The DS 7 Crossback is an important car for DS Automobiles. It represents the start of something new. Announced as a new brand in 2014, this is the first car for the marque that's all DS and no Citroën. That means there's no chevron-badged version, as DS Automobiles sets out to become the luxury arm of Groupe PSA.
Flaunting the old Citroën DS as the avant-garde inspiration for the brand, the DS 7 Crossback drives straight into the hottest car segment, offering a new SUV, and aiming to reassert French car luxury on our roads.
DS design brings touches of flair
When DS Automobiles introduced us to the DS 7 Crossback, it dropped in names like Chanel and Louis Vuitton, leaving no doubt about how it wants this car to be perceived. Seeing M. Macron driving the DS 7 down the Champs-Élysées at his presidential inauguration put this car in the public eye, but now it's hitting the UK's roads.
In profile, the DS 7 is a typical mid-sized SUV, sitting confidently on big wheels and with body panels adorned with folds and sculpting that gives it an air of sophistication.
But while the DS 7 Crossback sets out to be a new car, we can't help glancing at the Peugeot 3008 and seeing a resemblance. DS seems to take Peugeot's design and sharpens it, whether intentionally or not.
Glance at the front of the DS 7 and there's a hint of Audi Q models about it, with a similar outline and open-mouthed grille. Some DS 7 trim levels carry a silver trim here too, similar to Audi's S Line.
The daytime running lights that cut through the lower quarter of the front bumper is a signature move from DS-branded cars of the past few years, however, and while the headlights might look the same, but they actually house a lot of sophistication...
Lights, camera, night vision action
We're not always given to talking about headlights on cars - at least not at length - but for the DS 7 Crossback there's a lot to discuss.
Firstly, those headlights are a showpiece. Turn on the car and those three LED pods within the headlight unit illuminate with purple backlighting and rotate to the front, with a shimmering lightshow to welcome you to the car.
Pair this with DS projections onto the ground surrounding the car - puddle lights - and there's something magnifique happening and that you'd normally associate with premium brands, like Mercedes. First impressions matter and first impressions last.
But the lights are more than just Moulin Rouge titillation. The DS Active LED Vision headlights have six different modes; these aren't modes you get to select, but the light actively changes as conditions do. Yes, those LED pods move to spread the light, including a widening as you steer round corners, one of the small throwbacks to the old Citroën DS. Hit the roads after dark and the DS 7's headlights actively change the illumination pattern as you drive. It's perhaps a little distracting at first, but you can certainly see a lot and it's fast to react to changes.
That's not the key skill of the DS 7 however - that's reserved for night vision. This uses infrared cameras to detect heat signatures and identify people and animals ahead of you. Throwing a box around the acquired "target" you can see the results in real-time on the fully-digital driver's display.
It's a premium feature - hence a £1000+ premium price - but you can see how this might form a component in future autonomous driving. It knows where people are, it can see things human vision simply can't. While urban drivers might not see a need to spend extra on this fancy night-vision feature, if you live somewhere that sheep like to sleep on the road, or you find cyclists with no lights, then it has immediate appeal.
Again, it can be a distraction, and we couldn't help thinking that somewhere would be a missile launch button to go with it. But it's rather cool, isn't it?
DS 7 Crossback interior styling
But it's in the interior that the Crossback really wants to be different. DS is aiming to elevate the interior quality above those models in the PSA group - to slap down Audi, BMW and the rest - and there are four trim levels to reflect that: Elegance, Performance Line, Prestige and Ultra Prestige, each with different upholstery (flick through the gallery below to see Performance Line, Prestige and Ultra Prestige).
Fashion divides people, we all know that. There's an idea of taste that some people aspire to, while others find too showy - like Louis Vuitton's logo-emblazoned luggage. It's in this dichotomy that the DS 7 interiors exist.
In some cases - like the speaker grilles on the 14-speaker Focal system (which is very good in terms of performance) - the result is dramatic, in a likeable way. In other cases - like angles in the driver's display - the design can obscures clarity, because things aren't really where you expect them, or aren't moving in a familiar manner.
There's a liberal use of geometric shapes across DS design - drawing on the company's logo - and this can be found throughout the car: the driver's display uses diamond rather than round dials; additional angles on switches and triangular vents have a more futuristic stance; even the interior illumination pattern is inspired by this angular shaping.
One of the big design swathes runs along the centre tunnel, hemming in the gear selector with a line of switches (all angular, of course) to control the windows around the car. It's a lot of space given to a fairly perfunctory task. On the Performance Line, these are then surrounded by dark Alcantara, but on the higher trim levels, it turns into more textured metal-look finish.
Some might like that individuality, some might think it's a bit kitsch or bordering on being a little too chintzy. For us, it attracts us more to the Performance Line for the overall finish: it's darker and we've only ever seen this much Alcantara liberally adorning the insides of a supercar.
What DS has made, however, is something markedly different to its rivals. The Audi A1 is basically the same inside as the Audi Q7. On the DS 7, however, it feels like there's a big difference in interior trim across just this model alone.
As we've said, it's second cheapest trim level that we'd choose, which coincidentally is the same technique we use when ordering from the wine list.
Moving onto materials and DS has done a good job in applying leather to touch points, with soft-touch materials on the top of the dash. There's a sort a waist line, however, as you drop down the interior, where hard plastics take over (on the bottoms of the doors, for example).
The Prestige and Ultra Prestige get a rotating dash clock inside. We're not fans of this design feature. Sure, we understand that Mercedes S Class clock heritage - which it feels like DS is aping here - but it's not for us. Fortunately the Performance Line loses this clock, which we're all for.
Overall, there's quality and distinction, as well as plenty of space inside. The angular effects might make you double-take, but with so many SUVs on the market, DS has to do something to stand out. And it's certainly done that.
The technology load-out is large
We mentioned the Peugeot 3008 earlier, as there's a flash of that in the pyramid centre of the DS 7's steering wheel. Otherwise, the DS 7's comfortable wheel is littered with controls to command the on-board tech.
Again, these buttons pick-up on the geometric patterning, with a "diamond" finish to the rollers that will let you scroll though the settings on the centre display and the driver's display. They seem to be reversed however - perhaps from the conversion from left- to right-hand drive? - with the left controller operating the display to your right and the right controller changing the display to your left.
Paddles for manually shifting the autobox hide behind the wheel - which also mostly obscures the indicator stalks and the DS Connected Pilot or adaptive cruise control stem. While cruise control is standard, it's the Pilot part that's really interesting.
DS Connected Pilot elevates the DS 7 Crossback onto the autonomous driving scale. It's a combination of adaptive cruise control and lane recognition with active steering. Engage DS Connected Pilot and you can set the distance from the car in front, your desired speed and it will lock onto the lane without you needing to do anything.
You need to keep hold of the wheel and stay in control of the car - both legally and because the car will warn you if you're not paying attention and holding the wheel - which we found worked perfectly on sections of UK motorways. DS Connected Pilot is standard on Ultra Prestige and a £650 option for Prestige.
So night vision and autonomous driving make the list, along with a whole range of other safety options, but most come as an additional cost, unless you're picking the Ultra Prestige. The tech specs change across these models, but from the Performance Line upwards you get a 12.3-inch digital driver display and a 12-inch central touchscreen.
Bluetooth, USB, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are all standard, with Performance Line also getting DS's TomTom-based navigation system - which is actually pretty good. DAB is also standard, but higher models then move into things like a wireless phone charging mat. That sees you well connected from a tech point of view and every bit as capable as any rival on the road, when combined with the DS's driving aids.
What doesn't quite work is the combination of touch controls under the big central display and the requirement to use touch for some core tasks - like climate control. If you want to change the temperature, you have to access the screen and change the settings. When you're driving alone, it's a bit too much to take your eyes off the road to do this. A lot of car brands are increasingly guilty of this - and we wish they'd all think a little harder about workarounds.
Then there's the volume control, which can only be classed as a design failure. Sure, there are normal volume controls on the steering wheel, but the central volume control is another barrel right in the centre under the screen. That means you have to reach past the gear selector and roll it to change the volume. It's awkward at best.
The ignition also has to be on for the back-illumination on the touch buttons under the display to show what they do. You can turn on the display when the engine is off, but you'll just be left guessing which button does what. Form over function? There's certainly a hint of that in this instance.
A comfortable ride, but not quite a luxury drive
The DS 7's seats are plenty comfortable, with enough support to keep you in place as you enter those corners a little faster than you should.
While we're talking about seats its worth mentioning that the ones in the back give enough head and legroom for adults and you can also have reclining rear seats - BMW 7 Series eat your heart out.
Poke the start-stop button and there's a familiar chugging to life of the diesel engine; there's a 1.5-litre 130PS option or a 2.0-litre 180PS option, mated with either a 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic gearbox respectively.
It's really here that the DS 7 Crossback feels like the Peugeot or Citroën it's trying not to be. There's not really enough sound-proofing to cut out that background throb of the diesel engine and the 8-speed automatic box feels a little lazy, unless you're in sport mode - and even then, there can be a bit of a delay in response when you want to pull away from a standstill.
If you're a town driver then the automatic might have more appeal for easy stop-start driving, but there's certainly some argument in picking the manual.
There is also a 225PS 1.6-litre petrol option (which we haven't driven), which is the most powerful and spritely, again mated to that 8-speed automatic box.
It's also in the power department that the DS 7 Crossback misses its biggest trick. This car wants distinction, it wants to be different, but sadly the planned plug-in hybrid version, the E-Tense, won't be available until 2019. This version will get 300PS, two electric motors and four-wheel drive, while offering a 37 mile range of electric-only driving.
Given the current mood, we'd have been hugely excited to see DS launching as a PHEV, but sadly, we'll have to wait. In the meantime, DS Automobiles is putting its faith in the four-pot diesel.
Animated inside and out
We mentioned that the digital driver's display uses angular graphics rather than round, but it also offers some fancy animation as you change the viewing mode. Like other digital displays, this can give you full-screen navigation or you can switch through other views.
However, the DS 7 takes its time about things. These animations are a bit slow to change. Swirling animations may look fancy, but when you're driving you want the information, rather than to be waiting for the pomp and show to finish. It just needs to be a little snappier. That applies to changing the driving modes - eco, comfort, sport, normal - which also aren't quick to change.
On the Berkshire roads on which we tested the DS 7 Crossback, we found it comfortable enough, soaking up some of those pot holes and without being too jarring on the obligatory speed bumps. There's a little wallow on cornering, but the overall feel is one of comfort rather than the more aggressive sporty ride that some recent SUVs want to offer.Once you're underway, the steering weights up with speed and the DS 7 Crossback is actually a very nice car to drive. There's some fancy technology in the suspension that's designed to scan the road and help adapt the car to the conditions, although we can't positively state whether that makes a huge difference to the ride.
Ultimately, pick the right configuration and there's nothing to stop the DS 7 Crossback being a practical and distinctive SUV.
The DS 7 Crossback is designed to make a statement. In many ways it does that when it comes to design, even if some of the choices might divide opinion.
For us, it's the Performance Line with the 1.5-litre manual that we're drawn to. That will set you back around £31k, some £7k cheaper than the Audi Q5 - a car not to be sniffed at, but one which you'll have to dive deep into the options list.
Like recent (similar) Peugeots, it's technology that shines through in the DS 7, while still exhibiting some of the same downsides when it comes to the autobox. The E-Tense (PHEV) version has the potential to change things, but we can't help feeling that launching the DS 7 Crossback as a hybrid from day one would have given this car the distinction that it really needed.
Ultimately, the DS 7 Crossback is trying to use French savoir faire to break into the luxury SUV ranks against some solid German competition. Pick one of the top trims and the price gap closes rapidly; for us, the real star is the slightly more subdued, slightly cheaper, DS 7 Crossback model.
Alternatives to consider
The Audi Q5 is an obvious rival to for the DS 7 Crossback. It's a costlier SUV, but offers many of the same technologies and options, while carrying a badge on the front that's one of the most desirable on the road. Audi has also been setting a standard for quality; it's a more refined drive with a sharper automatic gearbox, but it's not the most exciting car in Audi's range.
Read the full article: Audi Q5 review
Keeping it the family, the Peugeot has a number of similarities to the DS 7 Crossback, but overall it's a cheaper SUV option, so might appeal to those who want a little more for their money. One of the big similarities is the desire to be different: it's as far from generic on the inside as you can get and there's something desirable about that.
Read the full article: Peugeot 3008 review