Ooh La La - DS 7 Crossback
If you’re bored of Germany’s dull-but-worthy SUV offerings, should France be your next port of call, James Fossdyke suggests why.
Every facet of life has its homeland - a go-to nation that will provide the very best of whatever it is you desire. If you want clothes, you go to Italy, and if you want a watch, you go to Switzerland. In the case of chocolate, Belgium should be your destination of choice, while steaks have to be sourced from Argentina. Unless it’s a lamb steak, in which case you should head for New Zealand.
For pretty much anything else, though, France gets my vote. Wine, cheese and romantic getaways are all the better on the other side of the Channel, and they’ll lay on a pretty good ski holiday too. And that’s before we mention their impressively effective industrial action and cheap, utilitarian transport for the masses.
Now, though, a Parisian company has decided that France - and particularly its capital - should be the home of luxury cars. That brave organisation is called DS Automobiles, and if the name sounds familiar, that’s because it used to be part of Citroen. In the 1960s, the DS badge adorned curvy, comfortable saloons, and it returned in the late 2000s on small, stylish hatchbacks.
But those days are gone. DS has shuffled out from under Citroen’s skirts and had a crack at making its first standalone product. It’s an SUV called the DS 7 Crossback, and it’s designed to rival the Audi Q5 and Mercedes-Benz GLC.
That’s a tough ask, but DS has cracked it on the styling front. The 7’s big grille is perhaps a little too Audi-ish, but the rest of it is stellar. The headlights form narrowed, concentrated eyes, and the curved boot gives it a pert rear, set off by the gorgeous tail lights.
It’s even better inside, where boring, conventional buttons are more or less consigned to the scrapheap. Instead, you get a massive central touchscreen that houses most of the basic functions, with just a few touch-sensitive ‘hotkeys’ across the bottom. There are some buttons on the centre console and steering wheel, but for the most part, it’s all done on that huge screen.
Actually, I should probably say those ‘huge’ screens, because the DS also gets a digital instrument display that can be configured to your taste. And when night falls, the screen can be switched to a cool infra-red camera display that ‘sees’ around 300 metres down the road - well beyond the reach of the LED headlights.
It’s all very high-tech and very clever, but as with so many French cars, it’s also a lesson in how not to do in-car ergonomics. None of the switches are where you expect them to be and changing the climate control settings requires an MSc in software engineering, but you can forgive all that when you settle into the soft leather seats, fire up the engine and watch the BRM clock swivel into position.
The engine that lies behind that clock will differ depending on where you see the best balance of price, efficiency and power, but the range effectively comprises a 1.6-litre petrol engine and a 2.0-litre diesel, both of which are offered in a variety of guises.
My test car came with the 2.0-litre, 178bhp diesel engine, which came with an eight-speed automatic gearbox and felt more sprightly than its 134mph top speed might suggest.
There’s nothing sporty about the DS, though. Unlike a Porsche Macan, which hunkers down like a fast saloon, the 7 feels big and wafty and soft. It’s a bit like an automotive teddy bear. You can drive it quickly - it even has a sport mode - but it doesn’t encourage you. Instead, it prefers serene motorway cruising, where the big seats will cuddle you and the seat massaging system will knead away the stress.
It really is a relaxing car to drive, and the host of onboard gadgets make you feel as though you’re being pampered by the maître d’ at a luxury hotel. The car scans the road in front and constantly re-tunes the suspension to give you the most comfortable ride possible, while the cruise control is perpetually adjusting itself to maintain a safe distance between you and the car in front. If it slows down, you slow down — no need to touch the pedals at all. It’s a bit over-cautious at times, but it’s worth its weight in gold when you’re stuck in dawdling motorway traffic.
There are chinks in the Crossbacks luxury armour, though. Unless you wait for the plug-in hybrid version to arrive later this year, you can’t have four-wheel drive. That won’t bother most drivers, but it does limit the car’s ability in snowy or muddy conditions. It won’t be as efficient as you’d hoped, either. My test car claimed to be capable of 57.6mpg, but it struggled to better 40 on a mix of motorways and urban roads.
On the whole, though, the DS is a charming alternative to its German rivals. It can’t quite match them for build quality or capability, but it’s more stylish, more characterful and more unique. So if you’re fed up of the dull, uninspiring offerings provided by the usual BMW/Audi/Mercedes suspects, perhaps France really does have the answer.
DS 7 Crossback Ultra Prestige Blue HDi 180
Engine: 2.0-litre turbodiesel
0-62mph: 9.9 seconds
Top speed: 134mph
DS Salon Chester Bumpers Lane, Chester, CH1 4LT
w: dsautomobiles.co.uk t: 01244 311404