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French go back to the future

REMEMBER the Citroen DS, the futuristic sensation born in 1955 and used endlessly in films of car chases in Paris in the 70s? It was all long and pointy, with a Pope mobile–like cabin, such was the rake of the windscreen and cabin glass.

It’s back. Well, the name is, anyway. Citroen has relaunched the DS brand, and after this car hits the road this year, we can look forward to the arrival of the DS4 and 5 in 2011.

It’s rare that a concept car manages to stay true to its origins once it makes it into production, but the DS3 has managed it and it looks fantastic. Interestingly, Citroen have gone with something of a bespoke concept with this car, and you can choose to have the roof a different shade to the rest of the car.

Another design statement is the B-pillar (the pillar that sits just behind the front seats), which resembles a shark’s fin. Citroen have also added LED running lights, a very premium touch for a car at this price.

Chrome and general shine abounds, which continues on the inside with a piano black smooth dash, and brilliantly clear dials that are sunk way behind the steering wheel in concave fashion. That might make it sound like that is all too much, but it actually works really, really well.

The first time I set eyes on the car it screamed World Rally Championship to me, and the assembled bods at the company have now confirmed that this car will form the basis of the next WRC car.

Between now and then, though, there’s another performance model coming with 200bhp. The version I drove offers 156bhp from a 1.6 litre engine.

I started by heading out into Paris rush hour to tackle the Arc de Triomphe. Remembering Arc etiquette (always give way to people coming from the right, make eye contact with no one, zoom into your exit the moment you see a chink of light between metal) I got through and soon the DS3 was munching up the cobbles with no rattles or squeaks. We headed to La Defense and then out of the city. There was absolutely no problem getting through tight spots. Steering is direct, and matched with such a slick gear-change that the heavy traffic gave no issues or annoyances.

Out on the autoroute, there was plenty of power. When cornering, the DS3 really tucks its nose in, going wide occasionally but it is so much fun with the tail obligingly flirty. There’s lots of grip, which encourages you to push it further and force it out more, and when you do the car complies beautifully.

Could Citroen become WRC champions again this year? They’ve certainly got a head start with this car.

THE VERDICT
DESIGN ****
PERFORMANCE ****
PRACTICALITY ****
VALUE FOR MONEY ****

THE FACTS: CITROEN DS3
PRICE: £15,900
0-62MPH: 7.3 secs
MAX SPEED: 133 mph
MPG (COMBINED): 42.2
CO2 G/KM: 155