DS’s chiefs have always said theirs is a long-term project, but surely it should be a rapid business to sell a plush and stylish small crossover. If they can’t make a success of that, what hope is there?
The new DS 3 Crossback tips its hat at the design flourishes of the DS 3 supermini, the brand’s first car (and formerly the Citroen DS3) and still its fastest seller. Spot the shark-fin B-post, the contrast roof, plus the brandtastic grille and upright running LEDs.
But the Crossback adds lots of technology, a full-electric version, and a far more shi-shi yet practical cabin. Outside it’s rocking LED matrix headlamps, and powered pop-out door handles. You can, should you be the kind who trusts data protection, unlock those handles and start the car via a phone app.
Inside you’ve got a double-screen layout, a 515-watt Focal hifi, and a head-up display. And, bien sûr, a superabundance of diamond motifs in the instrument graphics, switchgear and stitching. Even the vents sit in diamond-shaped casings, the outer pair moved to the door casing so they’re closer to your face.
Oh and did we mention it’s a small crossover?
Well, not that small actually. Think Audi Q2 or Fiat 500X, at 4.12m long. It gets first use of an all-new platform from the PSA Group, which makes it surprisingly roomy inside. Grown-ups can sit in the back. They also get good audio, because the rear tweeters are mounted high inside the shark-fin part of the door.
Normal petrol and diesel engines, and an eight-speed automatic gearbox, are on the initial menu. All are front-wheel drive. The new platform has aluminium front suspension arms, but the rear is a conventional torsion beam.
The top petrol is a 155bhp 1.6, with eight-speed auto. There’s also the excellent little 1.2 petrol with 130bhp and a 1.5 diesel. They ought to go well, as the new platform is lighter than the previous generation (underpinning the Peugeot 2008) by about 40kg. But stronger, natch. They’re also claiming it’s very quiet.
High-functioning driver assist, as on the DS 7, is also on the options list. The front radar can identify pedestrians even at night.
Then after six months comes the E-Tense version. That’s a pure-electric car, but it has almost no distinct styling or aero flourishes. That’s because DS says it gives all the utility and fun of the combustion version, with no sacrifice in cost, so it doesn’t need its own look.
It has a 100kW (136bhp) motor, and a 50kWh battery, which is shaped to fit under the front and rear seats and tunnel, so it doesn’t steal any footwell or boot space. It can be 80 per cent replenished in half an hour, thanks to active battery cooling, if you can find a 100kW charger (they’re coming). Energy efficiency is helped by heat-pump air-conditioning. DS engineers quoted a range of 300 kilometres under WLTP rules.
We pointed out the Hyundai Kona Electric can already do 470 kilometres, WLTP, and the DS people said their car is still being developed and will improve beyond 186 before production, which starts in autumn 2019. And anyway, DS will offer a subscription-type ownership that gives you 12 days’ internal-combustion car loan every year.
“We have decided to put electrification at the heart of our brand,” DS CEO Yves Bonnefont tells Top Gear. The DS 7 Crossback will get a plug-in hybrid 4WD version next year too, and after that all new DSs will have a hybrid or full-electric version.
He says the brand’s involvement in Formula E gives access to software development for EVs and PHEVs. This, he claims, is a more useful technology transfer to the road than you get in any other form of motorsport.
Bonnefont tells me the electric DS 3 Crossback will cost the owner the same to own as a petrol – more to buy, but less to run provided they charge mostly at home and commute 30 miles a day.
The DS 3 Crossback pairs up with the DS 7 Crossback, finally bringing the first design consistency across the DS range that so far has looked bizarrely scattergun.
I tackle design chief Thierry Metroz with a common criticism of the DS 7, that it’s not very distinctive on the outside. “Yes. Customers say they want radical but they won’t buy it, they’ll only admire it.
“But we can do innovative details, such as our pivoting lights. And inside it’s your own world, so we can be more radical. The DS 7 is like a Paul Smith jacket, conservative on the outside but with an orange or pink lining.”
Metroz compares that with the DS 3 Crossback, saying the smaller car can push the stylistic boat out further. “It’s dynamic and playful on the road. It’s wide and has big wheels. It has a strong stance. The designers were in on the new platform from the start, so the proportions are perfect, which is absolutely important.”
Cohesion across the range should grow, as Bonnefont reiterates his promise that the brand will launch one all-new car every year until 2022, giving four more distinct models after the DS 7 and DS 3 Crossbacks.