Hot Hatches: Citroen DS3 Racing

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In what is perhaps the ideal blend of everything that makes a good hot hatch, the Citroen DS3 Racing is anything but conservative.

A motorsports pedigree often helps to sell cars, but it's not always guaranteed to generate sales. This was a particularly big problem for the old Citroen C2, a highly successful JWRC car which never managed to turn those victories into sales. So when Citroen replaced the C2 with the admittedly much better DS3, it also made sure that the top trim had a more obvious link to motorsports, thus the DS3 Racing, as unsubtle as a small European hatch can get. The DS3 was launched in 2009, with the hot version debuting at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show.

The name is something of a play on words, as the "DS" is pronounced in French the same as "deesse", the French word for goddess. This is not the first Citroen to use the DS letter combination - the original recalled as one of the most stylish automobiles in history - but the pronunciation remains the same. The DS3, in all forms, is quite stylish, but this is basically a necessity in this segment, as it competes with the Mini, the Audi A1 and the Alfa Romeo MiTo. Even though the motorsports version of the car competes primarily with the Ford Fiesta, the actual road-going versions are more upmarket than the Ford, and have much more posh interiors.

Citroen's DS3 WRC race car, which produces 300 horsepower, uses the same block, head and head gasket as the standard DS3, and the road-going DS3 Racing was not necessary for homologation purposes. But Citroen saw the potential for marketing purposes, so the DS3 Racing essentially serves as a halo for the DS3 line. As such, it is really quite expensive, with a scarcely believable €27,000 ($35,500 equivelant) price tag. Citroen also doesn't produce them in big numbers, although the initial planned production run of 1,000 units was more than doubled to total 2,400 units.

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The DS3 Racing is based on the DSport spec, but the horsepower from the 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine was cranked up from 155 to 204, and the body was tweaked slightly. Carbon fiber pieces were added, as well as a lot of orange trim. Beyond the bright highlights, the DS3 Racing really has quite an outrageous look. It inherited a certain amount of this from the regular DS3, which is hardly what you would call conservative, but in Racing form manages to call even more attention to itself. But that's ok, hot hatches tend not to be all that subtle, and the DS3 Racing is a fine example of the breed.

In rally racing, the DS3 WRC has been quite successful thus far. It participated in the 2011 and 2012 seasons and won the manufacturer's championship both times, also enabling driver Sebastien Loeb to take the driver's championship for the same years. Of course, Loeb has won the driver's championship every year since 2004, and certainly deserves much of the credit. But for next year he's retired, so we'll see how the DS3 WRC does in other hands. The 2013 season will also see the introduction of the DS3 RRC, a sub-WRC rallying class where the DS3 will compete with a slightly detuned version of the WRC's engine.

These motorsports victories, along with Citroen's successful marketing of the DS3 Racing, have helped DS3 sales in a huge way. Though the DS3 is a much more attractive and all-around better car than the old C2, it has to be said that the DS3's tie-in with motorsports was also much better handled. In many ways, the DS3 Racing is really everything you want in a hot hatch. It has the kind of loud styling which the youth-oriented segment favors, and then has the performance and motorsports heritage to back that styling up. It's also rare, so you won't have to suffer the indignity of having the same thing as everyone else on the block.

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