It packs French flair and an eye-catching design, but lacks a little in dynamism
Trying to be different in a market full of variety and diversity is a big ask but that’s what the experts are being paid the big money for. Every brand is vying to stand apart.
Many, such as the BMWs and Audis of this world, have their own distinctive shapes and looks; you only have to glance at the badge or grille to instantly recognise that, whatever the specific model, you are sure about one thing – the brand.
It’s not so easy for newcomers. It never is in any walk of life, I suppose.
In the case of this week’s review car, the DS7 Crossback family SUV, it is all the more difficult because it has been so closely aligned with a main brand, Citroen, for a long time.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with that in so far as it goes. We all remember Skoda making a virtue of the fact that its models were largely Volkswagens under the skin.
It was a brilliant bit of marketing in that it gave the reassurance of the backing of a motoring giant while inherently drawing attention to the fact that the premium attached to the German marque’s cars was not charged on the Skodas.
The message was: Yes, they were cheaper but without necessarily incurring too much of a loss on latest technology.
DS is now emerging as a stand-alone brand in its own right; it has several models, with more imminent. Its existence is based on the premise that there is a market for it among people who like a bit of French flair, chic and luxury. That makes it, effectively, the luxury brand of the burgeoning Stellantis Group (Citroen, Alfa Romeo, Jeep). Incidentally, DS can be an abbreviation of Different Spirit or Distinctive Series.
My black-coloured version probably didn’t show its design lines to the greatest effect, so I would advise you pick a brighter colour – there is a nice bronze version. Design out front is eye-catching thanks to a whopping large and distinctive grille.
Maybe things aren’t quite as energetic at the rear. But overall, it’s fair to say it has sculpted good looks to reasonable effect and it certainly is different than rivals, which include the likes of the Audi Q3 (a bit of a favourite of mine), BMW X1 (new version coming soon), Volvo XC40 etc.
Now I think it has more room than some of those and maybe fits better alongside the BMW X3 but I’m told that is not the way things shake down in this case.
The cabin is interesting to say the least and had me between two minds a few times as I went sunny-south east to see what it was like on motorway and side roads.
Yes, that cabin with its elevator-type angled buttons on the central console for opening windows worked.
But a row of buttons running under the infotainment display had me a bit frustrated sometimes as I sought to do some basic stuff manually. Luckily the voice control was in full play and I contrived to get the temperature up before I got a June dose of frostbite.
Frankly, I think there are too many buttons. You could halve the number.
The plug-in hybrid system worked OK though battery intrusion hit boot space hard. It is not the biggest boot in its class.
The engine lets you know it’s there when it kicks in. It could do with a little bit of refinement on that front.
The seats were great and, it is almost obligatory to mention, there was an excellent driving position though I would have liked more adjustment on the steering wheel.
Good room at the back as well.
There are some “unique” touches that critics might call gimmicky. They include the way the lights do a 360-degree turn and a clock pops up at the top of the dash. I had to resist the temptation to say something snide about the clock because it was an hour behind time.
I was happy with the variety of my driving and aware that I had plenty of power in reserve but I had to use Sport mode to get a bit of an edge to the handling and ride and even then it wasn’t anything to write home about. It was built, I think, for comfort not driving dynamics.
That is a bit of a drawback as it’s a big-selling area of emphasis highlighted by some rivals.
Without a doubt the car has its challenges. And without a doubt you have to be prepared to see things a bit differently to get the most from it. There are pieces of design brilliance and the attention to detail – especially around the cabin – is praiseworthy. It grew on me.
Would I buy it? I really am torn. I’d like the idea of something different (we drove Citroens when they were a rarity so I’d enjoy not being one of the pack). I think I’d like a bit more edge to the drive. But make no mistake about it, this DS7 is certainly different.