The Citroën DS3 is one of the most intriguing new cars of the year. This challenger to the MINI’s premium sub-compact supremacy makes an ambitious attempt to leave Citroën’s recent low-quality, low-price image far behind. But it’s also notable for its desire to eschew the firm’s comfort-focused chassis heritage – embodied by the ground-breaking original DS – for a more dynamic handling philosophy.
Pierre Budar, chief engineer for both the DS3 and its close relation, the C3, admits that to begin with, the chassis team found it hard to get its collective head around exactly what was required from the DS3.
“C3 was a replacement for an existing model that had a lot of happy customers, so we had a very precise target for ride comfort, with safe, easy handling,” he explains. “For DS3, we were starting something new. People buying this kind of car like the styling but they also like driving it. So what we wanted were more sensations, more driving feeling from the DS3, and [in the future]that will be true for the other DS cars as well.
“We worked with our usual technical people but to begin with it was a bit difficult to make them understand what we wanted to do,” he continues. “They were used to producing very comfortable cars for Citroën, so talking about sporty handling was something new for them. They made a few proposals where we had to come back and say, ‘not this way’. But we did a lot of test drives and went step by step to improve some aspects of the tuning, especially the steering and damping. It was a very good experience to work with such specialist chassis people, who knew so much about the platform. And we pushed them a little bit more, for example they had to develop some special bushes for the rear axle to get a good comfort and handling balance because the normal ones were too soft.”
DS3 shares its chassis architecture with the C3, but gets specific damper valving, springs (with 15mm lower ride height), a 23.7mm, hollow ARB, bespoke tires, and recalibrated software for the Continental ESC and Nexteer EPS.
But Budar insists there was more to it than just firming up the C3. “The DS is different from the other cars in this segment – MINI, Alfa MiTo, etc. We tried to achieve very good handling, but still with some comfort. When you compare all the cars in this segment, we’re probably the best in terms of handling, but definitely in terms of comfort,” he claims. “We have a balance that you can use every day. I’ve driven a DS3 from Paris to Geneva, and it’s very pleasant to drive even on a long trip.”
To ensure that comfort wasn’t sacrificed for style, the base suspension and tire tuning was done from the word go on the larger, 17in wheel option. In a further departure from tradition, DS3 features Bridgestone tires in the 17in size, while former Citroën owner, Michelin’s rubber is reserved for the 16in wheels. “Michelin supplies the 17in tires to the C3,” Budar explains. “The 17in is the top tire in the range, and as such has to have the right specification for each car. So we tuned the Michelin for the C3 application, and the Bridgestone especially for the DS3.” He’s very pleased with the outcome of introducing Bridgestone as a second supplier, suggesting that the result is better tires for both cars.
The benefits of the DS3 program, which also saw a greater proportion of public road development than is usual for Citroën, will be felt into the future. As Budar says, “Future DS cars will be easier to develop because the engineers know what they’re aiming for now. When we were explaining what was required for DS4, we brought along a DS3.”
Budar himself is now working for Citroën’s fledgling performance division, which is producing cars under the Racing banner. The first fruit of his labors is the DS3 Racing, with a more handling-focused chassis, motorsport-derived dampers, and bigger brakes, which has been launched ahead of the DS3 WRC rally car’s debut at the end of this year.