First Drive: Citroen DS3 Racing

When so many car makers try their hardest to create fake wood and carbon fibre trim, it’s a rare treat to see the real thing in anything other than a mega-bucks supercar.

Citroen’s DS3 Racing is one such rarity – for more than just that reason. A high profile nod to its maker’s world rally programme – star driver Sebastien Leob’s company car is a competition-prepped DS3 – the road going Racing sports real carbon fibre trim inside and out.

It also boasts a significant power hike over the regular DS3, however that’s a fair trade-off for being a limited edition car. Citroen has planned for just 2,000 DS3 Racing models, with 200 earmarked for the UK. At least the car’s 204 horsepower motor is some consolation.

Usually special editions come with the odd trinket or two in a feeble attempt to justify their limited-run status. Citroen has done the decent ting with its DS3 Racing, though. Along with the aforementioned carbon trim, the car’s 1.6-litre turbo motor’s output has leapt from an already reasonable 150 horsepower to that 204bhp hot hatch-baiting figure.

Then there’s the figure-hugging sports seats, tweaked and more audible exhaust system, increased turbocharger boost, recalibrated suspension settings, wider front and rear track, lower ride height and uprated brakes. Not just a rebadged car with fancy trim, then.

Citroen would be mightily offended if you did think that, as its competition division Citroen Racing is responsible for the various tweaks. It even has a hand in the assembly process, which explains the limited nature of the car’s life – man can only work so fast when hand assembling the go-even-faster bits before sending the car back to the man factory. Don’t forget, the guys at Citroen Racing have another day job: preparing the cars for the French firm’s multi-championship winning rally team.

With all that in mind, the DS3 Racing understandably costs a little more than its DS3 sibling, although hopefully you can see that it’s money well spent. Factor in the ability to choose between black with an orange roof or white with a black roof, plus the chance to customise the exterior and interior with suitably racy-looking graphics, and it’s clear this is not a car for shrinking violets.

On the road it’s more of a polished all-rounder than its on-paper, low volume, high performance credentials suggest. The various suspension, track and damping changes do much to enhance the car’s stability when the front wheels are faced with 204 and not 150 horsepower.

Drive the DS3 Racing quickly and its ability to cover ground competently and efficiently isn’t in question. Make no mistake, this is a substantial power hike and one that’s immediately noticeable on the road. Ride comfort is surprisingly good – even on potholed roads – and it changes direction with little fuss.

Fortunately for the purists Citroen resisted to the temptation of fitting its semi-auto paddleshift gearbox. While it would have kept the marking bods happy – just think of all those rallying synergies – the DS3 Racing’s slick six-speed manual gearbox is an excellent companion. The car’s uprated brakes are also a welcome addition. Although the car’s exhaust note is more prominent, it’s still easy to barrel up to corners faster than you’d planned. Thank goodness for those beefy Brembo stoppers.

Still, the upside to this near-stealth approach to back road performance motoring is that the car is super-refined on the urban commute and the schlep up the motorway. By maintaining the DS3’s underlying refinement levels, the Racing variant can be used every day despite looking like it’s just been signed off by a crazy high performance tuning company.

And while you’re sitting in the morning’s stop-go traffic, at least you can play with the car’s high-spec audio unit, fiddle with the air-con or Bluetooth phone connection and listen to music from your connected MP3 player. If you opened your wallet a bit wider in the showroom you could also be plotting a diversion on the sat-nav screen.

Like with so many special edition, limited-run cars, the decision to buy or not to buy is a personal one. The regular DS3 is a fine car – stylish, refined, capable – and has done wonders for Citroen’s brand image. The DS3 Racing successfully builds on those attributes.

The motorsport angle isn’t some hollow marketing fluff, either. The department behind the rally cars had direct input into the road car and is part of the assembly process, which is something genuine enthusiasts can relate to. So, not only does the DS3 Racing look the part it can act it, too.

FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Citroen DS3 Racing, from £23,100 on the road.
Engine: 1.6-litre petrol unit developing 204bhp.
Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission as standard, driving the front wheels.
Performance: Maximum speed 146mph, 0-62mph 6.5 seconds.
Economy: 44.1mpg.
CO2 Rating: 149g/km.

By Iain Dooley

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