Are you bored of BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz cooking to the same recipe every-single-year? Sure, the German big three are creating some fantastically polished premium machines, but they’re all a bit predictable, aren’t they? Meet the DS 7 Crossback, a refreshing alternative to what fills 99% of all business car parks.
Don’t call it a Citroen! While the DS name – meaning goddess in French – began as the iconic Citroen model of 1955 and was later reborn as a funky supermini, DS is now its own marque. Hoping to infuse some French individuality to a rather strait-laced segment, DS cars use the bones of PSA sister models, but are aimed at a much more premium market.
Until the DS 9 saloon arrives next year, the DS 7 SUV is the flagship model with cars badged E-Tense being electrified.
Unlike rivals that proudly feature grilles the size of manhole covers and enough chrome to blind onlookers, the DS 7 Crossback knows the power of the understatement. Our test car in black is still purposefully large, but it’s narrated by soft character lines and the occasional crease to draw your eyes. Like a piece of jewellery, it’s the detail that highlights the DS 7 as being something more than the usual humdrum of this class.
Crystallised LED headlights perform a dance as you approach, each jewel-like module pirouetting. There is some chrome, but tasteful levels that only serve to add some distinction to the glasshouse. How about those rear lights? Arguably some of the most unique lighting signatures on the road, they are utterly mesmerising. This Ultra Prestige car also hosts a set of 20-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels that fill the arches nicely.
People might not recognise the badge at this point in time, but then that might be part of its allure. The car does have a certain mystique to it.
While the exterior might be described as subtle, the interior is a celebration of avant-garde design. It’s full of interesting shapes, sculptured highlights and good levels of tech. One glance reveals a characterful environment, while other premium SUVs play it safe.
The design starts with a dashboard that bows around occupants, upholstered in rich napa leather for top specification Ultra Prestige cars. At its horizon is an analogue B.R.M clock that revolves to reveal itself upon ignition, something that certainly adds some theatre to the cabin. A large 12.5-inch screen takes centerstage, but more impressive is the bank of shard-like metallic switch gear that could easily serve at an art exhibition.
Lovely ‘watch strap’ heated and cooled seats are plenty supportive and also feature a massaging function for a relaxing commute home. Material quality is pretty good, although there are some harder surfaces below knee height – something that many other competitors are also guilty of.
Rear passengers are treated to the same plush leathers and design, but also get good levels of space to stretch out. Leg room is plentiful, however, the glass panoramic roof on this car did eat into headroom. Middle occupants will enjoy a total lack of transmission hump.
Its electric tailgate, that can also be opened with a kick under the bumper, offers a pleasing 555-litres of space. Its floor can also be lowered for additional storage, and because the battery for this plug-in model is buried deep within its chassis, luggage space is not impeded.
Ultra Prestige cars come well-equipped with the aforementioned massaging seats, a premium audio system, adaptive cruise control and all of the goodies of lesser-spec models. However, the big highlight is that 12.5-inch infotainment system.
The vast screen offers plenty of real estate for graphics and buttons to be displayed. Larger text and virtual dials makes it far easier to use on the move than smaller units, suggesting that 12.5-inches might just be the golden ratio manufacturers have been looking for. Sadly, the system sometimes lacks the computing power to keep up with its fancy animations, resulting in a delayed response. The user interface could also be made more simplistic and less menu-centric. Thankfully Apple CarPlay and Android Auto make good use of the large display.
Another large digital screen fills the instrument binnacle and mimics the visually pleasing, but slightly sluggish, graphics of the infotainment system. It does allow for loads of customisation in regards to what information and style of gauges you want to display.
This specific DS 7’s official designation is DS 7 Crossback Ultra Prestige E-Tense 4x4 300. For those of you who don’t speak fluent car brochure it basically means that this is a top-spec plug-in hybrid variant of the DS 7. It’s powered by a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine and a pair of electric motors – a setup that enables all-wheel drive. Total output is 296bhp and 450Nm of torque, punchy figures that allows for 0-62mph in 5.9 seconds.
Like most plug-in hybrids, this E-Tense model has a series of drive modes that includes a pure EV setting. DS claims that you can cover around 34 miles on electricity, however, we could only ever get the battery to deliver 24 miles. The car’s 13.2kWh battery can be plugged in via a 7kW home charger for a full juicing in 4 hours, or if you can find a 22kW station, 2 hours. A nice feature is ‘eSave’ that will command the petrol engine to charge the battery on the move to ensure you have some EV range for urban use. That said, the DS 7 is quite happy to cruise at speeds up to 80mph on electric alone, delivering tranquil measured performance as opposed to neck-snapping Tesla moments.
Its ‘Hybrid’ setting is likely where most DS 7s will spend their time, with the battery doing much of the work and the engine kicking in when more performance is needed or energy is low. However, this is where the French luxury car begins to come unstuck. The transition between electric and combustion is coarse and unrefined, revealed by hesitation and a jolt as petrol power comes into play. This engine is also quite noisy under load and somewhat undermines the luxury intent of the car.
Once up to speed things tend to settle down as the DS 7 decides upon the best course of action in regards to powertrain. Its eight-speed automatic gearbox is pretty smooth, although it can show a lack of commitment when commanded manually. There is some wind and road noise that creeps into the cabin, but actually the DS 7 covers large distances rather well. After many hundreds of motorway miles during testing, its combination of luxury toys and general refinement made for a pleasant journey. Slower meandering around town does reveal the ride to be somewhat brittle, though.
There is a ‘Sport’ mode, but the nature of this car doesn’t lend itself to enthusiastic driving. The light steering is better around town than in delivering feedback on B-roads, and its hefty 1,800kg mass makes it lazy through sweeping bends.
This car is at its best on long journeys bookended by pure EV driving. In this regard, PHEV competitors deliver more sophisticated machines.
The DS 7 delivers a wonderfully different narrative for luxury SUVs, something that highlights how stale some rivals have become. Its interior design is easily the most visually interesting in its class, and the unique character of this car makes it far more endearing. However, this PHEV is a bit rough around the edges when it comes to its execution. The engining and battery combination leaves much to be desired, as its surprising briskness is undermined by a lack of refinement.
I really admire the DS 7 for its desire to deviate from the rather boring premium car script and in isolation – maybe with a different drivetrain option – it should be commended. However, the Ultra Prestige E-Tense 4x4 300 has its shortcomings and a hefty £57k price tag. It is well-equipped, but only you can put a value on individuality.
Model tested: DS 7 Crossback Ultra Prestige E-Tense 4x4 300
Engine: 1.6-litre petrol engine + 13.2kWh battery
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Power / Torque: 296bhp / 450Nm
0-62mph: 5.9 seconds
Top speed: 149mph
Boot space: 555-litres