Meet the Citroën DS3 Racing Cabrio, a front-wheel-drive, 207 bhp pocket rocket with a retractable roof that will scare the living daylights out of you! This topless French super mini will bring out any drivers inner racer and a grin that only the most potent hot hatches can achieve. All power is fed to the front wheels whilst the wind rushes through your hair, accompanied by the whoosh of a gigantic turbo charger in a car that looks this outrageous. With its Carbon Fiber fenders, red vinyl highlights and ‘Moondust Grey’ matte paint, this is a package we have been waiting for from Citroën ever since the 1996 Saxo VTS!
Recognize the name? Yes, us too. In 2011 200 Citroën DS3 Racing Hatches were produced, a car based on the rather handsome DS3 with a fixed roof. The car featured the same bonkers power plant, some orange highlights and the car very briskly sold out. Great, we’ll take two Cabrio’s. Well its not that simple, half as many DS3 Racing Cabrio’s have been built, and you guessed it, they’ve all been accounted for. That’s somewhat of a surprise considering that each example costs an eye watering £29,305 (approximately €37,000). Cars such as the mighty Mark VII Golf GTI and the rear-wheel-drive dream that is the BMW M135i are similarly priced. It seems exclusivity commands a price!
Engine, Drivetrain and Performance
Citroën has boosted power from the previously range-topping 155bhp DSport to a cheeky 204 bhp. Thanks to this increase in power combined with 203 pound foot of torque and a remapped ECU, the Citroën DS3 Racing Cabrio will blast past 100 km/h (62 mph) in a very respectable 6.5 seconds and carry on pulling to 235 km/h (146 mph).
On paper the car looks quick but the figures simply fail to describe the sensation of planting your foot in this French speed machine. Our first impressions of the Racing Cabrio were somewhat underwhelming. The turbo lag was horrible and numbed any throttle inputs.
With the turbo spooling at 3,000 rpm the Racing Cabrio needs to be driven in the correct gears to exploit the available performance. When working the six-speed-gearbox and being in the correct rev band the story could not be more different. The car is an absolute hoot to drive! In second gear you plant your foot and as the turbo starts spinning the sensation of speed with the the canvas roof down is incredible, the single gear comfortably basting up to 110 km/h (70 mph). The build up of speed is sensational, time after time you are squeezed back into the fantastic racing seats.
The 1.6-litre engine is remarkably refined and when linked to the Citroën Sports Exhaust system the car cheekily rasps at low revs and produces a bass rich boom on turbo.
A very pleasant surprise came from the Racing Cabrio’s incredible stopping power. The red four pot brake calipers inspire confidence and dare you to brake later and later as they reach their optimum temperature.
The changes on the Racing Cabrio are not just to the engine. The racing department having also tinkered with the suspension setup of the car. As a result the car is 15 millimeters lower; the wheel arch gap is significantly smaller than the standard car giving a much sportier look. Additionally the track has been widened by 30 millimeters. The changes give the car a much more aggressive stance but also makes it a little too firm on the road, any crack or imperfections in the tarmac can be felt in the cabin, however, these changes do not come without their rewards. The car manages to stay remarkably flat when cornering, even it speeds that you would expect to upset the balance and stability of the topless hatchback.
The original Citroën DS3 and DS3 Cabrio featured some beautiful design cues. As a result both became instant hits and have sold very well. The Citroën DS3 Racing Cabrio takes the DS3s visual appeal to new levels with the extensive use of Carbon Fiber and sporty design.
If you do not want to be seen then this car may not be for you. From farm yards to Central London streets, the Racing Cabrio with its ‘Moondust Grey’ matte paint, 18 inch gloss black wheels and red vinyl stickers turns heads by the dozen. On the streets of Knightsbridge where Ferrari 458 Italia’s drone by every few minutes, the Racing Cabrio still earns its fair share of envious glances.
The use of Carbon Fiber on the front and rear splitters, wheels arches, grills and more may not have any significant impact on weight or aerodynamics, but it sure makes the DS3 look very race inspired, a few touches that make the Racing Cabrio feel that little bit more special.
The Interior is where the Racing Cabrio really sets itself apart from lesser DS3 models. Once again, Carbon Fiber features heavily in the cabin. Everything from the sporty steering wheel, door handle surrounds to the bulk of the center console has been finished in the material.
Continuing the racing theme, Citroën have fitted the Racing Cabrio with racing seats that provide fantastic support while looking very cool. Being larger than the standard seats they do eat into the rear leg room but are a justified sacrifice!
Having been given a few days with the Racing Cabrio, it was clear that this is a car that is very much driver focused. The engine dominates the driving experience and the savage acceleration and constant battle for traction kept us very busy. The addition of the 2CV inspired retractable roof makes the Racing Cabrio one of the most involving an compelling hot hatches we have driven the past few years. The car feels seriously fast, in some instances we were shocked by how hard the car pulls and gains speed once it finds traction under its front tires.
That is not to say that there is not room for improvement. Electric steering racks are a sign of the times and unfortunately the rack in this car robs the driver of all precious feedback. The power delivery is so sudden on the turbo that the front wheels are very often overwhelmed, even with the traction control being left on we feared that the fuse on the traction control warning light was going to explode! Driving in wet conditions, which as you can see we certainly experienced, is not easy with so much power on tap and verged on scary on a few occasions!
Its difficult to compare the Racing Cabrio to much else. If you look at similarly priced cars, as mentioned before the Golf GTI and BMW M135i spring to mind, both much better rounded, but neither will be able to bring such a smile to your face whilst scaring you at the same time!
In terms of convertible hot-hatches, the Fiat 500 Abarth C cannot be forgotten, another very entertaining car and one that cost just two-thirds of the price of the DS3 Racing Cabrio.
The Citroën DS3 Racing Cabrio is not a perfect car, however, its shortcomings and corrupting power result in one of the most characterful and engaging cars in the segment. All are now sold and we are sure that the lucky 100 owners will drive and enjoy their cars for years to come. We will be scouting the used market for our opportunity to do the same again in the future!