built for fun, for a laugh, ha-ha, ha-ha. You could keep them by the racehorse that the Aga Khan bought you for Christmas. Even by the standards of the day they were not especially fast, but they were pretty and they all came with simple canvas roofs. They were like tenting but without the dysentery. And I miss

I miss the days when handling mattered and grip didn’t. Today cars are built to go round a corner as quickly as possible. Which means you can’t indulge in a big four-wheel drift, at 20mph. And they have to be safe, which means they have to be heavy. And the one thing a sports car cannot be is heavy.

Sports cars are for long, warm summer afternoons. And on a long, warm summer afternoon you want a light salad. Not a dirty great meat pie. That’s why I was rather looking forward to the Citroën DS3 convertible.

I’m a big fan of the hard-top DS3 — particularly the limited-edition Racing version. I’ll be honest: it isn’t much of a driver’s car; the gearing is too weird for that. On a hot lap of the Monaco Grand Prix track I stuck it in second about two seconds after the start and didn’t have cause to change gear at all until it was time to stop.

Then there is the suspension. That isn’t very good either. But all of these little issues are smothered by an interesting body, lots of natty decals and a sense of fun.

There will be a convertible version of the Racing in the months to come, but the car I tested was simply a chopped-down version of the standard model. And that’s fine by me, because who needs speed when the sun’s out and there are wildflowers to look at?

There’s more too. Before the car arrived, a chap at Citroën sent me a text saying that it was the world’s only genuine five-seat convertible — apart from the woeful Jeep Wrangler — that its boot was almost twice as big as the boot in a Mini convertible and that the roof could be opened at up to 74mph. It all sounded good.

But when the car arrived, I discovered that, actually, it isn’t a convertible at all. It’s a normal car with a big canvas sunroof. Back in the Seventies my grandfather had a Rover 3.5 that had a Tudor Webasto sunroof. And that wasn’t a convertible either.

Then I discovered that if you push the sunroof button again, the back window flops down and the roof keeps on folding itself back. This was good news, until it stopped, completely obscuring the rear view. How can Citroën have thought this was a good idea?

Actually, scrub that. I know exactly how Citroën thought it was a good idea. Because its last attempt at making a convertible was the C3 Pluriel. And it came with a roof that detached all right, but only after half an hour of swearing and broken fingernails. And then, when it was off, there was nowhere to put it. You had to leave it where it was and hope it didn’t rain while you were out. It was the stupidest piece of design since the Ronco Buttoneer.

I think the problem is that in all of automotive history the total number of sports cars made in France is, let’s see . . . um . . . exactly none.

For a country where motoring is a demonstration of nonchalance and cheapness is king, it seems odd they never combined the two things. And it’s doubly odd when you look at their love of motor sport. Their engines dominate Formula One. A Peugeot has just smashed the record up Pikey’s Peak in Colorado. They rule the roost in international rallying. And yet, despite all this, they have never made a sports car. And on the evidence this far, the DS3 convertible doesn’t exactly change things.

But let us plough on. Let us treat it as a pretty hatchback that comes with a big sunroof. Then what? Well, it will cost you some money but not much. Because whatever price is quoted in the brochure, you can be assured that, being a Citroën it will come with 0% finance, £1,000 cashback, no VAT, an offer of an evening out with the dealer principal’s daughter and £5,000 to spend on a holiday. You may need an incentive such as this because as a car it’s not very good.

First of all there’s the driving position. The steering wheel is mounted pretty much directly above the pedals, which means the only person who can get comfortable is someone whose arms and legs are the same length. To make matters worse, the seats were lined with a fabric that had the grip of KY Jelly.

That’s why I can’t tell you how this car handles. Because every time I tried to go round a corner with any gusto at all, I fell over. There were other issues too. There are no cupholders. And it comes with an entertainment system that couldn’t even find Radio 2 half the time. The satellite navigation system, meanwhile, was unfathomable. And even if by some miracle I did manage to type in an address, it would take me on a route of its choosing to a destination that it plainly thought was near enough.

I suppose in the interests of fairness I should say that the 154bhp engine is quite nice and that there is a decent amount of space in the boot. But, to be honest, that’s like saying there’s a decent amount of space in a postbox. There is, but you can’t really get at it because the slot’s too small.

It’s odd. I haven’t disliked driving a car as much as this for quite some time. It was so bad that even though it was half full of petrol paid for by someone else, and had a big sunroof, I spent the whole of last weekend driving around, in the sunshine, in my own hard-top car, using petrol I’d paid for myself.

For a Yorkshireman to do this? Well, it should tell you all you need to know.


Verdict ★★☆☆☆

Hardly a sports car and barely a convertible


Citroën DS3 cabrio DSport

£19,840 (correct at time of first publication)
1598cc, 4 cylinders
154bhp @ 6000rpm
177 lb ft @ 1400rpm
6-speed manual
0-62mph: 8.2sec
Top speed:
47.9mpg (combined)
Road tax band:
L 3948mm, W 1715mm, 1483mm