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Citroen DS3 Racing

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When so many car makers try their hardest to create fake wood and carbon fibre trim, itís a rare treat to see the real thing in anything other than a mega-bucks supercar.

Citroenís DS3 Racing is one such rarity - for more than just that reason. A high profile nod to its makerís world rally programme Ė star driver Sebastien Leobís company car is a competition-prepped DS3 Ė the road going Racing sports real carbon fibre trim inside and out.

It also boasts a significant power hike over the regular DS3, however thatís a fair trade-off for being a limited edition car. Citroen has planned for just 2,000 DS3 Racing models, with 200 earmarked for the UK. At least the carís 204 horsepower motor is some consolation.

Usually special editions come with the odd trinket or two in a feeble attempt to justify their limited-run status. Citroen has done the decent thing with its DS3 Racing, though. Along with the aforementioned carbon trim, the carís 1.6-litre turbo motorís output has leapt from an already reasonable 150 horsepower to that 204bhp hot hatch-baiting figure.

Then thereís the figure-hugging sports seats, tweaked and more audible exhaust system, increased turbocharger boost, recalibrated suspension settings, wider front and rear track, lower ride height and uprated brakes. Not just a rebadged car with fancy trim, then.

Citroen would be mightily offended if you did think that, as its competition division Citroen Racing is responsible for the various tweaks. It even has a hand in the assembly process, which explains the limited nature of the carís life - man can only work so fast when hand assembling the go-even-faster bits before sending the car back to the man factory. Donít forget, the guys at Citroen Racing have another day job: preparing the cars for the French firmís multi-championship winning rally team.

With all that in mind, the DS3 Racing understandably costs a little more than its DS3 sibling, although hopefully you can see that itís money well spent. Factor in the ability to choose between black with an orange roof or white with a black roof, plus the chance to customise the exterior and interior with suitably racy-looking graphics, and itís clear this is not a car for shrinking violets.

On the road itís more of a polished all-rounder than its on-paper, low volume, high performance credentials suggest. The various suspension, track and damping changes do much to enhance the carís stability when the front wheels are faced with 204 and not 150 horsepower.

Drive the DS3 Racing quickly and its ability to cover ground competently and efficiently isnít in question. Make no mistake, this is a substantial power hike and one thatís immediately noticeable on the road. Ride comfort is surprisingly good - even on potholed roads Ė and it changes direction with little fuss.

Fortunately for the purists Citroen resisted to the temptation of fitting its semi-auto paddleshift gearbox. While it would have kept the marking bods happy - just think of all those rallying synergies Ė the DS3 Racingís slick six-speed manual gearbox is an excellent companion. The carís uprated brakes are also a welcome addition. Although the carís exhaust note is more prominent, itís still easy to barrel up to corners faster than youíd planned. Thank goodness for those beefy Brembo stoppers.

Still, the upside to this near-stealth approach to back road performance motoring is that the car is super-refined on the urban commute and the schlep up the motorway. By maintaining the DS3ís underlying refinement levels, the Racing variant can be used every day despite looking like itís just been signed off by a crazy high performance tuning company.

And while youíre sitting in the morningís stop-go traffic, at least you can play with the carís high-spec audio unit, fiddle with the air-con or Bluetooth phone connection and listen to music from your connected MP3 player. If you opened your wallet a bit wider in the showroom you could also be plotting a diversion on the sat-nav screen.

Like with so many special edition, limited-run cars, the decision to buy or not to buy is a personal one. The regular DS3 is a fine car - stylish, refined, capable - and has done wonders for Citroenís brand image. The DS3 Racing successfully builds on those attributes.

The motorsport angle isnít some hollow marketing fluff, either. The department behind the rally cars had direct input into the road car and is part of the assembly process, which is something genuine enthusiasts can relate to. So, not only does the DS3 Racing look the part it can act it, too.

FACTS AT A GLANCE

Model: Citroen DS3 Racing, from £23,100 on the road.

Engine: 1.6-litre petrol unit developing 204bhp.

Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission as standard, driving the front wheels.

Performance: Maximum speed 146mph, 0-62mph 6.5 seconds.

Economy: 44.1mpg.

CO2 Rating: 149g/km.