This is a car that’s ‘avant-garde’ in some of its details and features only. Otherwise, it’s a fundamentally – almost tediously – familiar sort of offering: yet another upmarket compact SUV among the rash of them introduced over the last couple of years by seemingly every European car maker with ambitions of growth.
As such, this upmarket SUV, and the shift in thinking it represents, could prove to be the making or the undoing of DS Automobiles.
Where does the DS 7 fit?
If things go well, of course, the 7 Crossback will be the Jaguar E-Pace-rival that will spearhead its maker’s transformation from relative obscurity to established global market success.
Having tested the water with a couple of genuinely interesting, if troubled, introductions that have largely fallen on deaf wallets so far this decade (think the 5 and 4 Crossback), DS appears to have concluded that its customers don’t actually want innovative cars at all; rather, largely conventional ones with some innovative features, made with just a dash of identifying flourish.
As much as fans of a varied car market may regret it, that's what the new 7 Crossback amounts to. It’s a car which, you couldn’t fail to conclude, owes far too great a debt to the styling of Audi’s smaller Q-badged models to be considered original, but one which does have plenty of remarkable technological and material lures about it. The Crossback does rolling refinement and material richness as well as any big French car of the last decade.
Getting under the DS 7’s skin
Built in the same factory as the Peugeot 3008 and on the same EMP2 model platform, the 7 Crossback is a front-wheel-drive SUV available with a choice of 1.5 and 2.0-litre diesel engines or a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol. A range-topping petrol-electric plug-in hybrid version with 296bhp and four-wheel drive will join the range in 2019.
But it’s what’s in the 7 Crossback's cabin, and what’s going on inside its wheel arches, that DS makes its boldest claims about. Designed with more style than that of any existing compact premium-branded SUV and appointed with greater lavishness than most, the car's interior can come upholstered in nappa leather or Alcantara depending on trim level, and with massaging seats and colour-adjustable ambient lighting.
As for trim levels, there are four to choose from – Elegance, Performance Line, Prestige and Ultra Prestige. Entry-level models get 18in alloy wheels, LED rear lights, cruise control, lane departure warning, rear parking sensors and a powered tailgate as standard on the exterior. Inside, there is dual-zone climate control, keyless entry, height adjustable front seats, and DS’s 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system complete with Bluetooth and USB connectivity, DAB radio and smartphone integration.
The sporty-looking Performance Line models get 19in alloy wheels, LED headlights, electrically folding mirrors, Alcantara upholstery, rear lateral and curtain airbags, and a 12.0in infotainment screen with a 12.3in digital instrument cluster, voice recognition and sat nav.
Prestige trimmed cars get more touches of chrome, front parking sensors, a reversing camera, wireless phone charging, electrically adjustable, ventilated and massaging front seats, Nappa leather upholstery, and DS’s advanced safety pack. Range-topping Ultra Prestige trim adds 20in alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof, a Focal audio system and adaptive cruise control to an already comprehensive package.
DS’s big push is clearly to give this car a distinguishing, tech-rich kind of luxury appeal. It’s an effort crowned by a segment-first active suspension system (standard on high-end trim levels and optional elsewhere) that combines a forward-facing camera with adaptive dampers to perfectly adjust the car’s suspension for the road surface it’s about to cover.
This DS Active Scan Suspension system is only truly active when you’re in the car’s Comfort driving mode, and it was much more effective on the test cars we drove when combined with 19in, rather than 20in, alloy wheels. But at its best, it gives the 7 Crossback a particularly supple and absorptive ride that’s also quiet.
Giving the DS 7’s technology a going over
The 7 Crossback handles very competently, too, even in Comfort mode, with decent grip, steering precision and lateral body control.
Our BlueHDI 180 diesel test car’s engine is fairly muted and torquey at low and middling revs, becoming more loud and coarse above 3500rpm. Its transmission works quite well in laid-back mode, but less well – and with the odd hint of shunt – when hurried. The performance level is more than adequate but won’t be a selling point.
The interior, meanwhile, is one of the car's highlights - and one of its low points. Where DS has put effort in – with the attractively stitched leathers, decorative switchgear and 12.0in widescreen colour infotainment system, for example – the 7 Crossback begins to justify the prices that are asked for it. But there are too many ordinary-looking and feeling mouldings used in places to see that process through.
Likewise, there are too many frustrations in the operating capacities of the driver assistance systems; too baffling an array of digital instrumentation layouts, most of them plainly preferring contrived style to legibility; and too slight a sense of spaciousness in the front seats.
We tested out many of the advanced driver assistance systems that DS uses to distinguish the 7 Crossback from its competitors, but weren’t particularly impressed with any of them.
The car’s ‘piloted’ lane-keeping assist system is unhelpfully fussy about keeping the car dead-centre in its lane; its adaptive cruise control offers no option to automatically adjust your cruising speed as posted limits change (whereas others do) and won’t automatically stop short of undertaking traffic in an outside lane (where others will); and the graphical resolution of the various parking and night vision cameras can be surprisingly poor.
In the 7 Crossback’s defence, it offers better second-row passenger space than many of its opponents, and boot space is a useful 555 litres. But anyone paying a premium-level price has a right to expect much more from the interior than what this delivers, and better seating comfort than the slightly flat and hard-cushioned front seats provide.
Is the DS 7 a worthy SUV addition?
It’s been a very busy period for new cars like this, and our first impression is that there are probably now several more consistently classy, premium-worthy small SUVs among the 2017 crop than this, as well as more attractively priced leftfield alternatives to the obvious German picks.
The 7 Crossback’s fresh take on modern metropolitan SUV luxury is appealing in its way, but its scope of originality is disappointingly limited, and it remains to be seen how many customers will be willing to stump up Range Rover Evoque-level cash in return for it.
You sense the DS brand’s search for its lasting identity and proper place in the modern car market won’t end here.