DS7 Crossback trades on its heritage and lives up to the expectations on many levels. but there are downsides. The ride is not the magic carpet experience we once loved and expected to see again, writes Declan Colley
WHEN French president Emmanuel Macron chose a DS7 Crossback as his vehicle of choice for the ride down the Champs Élysées to his inauguration on May 14, 2017, he picked a car which was built to recreate the great days of the French motor industry.
The journey to take up the reins of power at the Élysée Palace might have seemed a little incongruous by comparison with the great days of General Charles de Gaulle when he rode to state occasions in a convertible version of the Citroen DS which was then — and remains now — the single characterisation of how exalted the French automotive sector could be.
Having switched from the army command car in which he made part of the journey, Macron chose to ride in a bespoke version of a car which the PSA Group, owners of Peugeot, Citroen, Opel and the new DS sub-brand, hoped would resurrect some of the glittery stardust of the original DS era.
The DS name was revitalised by the French in the expectation that it would eventually allow them to compete successfully as a premium brand, locking horns with the likes of the German ‘big three’ — Audi, BMW, and Mercedes. Not to mention Lexus, Jaguar or Land Rover. It was a bold plan and whether or not they’ve pulled it off… well, we’re about to find out.
Of course, the original DS was all about technological innovation and with the magic carpet ride courtesy of the hydraulic suspension, it simply blew the opposition to the weeds.
The Americans were still dependent on (and still are) suspension technology Ben Hur would have scoffed at as crass and uncomfortable; the Brits developed a nice sort of marshmallow spring/damper/shock design with the Austin Maxi — designed, believe it or not, by Mini genius Alex Issigonis — which fell victim to crap build and bad management.
The French had all the opposition — even the then staid Germans and the effervescent Italians — whipped into a frenzy of envy.
Pulling that trick off again in a different age is a tough one, especially as globalism is rampant and manufacturers are trying to build cars to cope with many and varied international tastes. That said, the DS brand comes to markets like China and is sold as heritage Europeanism.
Everyone is trying to crack China for obvious reasons. The Americans, the Germans, the Swedes (albeit Chinese-owned), the very troubled Renault/ Nissan/Mitsubishi alliance and the Italian/American FCA outfit are all heavily involved in manufacturing there.
But the most adventurous of the lot appears to be PSA, which incidentally is also partly owned by Xi Jinping and his cohorts, and the DS brand is seen as being key to its potential for success in China.
Here in Europe DS is aimed, as outlined already, at muscling in on the luxury or premium segment dominated by the Germans.
But I digress, as the DS7 Crossback has arrived on our green shores and it is an adventurous car with many key innovations — 15 of them, in fact — aimed at establishing its technological credentials in the face of ever-more sophisticated opposition.
One such innovation which will send shivers of anticipation through DS enthusiasts is the DS Active Scan Suspension system which is camera operated and anticipates bumps and potholes as little as five metres ahead. It promises something of the breakthrough advances which the hydraulic system represented in its day.
As with all such technology, however, it is not that simple and there are serious gaps in the proficiency of the Active Scan system. For a start, the active dampers will only operate when you’re driving in ‘Comfort’ mode.
In any of the other driving modes, the car will revert to one of two adaptive control algorithms, neither of which really offers the sort of ride comfort levels the manufacturer claims for the car.
The very fact the car’s suspension has been tuned for comfort anyway, takes some of the gloss off the technology and one suspects that if the manufacturer had been a little more bold in its implementation of this gizmology, it might have scored more highly as an innovator.
Generally soft-ish suspensions don’t do a lot for the car and mean that it never really feels settled or composed, especially if you’re in the mood for some enthusiastic driving. The addition of a ‘sport’ mode to the driving choices does not necessarily mean this thing turns into a sporty beast when you want it to.
There is plenty of body roll too and it is notable that many of the DS7’s competitors do a much better job of disguising this SUV family trait and a lot of them have much better grip levels too.
Mirroring the sophistication of the exterior look, the interior — on the test model, at least — was all alcantara and polished aluminium. It is very avant garde and very plush on immediate inspection, but a closer look reveals a lot of scratchy plastics which rather dulls the luxurious veneer.
On a practical level, the car is spacious and the boot commodious and the seat is as you would expect from a plush French car — is very comfortable indeed. Stuff like the leather steering wheel and the ‘shark’s teeth’ switchgear are great and the superb graphics of the instrument binnacle are funkier than Isaac Hayes.
THE way the infotainment system works too is very intuitive and easy to operate, although the siting of the start/stop button between the centre air vents will certainly baffle debutants to the car.
The 180 bhp two litre turbodiesel engine with the eight-speed auto ’box is a familiar one but no less enjoyable to use and live with for all that. Again, however, it does not exactly exude the sort of luxury vibe the company is striving for. Performance is adequate rather than spectacular and the same applies for the 6.5 l/100km (43.3 mpg) consumption rate.
On several levels, then, this DS lives up to the expectations drawn from its heritage; it looks great, has wonderfully comfy seats and is as sophisticated as a model on a Parisian catwalk. But there are downsides as the ride is not the magic carpet experience we once loved and expected to see again here.
It will be interesting to see how this DS fares against European opposition in China, but even more interesting to see if it can crack the luxury market at home in Europe where, one suspects, it will find the competition a lot tougher and potential buyers a lot more demanding.
This is a very good first effort — it is after all the first bespoke DS — and it indicates there is a lot more to come from the brand. But given that it is the first and that initial impressions can last for a very long time, you might have expected a bit more from a marque which is trading on a very classy legacy.