One car does not make a car company, but the buzz at the launch of the new DS 7 Crossback today was palpable. This is a company that has spent the past two years planning and is now – finally – rolling out the first fruits of its labours, which will be followed by five more all-new cars over the next five years.
The first results are fascinating. The exterior of the 7 Crossback strikes me as too conservative for a brand selling itself as avant-garde, but it is in keeping with where the fulcrum of the market, the Audi Q5, sits. It’s unlikely to offend, at least, and it provides a decent canvas for some of the technological highlights, such as the stunningly complex and captivating front and rear light graphics, and the striking grille design.
In contrast, the interior is mostly a tour de force to my eyes, albeit one with so many layers of difference from ‘normal’ that it takes quite some getting used to. The materials, fit and finish ooze premium quality; the use of woods and other fabrics is truly innovative; and some of the switchgear is wilfully challenging to eyes used to Germanic order and all the better for it. The pop-up digital clock, designed by French luxury watch maker BRM with an analogue face, was less convincing, but I’m no connoisseur of timepieces.
Another way of taking in the quantum leap made by DS with the 7 Crossback is to scan the technology hit list. Most of it you can find elsewhere in the car world, but not all of it on a mid-sized SUV tickling the price lists from a likely £30,000 (and rising as the tech adds up, no doubt).
Active Sense Suspension scans the road ahead and adapts the suspension settings before you get there, for instance, and there’s also an automatic parking function, driver attention monitoring and other technological tricks that deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Audi, BMW, Mercedes et al. Although I’m not convinced that any of these things alone would make you choose a DS, they demonstrate that the firm is punching at or around the same level as its primary rivals, and likely for a lower cost for now.
All in, and with the fundamental caveat of this being written before we’ve driven it, the 7 Crossback has obvious appeal. The big question now is whether all this investment will translate into sales. DS officials know they face an uphill struggle here – it’s why they’ve revealed the car almost 12 months before it hits the roads, so they can start the long process of education – but today has demonstrated that it is capable of challenging if only consumers will give it the chance.
Effervescent boss of the PSA Group, which owns DS, and last year’s Autocar Award winner Carlos Tavares has long talked about DS being a 20-year project that will reach fruition long after he has retired. That may still stand true, but after today’s launch of the DS 7 Crossback, the number of detractors must surely be receding.