► DS7 SUV driven
► Sporty Performance Line spec
► On sale February 2018
Every now and then, the French dabble in premium cars. This century, we’ve had the Renault Vel Satis and Avantime, and the Citroën C6 – they came, they looked quirky, they conquered nothing but the sales wooden spoon.
But from February 2018, PSA Groupe is rolling out six new premium cars under its DS brand and this is the first, a five-seat SUV called the DS7 Crossback. DS cars will stand out for their comfort, French craftsmanship and technology, says the company, in a bid to get a foothold in the premium car segment dominated by German car makers.
Standing out? But, I hear you say, the DS7 Crossback looks suspiciously Audi-like, with squinting headlamps butting into a trapezoidal grille, a swept-up glasshouse and stocky proportions. The official DS line on the DS’s lines is that, externally, the challenger brand had to obey the codes of the SUV segment, to compete with key rivals the Audi Q3, Volvo XC40 and Range Rover Evoque. It’s 145-200mm longer than those cars to best them on some utterly rational criteria – boot capacity (555 litres) and rear seat space (plentiful for both head and legs, and with a seat back that reclines up to 32˚, making snoozing a distinct possibility).
The cockpit: France showcases its craftsmanship
Up front, rationality makes way for the avant-garde design you’d expect of the French: DS’s calling is to give to car buyers what French luxury brands Louis Vuitton and Chanel give to oligarchs’ girlfriends.
Angled switches cascade along the centre console like toppling dominoes, the side air vents are pyramidal with a studded finish, there’s a ghastly revolving clock from French horologists BRM and the volume dial is a small barrel of Swarovski-style crystal. It wobbles in its housing and is somewhat imprecise to use, but design insisted on it. That’s one of myriad reasons why this cockpit will never be mistaken for an Audi’s: vive la différence!
Climb into the trad-SUV elevated seating position, and your posterior immediately warms to the plump seats – they’re like being spooned by Bibendum, though could do with more lateral support. Imagine grasping a leather-trimmed wine bottle: that’s how thick the steering rim feels.
The materials are opulent: even the flap hiding a cubby in the centre console can be trimmed in Alcantara or leather. One stitch pattern, with a raised ball of thread reminiscent of a pearl, took two years to industrialise – though it’s still not perfectly spaced out.
It reads the road and adjusts ride comfort…
Craftsmanship is central to DS’s appeal, and so is comfort and technology. Top spec 180PS BlueHDI diesel or 225PS petrol engines are equipped with Active Scan technology, where a camera peers 5-10m down the road, assessing the topography and adapting the dampers accordingly. It only works in Comfort mode, but noticeably softens the abruptness of your initial speed bump contact, before stiffening as you descend to control body pitching.
The ride quality is decent in Normal mode too, with a supple but composed gait. The way the DS7 absorbs some prolifically bumpy Parisian hinterland roads at 40mph augers well for a cossetting UK ride.
But this civility isn’t uniform. The 178bhp diesel engine, though responsive and adequately punchy (it doesn’t feel as sedate as 0-62mph in 9.9sec suggests), accelerates with a grumble of revs, and cruises with a persistent drone. Higher fuel injection pressure to meet the latest emissions regulations is partly responsible. The side mirrors also produce noticeable wind noise at motorway speeds: the engineers are working on a foam insulation fix.
The eight-speed automated transmission is smooth and unobtrusive: a six-speed manual can be paired to the entry-level engines, a 128bhp 1.5-litre diesel, and a 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol due in late 2018. The front-wheel drive chassis summons sufficient grip, but there’s a bit of dad-dancing about the electric motor-assisted steering: awkward elasticated responses that don’t always feel perfectly in time with the wheels, and some inconsistent weighting under load.
DS7 Crossback: packed with technology
But this is a car to cruise in, not fling at corners. And in addition to the cushy ride, the DS7 has more technological tricks in its armoury. Night Vision costs from £1100 to £1600, and an infra-red view of the road ahead can be displayed in varying sizes in the digital instrument panel – helpful for keeping eyes on the road and on any lurking animals.
Superfluous maybe, especially in the light – ahem – of the largely standard Active LED Vision, motorised headlamps that widen or lengthen the beam depending on the type of road (determined by the car’s speed and steering angle). This nod to the original DS’s swivelling lamps splendidly illuminates country road verges and appropriately deploys high beam on your behalf.
Then there’s the effective Connected Pilot cruise control (£650) which accelerates, brakes and keeps the car in lane, precisely centred is the DS USP. While there was no veering from side-to-side of a Périphérique lane, its steadfast behaviour provoked a militant motorbiker into taking umbrage at the car’s refusal to yield to his undertaking.
In the original 1950s DS19, the brand had an icon; the DS7 Crossback is more an iconoclast, a specialist proposition focusing on comfort and craftsmanship than Germanic dynamism.
To these eyes, its Achilles’ heel is an exterior design that doesn’t generate ‘must-have’ desire, which the Evoque does so successfully. And we’re yet to see whether the DS7 has strong enough residual values to underwrite lease rates that can compete with the Germans’.
Ultimately though, the DS7 has enough to make it worthy of consideration, for prospective customers who value comfort and technology – and hate following the crowd.