DS, the brand, loves to remind us of the original Citroen DS, the car. A long, sleek shark of a thing. This could hardly be more different. It’s that most fashion-forward of categories, a small chubby crossover.
And we mean small. It’s slightly more petite than an Audi Q2 and a fair bit mini-er than a Mini Countryman. Those are the cars DS says it’s competing against, because they’re premium brands. To get a size match for the DS 3 Crossback, top-end versions of the VW T-Cross are snapping at its heels.
While the VW is a boxy and conservative thing, the French have genuinely gone for some fairly wild styling touches. The surfaces are rippled, the openings florid. There’s family DNA in the nose, with its LED sideburns, and in the shark’s fin halfway back the side profile. They’re throwbacks to the old DS 3 supermini. Two-tone roof options also figure, but that’s pretty standard for crossovers these days.
DS wants to be known for technology. So all versions get flush door handles that motor out, and flat screen instruments, lane assist and road-sign recognition. Two further strata of driver assist are available above that. Matrix LED headlamps are on the tick-box list too.
It all sits on a new platform from the Peugeot Group that’s also providing undergirdings for the next Peugeot 208 and then Vauxhall Corsa. The wheelbase is a bit longer versus those superminis though.
Like them, the DS3 will offer a full-electric version, in this case by the end of 2019. We drove a prototype of that.
The rest of the engine selection reflects the UK’s swing to petrol. There’s just a solitary diesel, with a measly 100bhp. The petrols are all 1.2-litre three-cylinder, in a new version for the next stage of emissions laws. It comes as 100bhp manual, and 130bhp or 155bhp with an automatic gearbox. Performance isn’t bad at all because it’s skinny: the weight of most versions is little over 1,200kg.
“This is not a replacement for the DS 3,” say the DS people. Indeed – for a while you will still be able to buy that little three-door hatch and its cabrio version. But really sales of those sorts of cars are falling away, while small crossovers rage across their turf. Hence the DS 3 Crossback.
The three-cylinder engine is as chirpy as ever, and not held back much by having an auto strapped to it, as the eight-speeder is usually willing to shift down. The 130bhp version is torquey in the low to mid ranges, and is enough for most jobs, even big gradients at motorway speed. When it’s not being flogged, it burbles away in the background.
The 155bhp version finds more poke at high revs, but it doesn’t transform the experience.
We’ve also tried a prototype of the full-electric one, called E-Tense. The stats: 136bhp, a 50kWh battery, 200 miles range WLTP (322kph), half an hour to change to 80 per cent on 100kW. There’s proper blended braking and heat-pump climate control, in the hopes of hitting that test-range in real life, whatever the weather.
It’s a well-developed thing already, able to roll along with liquid smoothness at traffic jam speeds, and zap away without fuss or torque steer. Mind you, at higher speed the motor power tails off, and it’s fighting a 300kg weight gain over the petrol car. Modes labelled eco, comfort and sport give different power levels, and you can choose more braking regeneration too. Both electric and friction braking feel natural.
They hadn’t done chassis tuning on the E-Tense prototype, so back to the petrol car now.
The chassis is soft, and rides well over isolated bumps at all speeds. In this relatively tall car, you feel the roll and pitch, and a sudden crest will send things into mild float.
Because the steering is relatively sharp, you need to be careful to ease it into bends, or the roll can get out of phase with your inputs. Go smoothly and you’ll be rewarded with useful progress. It doesn’t understeer much, there’s good traction in tight bends and unexpected chassis feedback in quicker ones.
But usual crossover rules apply: if this stuff matters to you, buy a hatchback. You can get a nice (and biggish) one for DS 3 money.
The driver assist and lane-keeping are pretty alert and well-calibrated as these things go. Keep them on in the background and they’ll ease the strain, but relying on them is more nerve-wracking than doing the job yourself.
Better to spend money on the excellent matrix LED headlamps, the sort where you leave them on high beam and they automagically cast shadows around other cars so’s not to dazzle.
On the inside
Any nation can make a high-tech car, but only the French can make this one, they’re saying.
It’s about the materials, the jewellery, the motifs. Sure enough that diamond pattern reverberates across the cabin like the print on a headscarf. It’s there in the shape of the switchgear, the graphics of the screens, the vents, the layout. Even the knurling of the switches – using, if you please, a luxury French word: guillochage.
Yes it’s blingy but it’s refreshingly distinctive. There is a feeling of plushness about much of the cabin, and the cheaper bits are mostly out of the way.
The centre touchscreen is what we now expect from the PSA Group. Its graphics are OK and the processor snappy. But it could use a couple more hardware switches. The driver gets seek/scan buttons on the steering wheel, but there are none the passenger can reach.
There is a feeling of plushness about much of the cabin, and the cheaper bits are mostly out of the way.
The instruments sacrifice clarity to the diamond design. Sigh. Better shell out for the usefully clear head-up display then.
The front seats hold you nicely. Being stuck in the back isn’t so great. Space doesn’t quite match some of the non-premium mob, and the windows are shallow, with the kick-up to the shark’s fin making it even more claustrophobic. Small kids are going to hate that.
The E-Tense’s cabin space is no botch-up. The battery is shaped to fit where there’s space vacated by absent combustion-engine stuff: under the front seats, in the exhaust tunnel, in place of the fuel tank and spare wheel. Everyone’s legroom is unaffected and the boot is intact too.
The DS 3 Crossback lacks any great rational case. But you can say that for any small crossover. At least this one it serves up an individual design and a sense of luxury.
Whether that’s to your taste is a different matter, but there is of course no accounting for it.
On the road, the decent dynamics, and strong comfort play well, and the handy compactness does make sense of the urban crossover tag.