PSA’s luxury brand takes on the established order with its new SUV flagship, which comes with plenty of Gallic charm

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Despite only being established as a standalone brand in 2014, DS Automobiles’ fledgling status as a manufacturer in its own right hasn’t stopped it from coming out swinging.

Billed as the PSA Group’s luxury arm, DS has its sights locked on the likes of Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Jaguar; and its first big challenge is to convince the motoring world – both the press and consumers alike – that it has earned the right to be seen in the same light as these European heavyweights.

The first DS model to join the Crossback family was the DS 4 Crossback, essentially a jacked-up version of the original Citroën DS 4 from 2010

The new DS 7 Crossback is the car – or, more specifically, the compact SUV – its French manufacturer hopes will elevate the brand to the next level. And although there have been a number of exclusively DS-badged vehicles available since its split from Citroën – think DS 3, DS 4 Crossback and DS 5 – the DS 7 Crossback is the first model the newly formed marque has designed from the ground up.

That DS’s first in-house model is an SUV is no coincidence, either. The C-SUV market is where the money is, after all, and offers DS the best shot at turning a tidy profit. That said, the newbie French brand isn’t planning on limiting itself exclusively to SUVs: the DS 7 Crossback is the first in a line of six different models that will be released over six consecutive years, with electrification set to play a key role in the brand’s future offerings.

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While the DS marque may be in its youth, it has the clout of PSA behind it. As such, the Crossback shares its platform and powertrain line-up – that, for now, consists of a range of petrol and diesel engines – with other models from Peugeot, Citroën and Vauxhall/Opel.

The question is: is the manner in which this is all packaged into the new Crossback enough to give credence to DS’s luxury brand aspirations?

The DS 7 Crossback was updated in 2023 and is now called the DS 7.

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DS 7 Crossback 2018 road test review hero side

Most testers agreed that this new DS 7 Crossback is a handsome car – but, underneath some eye-catching window dressing, at least, it’s certainly not an original-looking one. You’d hope a brand that places so much importance on being different could have come up with a design that’s a bit more adventurous and mould-breaking than what amounts to a facsimile of an Audi Q5 after a change of war paint.

Designers may only have so much opportunity to innovate when creating boxy, practical SUVs and there are recognisable elements of the striking DS Divine concept car present here, particularly at the front. But for a car that’s supposed to truly establish DS as a standout brand in a busy market, there’s a bit too much that’s pedestrian and derivative about the way the new Crossback looks.

LED light modules within the intricately detailed headlight housings rotate through 180 degrees as part of a light display when you unlock the car. It’s gimmicky but likeable

Size-wise, it sits towards the larger end of the compact SUV pack, measuring 4570mm in length. That makes it bigger than a Volkswagen Tiguan, Audi Q3, Seat Ateca and BMW X1 (which should bode well when it comes to the amount of space on offer in the cabin), and closer on overall length, in fact, to SUVs from the class above.

Peeling away that exterior reveals some familiar hardware. The DS 7 Crossback is based on PSA’s EMP2 architecture, which also underpins the Peugeot 3008 and Peugeot 5008 and the Vauxhall Grandland X. In the case of our test car, power comes from a transversely mounted 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol four-pot. This develops 221bhp at 5500rpm and 221lb ft from 1900rpm.

All that is deployed to the road through an eight-speed automatic ’box and the front wheels. The DS 7 Crossback is due to be the first car on the EMP2 platform to get PSA’s new plug-in hybrid powertrain next year, but that will be the only version of the car with four-wheel drive.

While there’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about the DS 7 Crossback’s suspension configuration – MacPherson struts up front, with a multi-link arrangement at the rear – DS has rolled out a new piece of tech that should pay dividends when it comes to the way it rides.

Called DS Active Scan suspension, this system uses a camera mounted behind the windscreen to analyse the road ahead up to a distance of 20 metres. Depending on the topography about to be crossed, this will firm up or slacken off the dampers to suit, theoretically keeping the car level and composed over any lumps or bumps. It isn’t standard fit on every DS 7 Crossback but our Prestige-trim test car was equipped with it.


DS 7 Crossback 2018 road test review cabin

Unlike its exterior, the DS 7’s cabin displays a touch more of the avant garde spirit its maker professes to epitomise. There are four interior ‘inspirations’ (read: trims) to choose from – Bastille, Performance Line, Rivoli and Opera – each with its own colour palette and mix of materials.

Our Rivoli model, named after the Parisian district home to luxury boutiques and the Louvre Palace, made use of diamond-quilted leather upholstery on the seats, dash, fascia and upper door panels as its primary distinguishing feature. In combination with the stylised air vents with their gloss black surrounds, ‘guilloche’-finish aluminium centre console trim and rotating BRM R180 clock mounted atop the dash, the leather upholstery works to create a cabin that seems to embody the luxurious image that DS is chasing – at the upper level, at least.

I like DS’s approach to switchgear design but wish it had spent less here and more on the car’s bigger ‘background’ mouldings

A floating 12.0in touchscreen that juts out of the central dash provides access to and control over most of the DS 7’s features. Diamond-shaped graphics help provide a bit of superficial distinction from Peugeot and Citroën’s systems, although a premium product deserves better from its infotainment set-up.

The software is intuitive enough. There’s a row of touch-sensitive ‘buttons’ that provide useful shortcuts between functions, and the central display is sufficiently clear, yet the graphics are fairly basic and there’s a discernible amount of lag when you switch between menus. The need to operate the climate control through the screen makes for plenty of menu-hopping too.

A slick-looking 12.3in digital instrument display is also present, and offers plenty of scope for display customisation. As with the touchscreen, though, there is hesitation between input on the steering-wheel mounted controls and digital response — and many of the display modes are overly stylised and not easy enough to read at a glance.

Allow your gaze to wander towards the lower reaches of the interior and you’ll find that plenty of scratchy plastics are still present – somewhat compromising the French SUV’s veneer of luxury.

Practicality-wise, the DS 7’s size advantage over its class rivals translates into creditable passenger space – exactly as it should for a car designed to straddle class boundaries. Those sitting in the rear will find comfortable amounts of head and leg room, while the 555-litre boot trumps that of the BMW X1 and Audi Q3 (which offer 505 and 420 litres respectively), although the Volkswagen Tiguan provides a superior 615 litres of cargo space.

One rather irritating flaw, though, is the DS 7’s driving position. Despite the adjustability offered by the almost overly soft seats and the steering column, it’s hard to find a seating position that puts you close enough to the steering wheel without being too close to the car’s pedals – an age-old ergonomic failing of French cars.


DS 7 Crossback 2018 road test review engine

PSA’s Puretech petrol engines typically offer good mechanical refinement, and the same is true of the one in the DS 7 Crossback. Full throttle acceleration is met with a mild hum that only becomes truly noisy as you reach the top end of the rev band.

Not that you’ll be inclined to allow the tacho needle to stray that far north too often anyway, since the engine starts to run out of puff from above 5000rpm. We measured the 1.6-litre motor’s vocality, at max revs in third gear, at 78dB, and at 68dB at a steady 70mph cruise.

Even the plastic engine cover is finished in the diamond patterning used throughout the DS. It’s not as convincing as it is in aluminium, mind

By comparison, the Toyota C-HR hybrid we tested in 2016 measured respective figures of 73dB and 67dB – the latter, allowing for the effect of the Toyota hybrid transmission, being quite flattering on the DS 7.

There isn’t a great deal separating the acceleration figures we recorded on the car from those claimed by DS. According to the French manufacturer, its new SUV will hit 62mph from a standstill in 8.3sec; on a dry track with two occupants on board, we measured the 0-60mph sprint at 8.6sec. While the Crossback’s Puretech engine pulled strongly once up and running, the 235/50 front tyres did momentarily struggle to find purchase off the line.

Next to diesel-powered rivals such as the Volvo XC40 D4, however, the DS 7 did ultimately deliver a measurable performance advantage, proving a second-and-a-half quicker from 30-70mph, and almost five seconds quicker from rest to 100mph.

As the figures suggest, while the Crossback certainly isn’t electric in the manner in which it accelerates, it is fairly brisk, and managed the everyday tasks of accelerating up to motorway speeds and performing overtakes easily.

There’s reasonable throttle response here, too, and while the automatic transmission can display a touch of hesitancy when it comes to downshifting at lower speeds, generally it swaps cogs in a smooth, timely fashion. There’s a manual mode for those who prefer to wield greater control over the powertrain, and ratios can be swapped via steering column-mounted paddles, although even here you can detect a touch of lethargy from the transmission, while the paddles themselves feel a little flimsy and aren’t pleasingly tactile to operate.

Ventilated front disc and solid rear disc brakes help the DS 7 Crossback come to a halt from 70mph in 46.5m, which is a creditable result for any SUV. While stable enough under braking, there is a significant degree of forward pitch as the SUV’s weight shifts forward, as you might expect there to be in a relatively softly sprung, high-riding car – but it stops just short of becoming destabilising or alarming to experience.


DS 7 Crossback 2018 road test review on the road front

A refined, relaxing, luxurious-feeling driving experience would have been quite distinguishing for the DS 7 Crossback in a compact SUV segment made up of an increasingly high proportion of cars marketed for their relative handling dynamism.

It’s what you might expect of a big, premium-branded French family car and it’s also what the DS 7’s Active Scan camera-linked suspension seems to promise that you might get.

The Active Scan suspension, which uses a camera mounted behind the windscreen and responds to the road ahead, didn’t improve ride comfort as much as expected

However, we should remember that DS Automobiles struggled to produce a distinguishing and laid-back ‘big French car’ dynamic vibe the last time it tried, with the DS 5. This time out, despite doing better than on that last occasion, it has faltered a little.

The ‘handshake’ of the DS 7’s driving experience – that impression it makes over the first 50 yards – is moderately promising. It steers with lightness but also fairly gentle gearing so the rack doesn’t feel too over-assisted, and those front driving wheels seem isolated but not discouragingly remote.

The DS 7 rides softly and with adequate comfort at low speeds. The car’s suspension conducts plenty of road noise into the cabin, however, and while it deals with bigger, softer-edged lumps and bumps well enough, it too often allowed the 19in wheels and 50-profile tyres of our test car to thump and crash a bit over sharper scars and imperfections.

Given the technology they’re working through, the car’s adaptive dampers seem strangely ill-prepared for the rougher topography they’ll be asked to cope with in the UK, both around town and out of it. At this point, we should record, with some disappointment, that it’s only when you’ve selected the car’s Comfort driving mode that those dampers work in any ‘active’ capacity, using data from the forward-facing camera. Otherwise, the DS 7’s suspension reverts to either of a pair of adaptive control algorithms, depending on which driving mode you’ve selected using the car’s oversized tunnel-mounted toggle switch.

Sport mode firms up the car’s body control and steering a little, but not enough to cover for the overarching comfort tuning bias and to make it particularly composed or engaging to drive. Comfort mode suits the DS 7 better, without delivering the ride suppleness or isolation you’re hoping it might.

The presence of a Sport mode shouldn’t kid you into thinking this is a car that’s entirely at home with the idea of a more enthusiastic driving style.

The softer suspension set-up means it never really feels entirely settled or composed through the numerous crests and dips that lie along the Millbrook Hill Route, while the course’s many sharper corners further emphasise a sense of top-heaviness that other SUVs disguise more effectively.

While selecting the Crossback’s more aggressive driving mode does add some weight to the car’s steering rack, there’s no masking its relatively slow gearing. The action of turning into a bend therefore requires a touch more forethought and effort than you might otherwise like — and sticking to a fast, tight line is made tricky by a chassis that isn’t blessed with much outright grip.


DS 7 Crossback 2018 road test review hero front

Rolling out a big flagship family car has given DS Automobiles the opportunity to offer some of the active safety and convenience features on the DS 7 Crossback that owners of other premium-branded cars will be used to.

Lane keeping assist, active blind spot detection, driver attention assist and traffic sign recognition featured on our uppermid level Prestige-trim test car and all worked quite well. DS’s headlining Connected Pilot convenience system (which combines adaptive cruise with stop and go with semi-autonomous lane keeping) wasn’t fitted.

Old attitudes about expensive French cars clearly die hard in such circles. DS 7 is expected to fare relatively harshly

The car is priced much like it’s sized, to slot in between what market analysts would call the premium SUV-C (Volvo XC40, BMW X1, Jaguar E-Pace) and SUV-D (Audi Q5, Volvo XC60, Alfa Romeo Stelvio) segments. So it looks expensive next to the former selection of rivals, albeit quite well-equipped.

Upper-level examples of the car are likely to be made to look particularly pricey as a result of fairly average forecast residuals, and the effect they will have on monthly finance deals.

Some customers sticking to the cheaper end of the DS 7’s pricing spectrum ought to be fairly well served by the car’s benefit-in-kind tax liability, however, with the entry-level diesel qualifying at 101g/km of CO2 and the 178bhp 2.0-litre diesel emitting just 128g/km.

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DS 7 Crossback 2018 road test review static hero

These are early days for PSA’s fledgling premium brand, and there’s clearly a lot riding on every new model it introduces. Too much, perhaps, for it to have been as bold with a potentially big-selling family SUV as some of us might have liked.

So the DS 7 Crossback arrives in a monotone part of the market as a car that’s really only daring and different in its styling details and in some interior appointments. It’s inoffensive to drive, but not as indulgent as the sales pitch suggests; it has some distinguishing technology but doesn’t seem to put it to use that well; and so it’s superficially interesting, but not substantially alluring enough to justify a premium-brand pricing strategy.

DS’s new flagship is a competent but slightly bland SUV-class addition

Having tried its luck with the more risqué DS 5 six years ago, DS Automobiles has plainly altered the proportions of its recipe for a brand flagship here – and has produced a car with fewer shortcomings, but also much less of the ‘spirit of avant-garde’ that ought to define all of its cars. So, while as family transport the DS 7 Crossback is pleasant and respectable, as a symbol of what its maker stands for it’s a damp squib.

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Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering. 

DS 7 Crossback (2017-2022) First drives