Ted Welford heads to London to put DS's new premium crossover through its paces
What is it?
DS is remembered as Citroen's forward-thinking model back in the '50s, and the firm aimed to capitalise on that beloved heritage by re-launching the model name in 2010 with its DS3 – a genuinely likeable supermini.
But as of 2015, it's been attempting to fend for itself, which has proved to be a challenge for the brand. It didn't help that its early models were just rebadged Citroens. Now though, the firm is trying to separate further from Citroen. This has meant stopping production of the ex-Citroen models and launching with its own cars.
The first came last year with the DS 7 – a mid-size SUV rivalling models such as the Audi Q5 – and now we have this, the new DS 3 Crossback that's looking to take advantage of the lucrative small crossover market.
The DS 3 Crossback is the first model to use the PSA Group's new \Common Modular Platform' – better known as CMP. The key benefit to these new underpinnings is flexibility, which is why the DS will be seen with an all-electric version later in the year, alongside the petrol and diesel models tested here.
The DS 3 Crossback also majors on tech – with the highlights being Matrix LED lighting, a 10-inch touchscreen and flush pop-out door handles.
Alongside the car, buyers get access to DS's 'Only You' programme – essentially a concierge service that can allow free rental of another car, eight years of roadside assistance and access to VIP events via an app. It's things like this which DS hopes will make its cars stand out from more established rivals.
What's under the bonnet?
Petrol engines are expected to be the best-sellers on the DS 3, and there are three variants of the turbocharged 1.2-litre petrol engine available – producing 99bhp, 128bhp and 153bhp.
The middle option, as tested here, is the best choice as it delivers a good mix between performance and efficiency. It feels zingy enough in a car of this size and helps the DS to accelerate from 0-60mph in nine seconds, and head onwards to a top speed of 124mph. It can also achieve up to 47.1mpg, with low CO2 emissions of 117g/km.
Paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission, it allows for decent progress and doesn't feel stretched – even at motorway speeds. However, it does lack refinement at lower speeds, and the stop/start process seems particularly clunky.
An ultra-efficient turbocharged 1.5-litre diesel is also available, while a pure EV (dubbed the E-Tense) is due before the end of 2019, which promises a real-world range of 200 miles.
What's it like to drive?
DS likes to make a point about how comfortable its cars are, but this clashes with its goal to fill the model's wheelarches with the largest alloy wheels possible.
The set of 18s fitted to our test model resulted in a disappointing ride that failed to soak up potholes effectively and resulted in a somewhat harsher ride, but by no means uncomfortable. The smaller 17-inch rims fitted on models lower down the range make far more sense.
With city drivers at the heart of the DS 3, that is unsurprisingly where the model makes the most sense. Light, direct steering and largely good visibility result in it being an effective town runaround. It's surprisingly refined at motorway speeds, though. Away from the beeps and hoots of London, the DS offers a more rewarding driving experience than expected on a twisty back road, with minimal body roll.
How does it look?
If ever a car symbolized over the top design, it's this. Despite the fussy styling, DS should be praised for the new car not looking like anything else on the road.
Far too many crossovers blend into the background with their lacklustre designs, but this is the antithesis. Sharp headlights (Matrix LEDs on range-topping models) along with 3D-effect taillights and a large black painted grille give the model real presence out on the road. To the point where it turns heads.
And how can we forget the flush door handles? As seen on the new Range Rover Evoque, they're certainly gimmicky – popping out from the car as you approach – but they are still a cool touch.
A great range of colours – from the gorgeous dark purple fitted to our test car to the bright blue concept car paint – also help the DS 3 Crossback to stand out from the crowd.
What's it like inside?
If you thought the exterior was a bit extreme, just wait until you see the cabin. It's as if DS decided to rip the rulebook with the DS 3 Crossback's interior.
The touchscreen's key buttons are operated using rhombus-shaped buttons that surround the sleek air vents, while in the centre console there's enough glitzy metal to make a magpie shy away – the aluminium switches actually being the controls for the electric windows. It's needlessly fussy and overly complicated, and while we're sure you would get used to it over time, it's undoubtedly a case of style over substance.
What should be applauded, though, is the high-quality leather, which feels truly luxurious. The 10-inch touchscreen is also fantastic to use.
Practicality doesn't seem to be particularly important at DS towers, and as a result, the boot space is smaller than rivals, while rear seat space is also limited.
What's the spec like?
DS is pricing the 3 Crossback optimistically, to say the least, with the range kickstarting at £21,550 for an entry-level Elegance model. It makes it hardly any cheaper than a like-for-like Mini Countryman or Audi Q2, albeit the DS comes with plenty more kit as standard.
Basic features include a seven-inch touchscreen with smartphone connectivity, keyless start, flush door handles and a suite of safety kit.
Our top of the range Ultra Prestige test car came with bundles of equipment – such as a larger 10-inch touchscreen, massaging front seats, Matrix LED headlights and superbly comfortable black Nappa leather seats.
That said, it should come with plenty for its eye-watering list price. Our test came in at nearly £33,000 – or £30,000 without options. If DS is wishing for the model to be success, there needs to be some tempting deals and superb marketing to get buyers away from the premium German manufacturers.
It's hard not to admire the French brand for what it's done with the DS 3 Crossback. It's truly unique as nothing on sale (aside from the DS 7) looks remotely like it. If the concierge service delivers, it could help to be a big selling point.
But it all just feels a touch ambitious, and the interior doesn't quite deliver the premium edge it promises. Against stiff competition from Mini and Audi – both of which have huge brand and badge appeal – there just doesn't feel a good enough reason to spend a very similar amount of money on the DS.
But with the eagerly-awaited electric variant on the way shortly, that could all be about to change...
Model: DS 3 Crossback
Engine: 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine
Power (bhp): 128
Torque (Nm): 230
Max speed (mph): 124
0-60mph: 9.0 seconds
Emissions (g/km): 117g/km