The all-electric DS 3 E-Tense offers plenty of comfort and a number of luxury touches, but does it do enough to justify its high price?
3.0 out of 5
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In a cheaper trim level, the revised DS 3 might earn an extra half-star. But as tested it’s impossible to justify such a high price on a small SUV that is admittedly competitive in some areas, but class-leading in none. As a pure-electric urban runaround, the DS 3 is quiet, comfortable and even quite luxurious, but its quirky personality and compromised packaging mean rivals represent better value for money.
We've muttered the phrase “it’s the best DS to date” a number of times in recent years. As the brand’s trajectory continues its rise skywards, each model has bettered the last, with the latest DS 4 proving a credible alternative to premium hatchbacks such as the Audi A3 and Mercedes A-Class.
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Arguably the most compromised car in the maker’s line-up, therefore, was the DS 3 Crossback. Launched the best part of four years ago, the Nissan Juke-rivalling small SUV was naturally due a facelift. So for 2023, DS’s most affordable new car has been given a well-deserved nip and tuck, with new tech, new styling, and a new longer-range electric version.
The Crossback badge is no more; the DS 3 follows in the DS 7’s footsteps by dropping the bulky backend to its nameplate. The diesel has been axed, too; the DS 3 now comes with a choice of two petrol powertrains and a single electric option.
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This DS 3 E-Tense is expected to account for around 40 per cent of UK sales, and is available in all four trim choices. It gets a more powerful 154bhp motor and a bigger 54kWh (51kWh usable) battery, which DS claims is good for 250 miles on a charge – an increase of almost 18 per cent over its predecessor.
Visually, there are changes to the lights – now full-LED as standard – as well as the grille and bumpers, while at the back, ‘DS Automobiles’ is emblazoned fashionably on the tailgate. Inside, there’s a new steering wheel and a revised centre console layout, plus a 10.3-inch touchscreen with a slicker operating system.
DS bosses will sing the virtues of the maker’s unique ownership offering, its boutique stores, simple and customer-centric aftersales scheme, and its ‘Only You’ benefits that give owners access to money-can’t-buy cultural, art, and gastronomy experiences. Ultimately, however, the cars must speak for themselves.
And pootling around town, the DS 3 does. It’s quiet, comfortable and easy to drive, and there’s enough power on tap for all your urban duties. While the well-judged regenerative brake set-up doesn’t offer one-pedal driving, the progressive nature contributes to what is a pleasingly relaxing low-speed experience.
The updated DS 3 is a decent motorway car, too. The ride is well judged, and even at 70mph the cabin is quiet – with very little wind or road noise filtering into the cabin. The electric motor runs out of puff a bit at the top end, but no more so than you’ll find in a Kia Niro EV – so long as you steer clear of the DS’s Eco mode.
The only area of the driving experience that lets the DS 3 down is when you attempt to push on. You’d be quite right to question whether this is even relevant in a crossover such as this, but where the DS 3 feels composed and secure on wide, open roads, it’s a little looser through tight bends. You’ll find the limits of the available grip are lower than in, say, a Cupra Born or Volkswagen ID.3.
Yet our biggest issue – certainly with our top-spec Opera-trim car – is the price. This is a car that, on cost alone, surpasses the excellent Cupra, and knocks on the door of larger, more established premium rivals. The online configurator suggests a wait time of more than six months, too.
True, you can buy a DS 3 with the PureTech 100 petrol engine and a manual gearbox in entry-level Performance Line guise for £25,900. But add in the more powerful 128bhp motor – which we drove alongside the E-Tense – plus keyless entry, sat-nav, and 18-inch wheels, and you’re looking at more than £30k, or £485 per month on a three-year PCP finance deal. This E-Tense, on the same terms, is an eye-watering £723 a month.
Spec-wise, the cheaper models certainly make more sense. Performance Line variants get Alcantara trim, alloy wheels and twin screens, plus Apple and Android smartphone connectivity. Performance Line+ brings those extras mentioned above, while Rivoli adds leather and chrome for a more luxury-focused image.
Opera cars, like ours, get everything including DS’s famous watch-strap-style heated and massaging leather seats, a head-up display, wireless phone charging and 360-degree cameras. These models also feature the Advanced Safety Pack with blind-spot detection and adaptive cruise control.
Fit and finish is very good, even on basic Performance Line cars; it’s amazing what a bit of suede trim on the dashboard can do for perceived quality. Volkswagen could learn a thing or two from the DS design team – seemingly small elements really lift the car’s interior ambience.
Unfortunately, the touch sensitive dashboard layout remains fiddly and unintuitive to use, while the diamond theme may not be to all tastes either. Having the window switches on the centre console seems like an unnecessary complication, too, though we’re sure you’d get used to it in daily use.
The main screen itself is much more responsive than before, and the smartphone-style menus work relatively well. Having to delve into these menus to change the temperature or fan speed is frustrating, though not unique to the DS 3.
Otherwise, it remains a likeable small SUV that’s perhaps a little short on space. The rear seats are tight for taller adults, and the feeling of claustrophobia isn’t helped by the tall belt line that rises at the B-pillar. This is made worse in Performance Line cars with their dark headlining.
The boot is a reasonable size, though again, rivals are bigger. The Cupra has a 385-litre load area, and the Niro beats both the Born and DS 3 hands down – that car’s 475-litre boot makes it one of the most practical options in this class.
Need to know:
Previously offered with a diesel engine, this option was dropped with the facelift. The DS 3 is now petrol or electric only.
The 350-litre boot is a reasonable size for a small crossover, but the rear seats feel cramped thanks to the high window line and dark interior. A Kia Niro EV is far more practical, and should do more miles on a charge, too.
We’d avoid the top-spec models, as cheaper variants get Alcantara trim, alloy wheels and twin screens, and represent much better value for money. Following recent price drops, a Tesla Model Y doesn’t cost much more to buy.
DS 3 Opera E-Tense 115kW Automatic
54kWh battery, 1x e-motor
Single-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
250 miles/100kW, 10-80% in 30 mins
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