What is it?
While sibling brands Peugeot and Vauxhall are taking aim at slightly smaller and cheaper electric superminis with their first battery-powered models, DS Automobiles has bet on the compact crossover hatchback with its EV debutant. And since it might also be considered a ‘style’ or ‘design’ car, the new DS 3 Crossback E-Tense makes a surprisingly close rival for the cars it will inevitably be compared with – the Kia Soul EV and Hyundai Kona Electric.
Success will be a taller order in this niche, though (excuse the awful pun). Both Kia and Hyundai are available with bigger drive batteries and better electric range, and for similar money to that of our upper-trim-level DS test car. Both the Koreans are faster accelerating and more powerful than the DS (assuming you discount the cheaper, smaller-batteried version of the Hyundai). And both offer better cabin practicality. There is also a pseudo in-house rival for this car in the shape of the Peugeot e-2008, which has the same electric powertrain and battery but is notably cheaper and, according to our early testing at least, is also more practical.
All of which doesn’t sound like the most auspicious preliminary appraisal, does it? DS Automobiles will claim that the practical qualities we’ve already mentioned won’t be so important to its clientele, who place at least equal stall on a luxurious ambience and a stylish design. And it’s not as if this E-Tense is letting the electric side down with its 134bhp electric motor, near-200-mile claimed range or sub-9.0sec 0-62mph acceleration claim – although it certainly doesn’t seem to be breaking much ground, either.
What's it like?
The DS’s curiously cramped back seats are likely to disappoint if you have growing children or young adults to transport. I’ve heard it said that people who choose small crossovers over hatchbacks don’t generally use the back seats much. Boot space is much more important, apparently – and the 3 Crossback does okay on that score, with a 350-litre boot that has a variable-height floor. Even so, when you can have a significantly more spacious four-seater in the same class, and for much the same money, it’s hardly a selling point.
The DS's cabin does have a quite a materially lavish ambience. The mottled ‘art black basalt’ hide of our Ultra Prestige test car looked nice enough, albeit a little bit like regular leather that needed a going over with a wet wipe. As with so much about this car, it's different; and if you like it, you like it.
The car isn’t short of in-car technology, either, assuming you can get on with its layout and usability. I must admit I struggled. The 3 Crossback comes with a bank of rather chichi, stylised switches on the centre console for its electric windows, parking brake, child locks and drive modes. Trouble is, they all look very similar and aren’t labelled that clearly, so you don’t always find the one you’re after at the first attempt. The infotainment console looks equally contrived and over-stylised, and even the digital instruments see few opportunities wasted for design flourish to take precedence over clarity and readability.
The car is, at least, pretty simple to drive, and broadly pleasing with it. Performance feels authoritative, and although it isn’t quite in the league of some affordable EVs, it remains strong enough to give the car a useful turn of pace on the motorway and when overtaking on A-roads.