France’s DS 3 Cabrio tries to out-pose Italy’s Fiat 500C in this fashion-conscious shootout between two stylish soft-top hatchbacks.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

France’s DS 3 Cabrio tries to out-pose Italy’s Fiat 500C in this fashion-conscious shootout between two stylish soft-top hatchbacks.

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IT is often said that when it comes to creating cars meant for fashion-conscious motorists, nobody comes close to the French and Italians. 

The French and Italians have a flair and talent for design that other carmakers cannot match. Even MINI’s handsome Convertible (pg 34) seems a bit ordinary when compared to the two hatchbacks gracing these pages. 

Although the DS 3 Cabrio and Fiat 500C are both billed as convertibles, they are technically targas, for they can only go “topless” by sliding their cloth soft-tops rearwards, and their cabins are never fully exposed. 

The newer of the two cars is the DS 3 Cabrio. DS is Citroen’s standalone premium brand, launched in 2015. 

In line with its upmarket positioning, the DS 3 Cabrio doesn’t resemble any Citroen model. Its elegant highlights include swathes of chrome on the grille and along the flanks, plus “shark fins” along the B-pillars. 

Facing off against the DS 3 is the Fiat 500C. But this is no ordinary 500C – our borrowed unit is the even funkier Gucci Edition, which has the Italian fashion brand’s trademark Verde/Rosso/Verde stripe on its soft-top and “Gucci” badges on its B-pillars and tailgate. 

The 500C’s trump card is the fact that it hasn’t aged since it was launched in 2010. If you want to attract members of the fairer sex, I daresay this hatchback’s adorable design will do the job. 

The 500C’s circular theme continues in its cabin, which has round air-con vents and a humongous speedometer that dominates the dashboard. I particularly like the Gucci-trimmed leather seats, which reinforce the hatchback’s fashionable image. 

These stylish elements, however, cannot hide the 500C’s age. The cockpit’s most modern function, for instance, is Bluetooth in the basic hi-fi system. 

Also less than satisfying is the rear accommodation. Because the Fiat’s wheelbase measures just 2300mm (versus 2464mm for the DS 3), anyone taller than 1.5m is likely to experience some claustrophobia on the backseat if he or she has to endure a drive longer than 30 minutes. 

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The DS 3’s interior, on the other hand, has a much airier feel. There’s more headroom for all occupants, and the longer wheelbase means access to the backseat is also less tricky than in the 500C.

Also sure to please the driver is the DS 3’s cockpit, which is sportier and more sophisticated than the 500C’s. Features such as the carbon fibre-pattern dashboard trim, flat-bottom steering wheel and stubby gearshift lever enhance the French number’s cool factor.

Key to both cars’ cool quotient, though, is their sliding soft-top. It takes an estimated 20 seconds to open/close the 500C’s roof, and the top can be operated at speeds of up to 60km/h.

But considering our fickle weather, you’ll be better off in the DS 3, whose roof opens and closes in 16 seconds. The top can also be operated at up to 110km/h, which is handy if it suddenly rains while you’re cruising on the expressway.

Both cars have fairly similar levels of buffeting when driven topless, which is perfect for those who love coming to work with a tousled hairdo.

But if you want to blow-dry your hair in a hurry, then the DS 3 is your ride. With a turbocharged 3-pot producing 110bhp and 205Nm, and a slick-shifting 6-speed automatic, this hatchback can sprint from rest to 100km/h in 9.6 seconds – 1.4 seconds faster than the Fiat.

The 500C caters to sun- worshippers who are in less of a rush. Although the car’s naturally aspirated 1.4-litre 4-cylinder delivers a healthy 100bhp and a decent 131Nm, progress is hampered by the lackadaisical 6-speed robotised manual transmission.

A robotised manual still has a clutch, except that the driver doesn’t have to operate it. But the problem is, even the slowest driver can shift faster than this gearbox ever could. Just as the revs build up, they suddenly drop as the transmission takes its sweet time to engage the clutch, slot in the next gear and release the clutch again.

To hasten this, you can toggle the 500C’s Sport button, but the quicker shifts come at the expense of smoothness. It would actually be better to utilise the manual override feature. Just remember to slightly ease off the accelerator each time you shift, so as to avoid any jerkiness.

That said, both hatchbacks are pretty nimble when driven around town, with the 500C edging out the DS 3 in terms of manoeuvrability thanks to its smaller size, higher seating position and lighter steering.

But overall, the DS 3 Cabrio is the superior all-rounder. It boasts better insulation with the top up, and has a roomier and more practical cabin to boot.

The DS 3 might not make fashion-conscious motorists say “ooh la la”, but it will certainly make them giggle and say “tres chic!”

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ENGINE 1199cc, 12-valves, inline-3, turbocharged

MAX POWER 110bhp at 5500rpm

MAX TORQUE 205Nm at 1500rpm

POWER TO WEIGHT 95.7bhp per tonne

GEARBOX 6-speed automatic with manual select

0-100KM/H 9.6 seconds

TOP SPEED 188km/h

CONSUMPTION 21.7km/L (combined)

CO2 EMISSION 105g/km

PRICE INCL. COE $122,999 (after $15k CEVS rebate)

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ENGINE 1368cc, 16-valves, inline-4

MAX POWER 100bhp at 6000rpm

MAX TORQUE 131Nm at 4250rpm

POWER TO WEIGHT 102bhp per tonne

GEARBOX 6-speed automated manual

0-100KM/H 11 seconds

TOP SPEED 182km/h

CONSUMPTION 15.9km/L (combined)

CO2 EMISSION 130g/km 

PRICE INCL. COE Not applicable