First drive: DS4 Crossback
What is it?
The DS4 Crossback is an expansion of the already-popular DS range, offering a higher ride height and more rugged looks when compared to the standard DS4 hatch.
Designed to be an 'urban-off roader', the Crossback is aimed directly at the crossover market. Drivers who are looking for a more commanding ride height but without forsaking on-road handling characteristics are being brought into the crossover market more than ever, and this is DS's response to that trend.
What's under the bonnet?
There are four engines to choose from – two petrol engines, which are mated to a six-speed manual gearboix, and two diesels with automatic transmissions. The car we test drove was fitted with the BlueHDi diesel and, as mentioned, was driven by a six-speed automatic gearbox.
For a diesel unit, emission figures are rather impressive, emitting just 115g/km of CO2. Producing 178bhp, it feels just as quick as the manufacturer's claimed 0-62mph time of 8.6seconds suggests. All the while the Crossback returns a claimed combined consumption figure of 64.2mpg.
With a top speed of 135mpg it certainly isn't going to win any high-speed races, but an impressive torque figure of 400Nm means that the Crossback feels punchy throughout the rev range, and doesn't feel breathless at sensible speeds.
What's the spec like?
The specification for the Crossback is pretty comprehensive, with items that usually come as optional extras, such as automatic door and boot locking, coming as standard.
Inside, a 7-inch touch screen is included, along with Bluetooth handsfree and media streaming. Also included is satellite navigation with both traffic information and also European mapping. Half cloth and leather trim is standard, but if you want to upgrade to a full-leather interior it'll come at a cost - £850 in fact. This option does include heated seats, however.
On the exterior, DS has tried to make the Crossback look as dramatic as possible, including LED 'Vision' Xenon headlamps along with LED daytime running lights. It also features electric folding door mirrors, kerb lighting, automatic lights and windscreen wipers and an auto-dimming electrochrome rear view mirror. On the exterior, there's really very little left to want that isn't standard.
The Crossback is also brimming with safety equipment, such as ABS with Brake Force Distribution and Emergency Braking Assistance, Electronic Stability Control, and driver, front passenger and curtain airbags. On the safety front, there are very few cars that offer as much.
The quality of material used within the interior is very good, as is the fit and finish. However, it lacks the flair and excitement that buyers had seen on the DS3 for example. With such an exciting exterior, it would have been thought that the same would have been applied inside. It's a well-sorted cabin - there's no question there - it just lacks the flair that you'd usually associate with the DS brand.
The crossover market has been growing for some time, meaning that the Crossback definitely isn't voyaging into uncharted territory. With offerings from Nissan with the Juke and the excellent Qashqai, as well as cars such as the Volvo XC60, the Crossback isn't alone in trying to win over both the minds and wallets of those interested in the crossover market. With the Qashqai into its second-generation and already winning awards, the Crossback must be a genuinely special product to tempt buyers away.
What's it like to drive?
Being a crossover, and having a higher ride height than a standard hatch is always going to affect a car's handling characteristics. However, the Crossback does better than most to hide the extra height. Corners are dealt with minimal fuss, and the good-sized steering wheel converts a surprising amount of feel back to the driver.
The engine certainly has enough power for most drivers, but it'll be the gearbox that disappoints most. Unfortunately, in the age of smooth 7, 8 or even 9 speed automatic gearboxes, the 6-speed fitted to the Crossback feels annoyingly clunky at any speed. Gears are selected with a 'thunk', and usually come with a large lurch as the entire car struggles to deal with the change in pace. Once up and running, the engine feels relatively refined, but at idle is somewhat lumpy.
Road and wing noise is an issue, with the raised ride height inevitably causing some audial intrusion into the cabin. There's a fair amount of sound generated by the tyres, too.
With the large, panoramic windscreen, forward visibility is excellent. However, trying to manoeuvre whilst looking either backwards or over the shoulder is tricky - the sloping roof line creates a large obstruction in the driver's sight, and the large pillars make pulling out of junctions difficult. Whilst creating a dramatic-looking car, DS has inadvertently made a car that is somewhat lacking in the rear visibility stakes.
Undergoing a brief test on more adventurous terrain, the Crossback did well. Though buyers are unlikely to venture off the beaten track very often, it's good to know that a car that is being sold with a raised ride height as a special feature can deal with some light off-roading.
AOL Cars Verdict
The Crossback is an exciting prospect. Although the idea is in well-trodden ground, DS executes the high-riding urban crossover design well. With a good range of engines as well as an exhaustive list of included equipment, it's certainly an admirable attempt.
Unfortunately, it is let down in a few key areas. The gearbox, for one, really could be smoother and the rear visibility makes it genuinely difficult to see when manoeuvring. Because of the sloping roofline, rear headroom isn't as good as rivals and the whole interior lacks the flair or excitement that we've come to expect from DS.
As a rival to competitors, it should keep its head held high - buy a DS4 Crossback and you certainly wouldn't be disappointed. You may, however, feel that there is a little more that DS could have done to make this car feel special, especially when compared to other cars in the range.
Model: DS4 Crossback
Power: 178bhp, 400Nm
0-62mph: 8.6 seconds
Top Speed: 135mph
Economy: 64.2mpg (combined)