Priced from £28,050 Release date On sale now
Building a premium brand from the ground up is arguably one of the hardest challenges a car maker can face. With no pre-existing brand loyalty or USP to rely on, manufacturers have to make a powerful statement when they come to market. Popular options are choosing to launch with a halo model, like Polestar will do with its Polestar 1, or to enter a highly publicised motorsport championship, like Jaguar's electric car programme has for the I-Pace.
DS, which was formed two years ago when the PSA Group decided it wanted a premium brand positioned above Peugeot and Citroën, chose neither option, instead relying on a string of rebadged former Citroëns to plump up the range. So, to no one’s surprise, DS got off to a slow start – in fact, we’ve not yet given a DS model more than three stars. But the upmarket French brand is back for round two, with its new 7 Crossback kickstarting a wave of new models.
It’s a large SUV, and like a number of its rivals, it makes use of a large, stylish front grille, wide air intakes and a high-waistline to give it a dominating aesthetic. And because DS is keen to market the 7 Crossback as a technology leader, even the entry-level version will get active LED headlights, which give a ‘welcoming animation’ as the car is unlocked.
But the most exciting feature on this car is an active suspension system, which comes as standard on more expensive models. Until now, systems like this have only been available on premium Mercedes and Audi cars. It uses a high-mounted camera near the top of the windscreen to ‘read’ the surface of the road as it approaches and then sets the stiffness of the suspension's electronically variable dampers to prepare for larger bumps and compressions before they arrive. It’s an impressive piece of technology, and should it work well, DS should be commended for making it available at a lower entry-point.
2017 DS 7 Crossback on the road
Upon first inspection, the 7 Crossback impresses from an aesthetic point of view. And that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise; we’ve praised DS models in the past for their sharp looks, stylish interiors and generous standard kit. What the 7 Crossback needs to do is prove that DS knows how build a car that steers accurately, rides well and is adequately hushed.
Thankfully, first signs are positive. From launch, DS is offering a 221bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine, a 1.5-litre diesel (power is tbc) and a 178bhp 2.0-litre diesel. We tested the latter, and despite turning over with a bit of a clatter, once the engine is up and running it proves to be both punchy and free from vibration. And it has plenty of low-end shove – 295lb ft at 2000rpm to be exact – so the eight-speed automatic gearbox can get away with holding onto a taller gear, which contributes to the surprisingly hushed ambience.
This ambience is accentuated by the surprisingly effective active suspension. Around town, it does an impressive job of preparing for, and then absorbing, the kind of low-frequency bumps that would have the rival Renault Koleos thumping and jiggling down the road. And while it’s true that over testing undulations the 7 Crossback’s vertical body control is a little looser than the Mazda CX-5's, this simply results in a rather pillowy high-speed ride.
However, that soft ride does come at the expense of some lateral control, with the 7 Crossback leaning rather heavily through quicker corners. It never feels wayward or disconcerting, but you are constantly aware that you’re driving something that doesn’t like to be pushed hard. Sport mode helps to tie things down a bit (this can be selected using a switch on the centre console) but then you’re left with speaker-generated engine noise and an oversensitive accelerator pedal, both of which feel unnecessary in a family-focused SUV. Instead, it’s best to just slow down and waft around in Comfort mode.
This mode will no doubt become your preferred option, but not for the reason you might expect. You see, despite the 7 Crossback offering active suspension, it only works in Comfort, which we think is a bit of missed opportunity. Making a car ride well when it is already softly sprung isn’t going to change the car world, but making a car handle well on a country road while absorbing the worst of battered bitumen might. So we feel that this innovative technology could be further optimised.
2017 DS 7 Crossback interior
Step inside the 7 Crossback and you’re met with an overtly stylish interior, with swathes of leather and chrome covering the dashboard.
However, the most dominating feature of the interior isn’t the exotic materials or the rakish centre console, it’s the 12.0in infotainment touchscreen and customisable digital instrument display.
The touchscreen comes with a relatively intuitive interface and has fixed buttons along its bottom edge. In theory, this should allow for easy operation while on the move, but, in typical 21st-century fashion, even those buttons are touch-sensitive, so you’re never completely sure if you’ve managed to select the correct setting. This doubt is compounded by the laggy response times of the infotainment system.
More successful, however, is the customisable digital instrument display. This is clear and responsive and you can configure it in a number of ways to show the information most useful to you, including a large sat-nav map.
In terms of quality, though, the 7 Crossback's interior is equally hit-and-miss. It looks rather opulent, but delve deeper and you’ll find that the lower reaches of the dashboard are covered in hard scratchy plastics and most of the chrome is actually plastic – not what buyers will be expecting in a nearly £45,000 SUV.
DS has got space and practicality right, though. The rear seats offer plenty of leg room, even for those who are 6ft tall or more, and should you avoid the panoramic roof, there's plenty of head room, too. Plus, thanks to a variable boot floor, there's a decent 550 litres of luggage space with the seats up, which is more than in the CX-5 and Nissan Qashqai, although fractionally less than in the BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLC.
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