Stellantis luxury brand adds performance range-topper to facelifted SUV

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Until batteries become sufficiently advanced to provide decent stamina and energy density, it looks like the way forward for the performance car is plug-in hybrid technology.

The Mercedes-AMG C63 is swapping its V8 for a PHEV four-cylinder, the BMW XM sticks with a V8 but adds 29.5kWh of batteries, the next M5 is likely to do the same, the fastest Porsche Panamera you can buy is the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid, and the Ferrari 296, McLaren Artura and Lamborghini Revuelto also use rechargeable batteries and motors to augment their piston engines.

In the slightly less rarefied sphere, Stellantis has had much the same idea for the past few years. It started with the Peugeot 508 PSE, whose engine and motor combination made the prospect of a 350bhp Peugeot a reality. The idea is not just to produce lots of power, but also to ensure that you’re not out of pocket on taxes if you want to run something a bit interesting as a company car.

A premium brand needs a premium powertrain, and outside the sporting ex-FCA brands like Alfa Romeo and Maserati, Stellantis simply doesn’t have any on the shelf. Like Genesis, maybe DS will come into its own once it concentrates on EVs. I hope so, because I like the idea of DS, if not always the execution.

The next step in that strategy involves the DS Automobiles luxury brand, which has come up with the DS 7 E-Tense 4x4 360. The DS 7 has been facelifted as well as gaining this new performance version, so let’s see if it can solve some of the outgoing car’s issues, and successfully marry a degree of sportiness with DS’s promise of refinement.

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Range at a glance

06 Ds 7 e tense 4x4 360 2023 rt ds light veil drl 0

Along with the Crossback name, the DS 7 lost all but one of its non-electrified powertrains. Only the 1.5-litre diesel remains, for ultra-high-mileage drivers. The rest of the range consists of different versions of Stellantis’s familiar 1.6-litre plug-in hybrid powertrain.

In the UK, the trim level structure kicks off with Performance Line, but to get either of the four-wheel-drive versions, you will need to upgrade to Performance Line+. Above that sit Rivoli and the parallel Opera and Esprit de Voyage. Our test car is the launch-edition La Première.

Version power
DS 7 BlueHDI 130 129bhp
DS 7 E-Tense 225 224bhp
DS 7 E-Tense 4x4 300 296bhp
DS 7 E-Tense 4x4 360* 355bhp

*Version tested



02 DS 7 E Tense 4x4 360 2023 RT front cornering

Along with the facelift’s aesthetic and mechanical changes, the DS 7 Crossback also loses its epithet. DS is eliminating the ‘Crossback’ moniker for its SUVs because there are no longer any competing model names since the death of the DS 3 hatchback. Instead, it is stepping up its efforts to create brand awareness by spelling out ‘DS Automobiles’ across the tailgate.

Aside from the new badging, you will recognise the facelifted DS 7 from its new headlights. The headlights that would do a little dance on start-up were a key feature of the Crossback, but those have been replaced with more conventional LED matrix headlights. From the main light clusters tumble the new ‘DS Light Veil’ daytime-running lights, which use a laser-etched polycarbonate surface that is painted on the inside to give the illusion that light just shines through the bodywork.

The DS 7 uses the EMP2 platform, like so many other Stellantis cars. However, it is an older version that has not been designed for an EV powertrain, so it sticks with plug-in hybrid options, plus one diesel engine. The weight in our 4WD test car was distributed 54% front, 46% rear.

The powertrain isn’t entirely new either, being an evolution of the one in the Peugeot 508 PSE. It’s the same 197bhp 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that is found in countless Stellantis hybrids, assisted by a 107bhp motor in the gearbox and a 111bhp motor on the rear axle. What is different is that, at 14.2kWh (12.9kWh usable), the battery is bigger than what you get in the Peugeot or in the E-Tense (DS’s naming for EVs and plug-in hybrids) versions of the outgoing DS 7 Crossback. The 355bhp engine-motor combination has also surfaced in the DS 9 360, but so far that hasn’t made its way to the UK.

Study the spec sheet carefully and you might notice something unusual: the E-Tense 4x4 300 model has the same engine and motor specs, save for a lower system output, at 296bhp. The difference lies in the inverter. The 360’s uprated item allows the electric motors to deliver peak power for longer, thus syncing up better with the petrol engine’s powerband and resulting in the higher system output.

To further mark out the 360 as the sporty version, it gets suspension that is lowered by 15mm compared with the other DS 7s, unique wishbones that give a wider track (24mm more at the front, 10mm at the rear), 380mm front brakes with four-piston calipers, and unique 21in wheels with Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres.

We will come to how those changes influence the DS 7’s behaviour on the road, but it’s clear they transform the car’s look, the more confident stance almost turning this slightly plain SUV into a chunky hot hatch.

At 4595mm, the DS 7 is slightly longer than the BMW X1 and Audi Q3, but quite a bit smaller than the BMW X3 and Audi Q5. Unlike the Chinese-built DS 9, the DS 7 is made in Mulhouse, France.


10 DS 7 E Tense 4x4 360 2023 RT dashboard

The DS 7 gets a generous allocation of interior space. It has marginally more rear leg room than the BMW X1, which is itself a spacious car for the class. The DS also has a longer load area, and a 65-litre larger boot than the hybrid X1.

While the DS 7 offers plenty of space, its interior isn’t quite as flexible as the BMW’s, lacking for instance a sliding rear bench (it does recline electrically and can be folded down using handles in the boot area). The floor in the E-Tense models is also quite uneven, and leaves a step when the rear seats are folded down. Higher trims on the DS 7 Crossback had a movable panel that creates a flat floor as standard, but that has now become a £109 aftersales accessory.

DS being the French premium brand of the Stellantis stable, this car is all about the front occupants’ well-being. The ambience inside the DS 7 is very much spec-dependent and rather quirky.

You get a beautifully wrought, clicky button to disable the electric windows but have to use the touchscreen to control the temperature.

The UK doesn’t get the base Bastille trim, which is a pity because it comes with some vintage-looking brown cloth seats. Over here, the range starts with Performance Line, which adds no actual performance but covers the seats, doors and dashboard in Alcantara. It’s rather excessive, and one tester likened it to stepping inside a branch of Carpetright.

The other trims have leather instead, and very high-quality, soft leather it is too, with neat embossed patterns. Together with the soft, welcoming seats and diamond-pattern ‘metal’ detailing, it conjures a convincing air of luxury.

Multimedia system

14 Ds 7 e tense 4x4 360 2023 rt infotainment 1 0

One of the big changes from DS 7 Crossback to DS 7 is the new infotainment system. The DS Iris system occupies the same 12.0in touchscreen as before, but the software is that previously seen in the DS 4, which in turn is structurally similar to the systems in recent Peugeots, Citroëns and Vauxhalls. The DS-specific graphics are not as ornate as they were in the DS 7 Crossback, but that also means they are clearer.

The screen responds fairly quickly, the menus are generally logical and the home screen can be set up as you like it. However, it really needs a better solution for the controls for the climate and the heated and cooled seats, as they are either hidden in a menu or take up an excessively large area of the home screen. The optional Focal Electra hi-fi system sounds good but not extraordinary, and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto can connect wirelessly.


20 DS 7 E Tense 4x4 360 2023 RT engine

When dealing with plug-in hybrids like the DS 7 360, it is impossible to simply describe ‘the performance’, because it can vary quite greatly – both in quantity and in nature – depending on the situation, driving mode and state of charge.

In the best-case scenario, with a full charge and with engine and motors joining forces, the DS 7 360 feels all of its 355bhp, stepping off the line perhaps a touch reluctantly but building force and pushing you back firmly in your seat thereafter. It stopped just short of matching the quoted 0-62mph time of 5.6sec, but 6.0sec is still fairly quick.

The 21in ‘Brooklyn’ alloy wheels with Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres and DS Performance-branded brakes with (at the front) 380mm discs and four-piston calipers are standard when you choose the 360 version, regardless of trim level. Other trims come on 19in or 20in wheels.

In most situations on the road, however, the pleasure from having a powerful engine in a luxury SUV comes not necessarily from setting the fastest 0-62mph times but from having power in reserve to accelerate briskly but effortlessly. And that’s where PHEVs, and the DS 7 in particular, can fall short.

With a total of 218bhp of electric power, you might assume that’s what the software would rely on in the first instance to provide smooth, silent progress. However, when you demand anything more than leisurely acceleration, the engine is all too keen to pipe up when in Comfort or Hybrid mode.

Counterintuitively, if you want that muscular mid-range shove with a minimum of drama, you are better served with Sport mode. However, that comes with the firmer suspension setting, and when you do rouse the engine it will hang on to high revs for too long.

You might think that taking control yourself using the shift paddles would be a way around the software’s strange shift strategy. But since it’s not possible to lock the gearbox in a manual mode, the car will quickly take back control and upshift or downshift when you don’t want it to. This also prevented us from getting our usual in-gear acceleration figures.

You can drive around the powertrain’s foibles, but it shouldn’t be this hard to find a satisfying wave of torque to surf on. Equally, the 1.6-litre turbo is not exactly exciting to rev out, sounding mostly muted but unwilling when pushed.

We look forward to DS’s future electric efforts, because the DS 7 is arguably at its most relaxing in electric mode thanks to quiet progress and linear accelerator response. With a 0-60mph time of 10.4sec under electric-only power, it just loses any semblance of being a performance car.

As well as more power, the DS 7 360 gets bigger front brakes as part of its performance makeover. The 45.0m stopping distance from 70mph is only 1.5m shorter than what we recorded in the DS 7 Crossback Puretech 225 in 2018. Nevertheless, that is still a strong result and better than the Audi SQ5 Sportback. Pedal feel is often a weakness of Stellantis cars and while the DS 7’s pedal is softer than would be ideal, it is at least easy enough to modulate to allow for smooth stops.


21 DS 7 E Tense 4x4 360 2023 RT front cornering

DS can be a confusing brand. On the one hand, it talks about unparalleled comfort, and recent models such as the DS 9 and DS 4 have been quite softly suspended. On the other hand, DS Performance competes in Formula E and fettled the 360 range-topper, as evidenced by the lower, wider stance and the unique badges.

The DS Performance branding might initially sound like empty bluster, and the bloody-minded drivetrain does its best to discourage spirited driving, but when you put the car in Sport mode and learn the gearbox’s ways, you will discover some genuine dynamic talent in the DS 7 360.

The 245-section Michelins ensure there’s ample grip to lean on, and the adaptive dampers and lowered suspension mean that body roll stays in check as well. At fully three turns lock to lock, the steering is quite slow by modern standards, and although it can feel a little unnatural in its weighting with the systems in Sport mode, it does convey how hard you are pushing the car.

Big wheels give more presence but accentuate lumpy ride, despite 7’s Active Scan suspension. Some handling flair is evident too, though, hinting at DS Performance input.

The balance is sound too: the DS 7 turns in well enough and a mid-corner lift will tighten your line. The non-switchable stability control will stop things getting exciting, which is slightly frustrating but understandable.

Ultimately, you can feel the mass in direction changes and the DS 7 always feels like a heavy, predominantly front-drive SUV and doesn’t have the more natural athleticism of a BMW X3 or Kia EV6, but there is absolutely some fun to be had here.

Comfort and isolation

04 Ds 7 e tense 4x4 360 2023 rt rear cornering 0

We criticised the crashy ride of the DS 7 Crossback when we road tested a non-hybrid with the Active Scan suspension and 50-profile tyres, and as there has not been a sweeping overhaul of the hardware in the meantime, it’s no surprise that the 360’s ride leaves much to be desired, given its sportier set-up with lower suspension and 21in wheels with 35-profile tyres.

On anything other than a perfect surface, the ride is busy and crashy, and we had several wince-inducing moments that made us fear the worst for those big wheels. The lack of tyre sidewall is absolutely a factor, but DS has had its camera-assisted Active Scan suspension for several years now, and you would hope that by now it would have been refined to be a bit better at dealing with poor road surfaces.

You can feel it working when you switch from Hybrid to Comfort mode, because after a short delay where the system reads the road, the body is kept noticeably more level over certain bumpy roads. Even then, it is nothing revolutionary, and the experience is still punctuated by impacts from ruts and potholes.

On the plus side, at motorway speeds, the DS 7’s cabin is very slightly less noisy than the BMW X1’s or Audi SQ5 Sportback’s. The seats are comfortable as well, giving you an elevated driving position and keeping your legs and lower back well supported. That said, given the performance potential and lateral grip of the 360 version, they do lack lateral support.

Assisted Driving notes

23 Ds 7 e tense 4x4 360 2023 rt assisted driving 2

The full ‘DS Drive Assist’ suite is standard only in Opera and Esprit de Voyage models but can be added as a separate option even on Performance Line, the lowest trim level. It brings adaptive cruise control with lane following, a 360deg camera and a more advanced driver monitoring system on top of the standard AEB, blindspot monitoring, traffic sign recognition and driver attention alert.

Apart from the lane keeping assistance, which is far too intrusive, the assisted driving features are fairly well tuned. The cruise control is generally smooth and perceptive, while the lane following is good at negotiating motorway bends and gets the message when you manually nudge it left or right. We had no false positives from the collision avoidance, and the driver monitoring isn’t needlessly strict either. The blindspot monitoring could do with an audible alert, and there should be an option to switch to standard cruise control.


01 DS 7 E Tense 4x4 360 2023 RT lead driving front

DS’s pricing is a tad confusing, because the official list prices are significantly higher than what is offered on the online DS Store. For instance, the range-topping DS 7 La Première, like our car, which always comes as a 4x4 360, is listed at £62,940 but goes down to a more palatable £59,190 online. As the website offers PCP deals and there’s no reason you couldn’t go to a dealer for a test drive and then order online, we will use the online prices.

At £59,190, the DS 7 is slightly more expensive than a similarly specced BMW X1 xDrive30e (£57,195) but cheaper than an X3 xDrive30e (£66,305). It’s a similar story on PCP finance, but due to poor residual values for the DS and high interest, the DS 7 nudges closer to the X3 than the X1.

Spec advice? Avoid both Performance Line trims and the explosion of Alcantara in their interiors. Mid-range Rivoli is very well equipped and available with all powertrains, but you will need Opera, Esprit de Voyage or La Première if you want something other than a black interior.

Things look better further down the range. A mid-spec E-Tense 225 in Rivoli trim is still pretty well equipped and costs £45,840, which is slightly less than an X1 xDrive25e, though it does lack the BMW’s four-wheel drive.

As a plug-in hybrid, the DS 7 4x4 360 has the potential for excellent fuel economy if you are able to charge consistently. In a week that included pure-electric and hybrid running, but also performance testing and some use of the battery hold function, we achieved 37.6mpg. With more short journeys on EV power, that could be significantly better, of course. At a constant 70mph with the battery depleted, the DS 7 still returned 36.6mpg.

All versions of the DS 7 E-Tense fall short of the 40 miles of electric range required for the 8% company car tax band, incurring 12% instead. The silver lining is that there is no penalty in that respect for choosing the most powerful version. The 360 is supposed to have a 36-mile range, and we managed 29 miles on a mixed route. As the battery has 12.9kWh of usable capacity, that translates to an efficiency of around 2.25 miles per kWh.


24 DS 7 E Tense 4x4 360 2023 RT static

A plug-in hybrid performance car is a less unlikely concept than it was just a few years ago, but a performance car from DS is still not the most natural fit. Nevertheless, this E-Tense 4x4 360 version is the most convincing DS 7 yet.

That is despite, rather than thanks to, that new powertrain. Don’t look at that 355bhp figure and get excited. It will deliver when pressed, but reluctantly and uncooperatively. That’s not unusual for a plug-in hybrid, but better examples are starting to emerge.

It’s the facelift tweaks and the 360’s chassis revisions that are the step forward. Even in its Crossback years, the DS 7 was never the softest-riding car. That has not changed, but at least it now has some handling panache and reassuring stopping power. The lower stance and big wheels are just what the DS 7 needed visually, too.

The interior is still roomy and at its best on higher trims, and is no longer hobbled by a clunky multimedia system, although the lack of buttons still causes some usability issues.

The DS 7 will remain a left-field choice, but the recent updates at least give it some of the character needed for that role.

Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester

As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. 

Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.