French premium brand DS is entering the burgeoning small crossover sector with a new model designed to kick off its next phase of growth
On the road
On the road
This is the model that DS Automobiles hopes will kick-start the next phase of its development. The larger DS 7 Crossback was the first model under a new, devolved-from-Citroen, DS, but the DS 3 Crossback has more volume potential than its bigger brother, and will also house the first electric DS when the DS 3 Crossback E-Tense launches late this year.
The DS 3 Crossback doesn’t directly replace DS’s major success story to date, although the DS 3 hatchback did end production at around the same time the new crossover launched, and DS is hoping that better residual values as well as a degree of extra practicality will help commute some of those previous customers into the new model.
1. There are some neat styling lines and creases across the car. There’s a lot going on, but most of it works in creating a design that attracts attention.
2. The Lane Keep Assist system is, as is the case on most of its ilk, horribly intrusive in many situations, particularly single lane roads where
its input isn’t required.
3. It’s a regular PSA Group moan, but it takes too many presses to go from audio to alter the climate and then back again.
But it’s mainly going to be conquest business, with the Audi Q2 and Mini Countryman being prime targets for the new French baby SUV.
The car launches with a choice of three petrol and one diesel engine, with the three petrols being 100, 130 and 155hp versions of the same three-cylinder 1.2-litre, while the lone diesel is a 100hp 1.5-litre unit that offers the lowest emissions at 97g/km. However, it’s also a boomy engine that isn’t as appealing a choice as the petrols, especially when you look at the £2150 price gap between the 100hp engines of the two fuel types. Better is to make the £3000 step up from the entry petrol to the 130hp engine that is expected to be most popular, which does though mean a switch from the nice-shifting manual gearbox to the slightly lumpy eight-speed EAT gearbox that’s nowhere near as smooth as rival products. It is efficient though, because in the Prestige trim driven here, the 117g/km 130hp DS 3 Crossback pips the admittedly more powerful Audi Q2 by four grammes per kilometre, and the Mini Countryman is a full 17g/km back from the French car.
The DS 3 Crossback has certainly not been styled to shy away into the background, and the designers have largely succeeded in moulding the well-liked looks of the DS 3 hatchback into a taller SUV stance. There’s no shortage of creases and curves, be they on the front, side or rear. The big grille and curled LED running lights dominate the front, while the side view has the opposing ‘v’-shaped crease in the door and kick-up of bodywork into the rear window that looks slightly awkward and actively inhibits the driver’s view over the shoulder. At the rear there’s a wide expanse of bootlid, but the creases around the bumper add a more muscular stance, especially with the most powerful car’s large exhaust pipes.
There are four core trim levels (plus, for the next couple of months a La Premiere top trim will also be sold as part of the car’s launch). Going forward, the DS 3 Crossback runs from Elegance to Performance Line, Prestige and Ultra Prestige, with respective £1400, £2000 and £3000 price steps between them. All cars are equipped with 17-inch alloys, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, air-conditioning, rear parking sensors and lane-keep assist, which is a reasonable, rather than good, haul.
Go up to Performance Line and heated folding mirrors, privacy glass, premium seats and various sporting cosmetic upgrades are added, while the Prestige trim is the one that hands out everything a premium small SUV driver would be looking for, including climate control, a 10.0-inch touchscreen with sat-nav, leather seats, automatic wipers, front parking sensors and a second front USB port. It’s surprising that you have to work your way up to this trim to get all those niceties from a premium brand, but this is the specification level that makes the most sense in terms of kit list versus price.
The top-spec Ultra Prestige adds 18-inch alloys, keyless entry, head-up display, LED lights, heated seats and a reversing camera, but you’re into pretty pricey territory by then. The top-spec trim comes only with the two most powerful engines, while the top 155hp petrol can’t be had in entry Elegance spec.
The cabin is as individual as the exterior styling. It continues DS’s diamond-influenced theme in terms of the shape of the buttons, vents and seat patterning, as is also evident in the DS 7 Crossback.
The dashboard top is high-quality material and the seats very comfortable, although the switchgear itself has a distinct air of form over function. The switches on the main console are like a touchscreen, so don’t click when you press them, making them distracting to use on the move. And the markings on the aluminium-effect window switches either side of the gear lever are almost impossible to read in bright sunlight, making it a memory test to recall that the middle of three on each side is the front window.
The infotainment screen is a big one at 10.0 inches on the higher two trim levels, but is the PSA system that we have complained about before where in an attempt to remove buttons from the dashboard, there is too much running through the touchscreen. To go from CarPlay to change the temperature and back to where you started, for example, can be eight presses, where it would be one on any car with climate controls separate to the screen.
There’s a decent stowage space for phone or wallet in front of the gear lever and a couple of cupholders behind, but the door pockets are small and slightly awkwardly shaped.
Rear space is pretty tight for both head and legroom, something that is a consequence of the DS 3 Crossback’s small footprint compared with rivals. This does make it more manoeuvrable and easier to pilot around town, though. Boot space is also pretty lacking at just 285 litres where the core Audi and Mini rivals offer more than 400.
The DS 3’s driving experience is another example of where style is maybe more important than substance. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s not the most engaging of experiences, with light steering that doesn’t encourage eager driving, and a ride quality that is fairly supple but with a tendency to thump heavily over larger bumps. There’s a degree of body roll that also dissuades enthusiastic cornering, but the ride quality makes longer runs a pleasant enough experience, along with the soft and comfortable seats.
The issue of rivals is a little tricky once you get past the premium pair of Audi Q2 and Mini Countryman, because the likes of the BMW X1 and Mercedes GLA are a bit large, and then it’s into the likes of the cheaper VW T-Cross, Jeep Renegade, or Honda HR-V, the latter of which we’ve chosen for the third car in our spec and cost comparators because it’s underrated and has just been revised.
The DS just about holds its own against the Mini and Audi, beating both for emissions but losing out by a few hundred pounds in the P11D price stakes and sitting a shade behind on residual value, as well as being less practical. But it’s close enough to not make the decision a clear one, and for drivers wanting to choose something different, the DS 3 Crossback is a decent effort. It’s not as rounded and complete a proposition as its rivals, but is more characterful and distinctive, and close enough to the competition that you’re not having to make a large cost or quality sacrifice for treading a different path.
This has to constitute a success for a fledgling DS brand that admits awareness is its biggest barrier, and getting the distinctive DS 3 Crossback on the road will build presence ahead of new models coming to broaden the line-up in the next few years.
DS was launched as Citroen’s prestige arm in 2010, with the DS 3 premium hatchback rival to the Mini being its first car (pictured), although it has heritage in the Citroen DS models of the 1950s.
The DS 4 crossover and DS 5 compact executive models followed without the success of the DS 3; the small hatch really found a home in the UK, which became the number one market worldwide.
In 2015, parent company PSA decided to spin off DS as its own prestige marque, separating it from Citroen in everything from dealerships to branding.
The first of the new breed of ‘second generation’ DS Automobiles models was the DS 7 Crossback, a larger crossover that launched in early 2018; now followed by the DS 3 Crossback model.
As the most prestigious of PSA’s brands, which also cover Citroen, Peugeot and Vauxhall, DS will be first to get key new technology, including the company’s electric and plug-in hybrid systems. An all-electric E-Tense DS 3 Crossback will launch late this year, at the same time as an E-Tense plug-in hybrid version of the DS 7 Crossback. The brand aims to electrify its entire line-up by 2025, and will add a new car every year until 2023.
What they said
What They Said
"The DS 3 Crossback is the new premium compact SUV from DS Automobiles, bringing distinctive sculptural styling and exceptional proportions. It is available with the latest petrol and diesel engines, and later in 2019 with EV power."
"Offering LED headlights, flush-fitting door handles that deploy automatically and a fully digital driving display, DS 3 Crossback has avant-garde features hand in hand with comfort and an array of safety equipment and driver assistance functions. It is for those seeking a car with instant appeal."
Martin Gurney, director of fleet and used vehicles, Groupe PSA
Need to know
Three things we like...
The flush door handles pop out when you approach the car
The styling is certainly outgoing, and nicely translates the DS3 to an SUV
The little hook to hang the filler cap on is a useful touch
...And one we don't
The buttons in the cabin don’t click or feedback to let you know you’ve pressed them
The 130hp petrol is the engine of choice, but the automatic gearbox is lurchier and more hesitant that rivals’.
The emissions figures beat those of the car’s big competition.
Compact dimensions are most keenly felt by rear passengers, while boot space is also well below what competitors can offer.
The entry trim is fairly well-specced and it’s not too big a cost step to go up to Performance Line. Higher trims have good kit levels, but the cost goes up.
There’s a lot going on with the looks, but more works than doesn’t in translating DS looks onto a small and stand-out crossover model.
Comfort and refinement 7/10
The engine emits a low three-cylinder thrum that’s inoffensive, and the ride quality is reasonable, although it tends to thump over larger bumps.
Very hit-and-miss. There are some nice materials higher up, and fewer so as you go down the cabin. Some switches could be easier to use.
The inherent problem with all DS parent firm PSA’s infotainment is that too much is crammed into it, and you have to switch between functions to make basic changes.
Whole life costs 8/10
Slightly behind the likes of Audi and Mini rivals, but close enough to not be a serious issue. RVs are reasonable, but P11D is a tad high.
CCT opinion 8/10
Distinctive inside and out, the DS 3 Crossback grabs the attention, mainly for the right reasons.
The emissions figures get the DS off to a good start, and it’s a striking car inside and out with decent quality in the main. Lurchy auto and cabin functionality are less good.