Our regard for the original 3, beyond its pleasing-to-the-eye packaging, was linked to the way Citroën made the car handle. Clearly benchmarked against (what else?) the Mini’s zappy incisiveness, it was noticeable step in the opposite direction to the firm’s famously unhurried dynamic.

Unsurprisingly, given the limited attention devoted to the chassis this time around, the same rules apply. The 3, even with a slightly heavier diesel engine in the nose, remains a sprightly, sure-footed and pleasantly engaging thing to pedal around.

Matt Saunders Autocar

Matt Saunders

Road test editor
Fast camber changes remind you that the 3 is not a hot hatch, but the Performance variant should keep the body roll in check

None of this now, of course, seems surprising. The car’s open secret is the usual supermini vitality filtered through Mini’s modus operandi: quickish steering positively linked to a keen front end, with a quick-to-settle body to follow.

The new 3 performs all as remembered. Turn-in isn’t quite as nimble as that of the latest version of its rival and it certainly requires slightly more lock for the same result, but otherwise the 3 doesn’t fumble the ball and remains easily the best Citroën-based product to drive briskly.

Even with a sportier version to come, there’s enough to admire on track about the 3 to justify its early showing on the road.

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The Hill Route confirms much that we suspected: the car remains very predictable up to its limit but doesn’t lose its positive edge for being so inclined. Its direction change is possibly less stirring than the previous 3’s, and the added intensity suggests there’s a little more weight in the nose than might be ideal, although its grip levels remain commendable.

Exceeding those grip levels means defaulting inevitably towards understeer, the 3 can be made to adjust its line on the throttle — if not to quite the same heroic extent as the Mini. Partly this is by design and partly it’s because, in this guise, the car’s stability control system cannot be shut out beyond about 30mph. That’s fine. By and large, the invisible hand is well tuned enough not to feel restrictive.

The problem, not unforeseeably, is that while the 3’s underside has remained in stasis, the industry around it has charged forward another generation.

Consequently, the model has fallen behind in several areas – most notably, its ride quality and all-round refinement. The ride quality we were originally moved to praise beyond the Mini’s, but now it’s clear that the 3 has none of the clever bump-nullifying compliance of the latest Cooper.

Instead, it often feels as that car used to: slightly twitchy in the rebound and fragile about secondary impacts.

As a rule, you’ll be extracting enough satisfaction to forgive its less sophisticated moments, but if you’re stuck in the grind, it’s harder to overlook. The same could be said for the lack of hush. Measuring 71dB at motorway speeds isn’t really good enough when you consider the premium options lined up against it at the asking price. 

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