In the 1950s and 60s Citroen had a remarkably disparate offer for its customers. On the one hand there was the ultra utilitarian Citroen 2CV. Then, along came the technologically-advanced Citroen DS. The contrast between the two could not be greater.
Five years ago DS Automobiles split off from Citroen. The intent was that Citroen would continue to aim at the mainstream market, while DS would offer more upmarket vehicles that would aim to continue the avant-garde, technology and comfort themes pioneered by the original Citroen DS.
The DS 3 Crossback is one of the most important new models in the strategy to establish DS as a key player in the market place. Why? Because crossovers are the hot ticket at the moment and the DS3 Crossback is aimed squarely at the core of the crossover sector.
The DS 3 Crossback shares the fashionable off-road looks of a crossover, but – as with most of the offerings in this market sector – they are just looks. Apart from the ground clearance the DS3 Crossback has no specialist off-road equipment. It only comes with front wheel drive.
It is clear that the DS design team have worked very hard to make this key model stand out. Inside and out it looks different and special. Indeed, there were some occasions when I had a nagging feeling they might have tried too hard.
But, judging by the public response they got it right. During my time with the DS 3 Crossback, it attracted more admiring comments than any recent non-supercar test car.
The first was as I parked the DS 3 Crossback in a city centre car park. “Nice car,” the other driver cooed with a glint in his eye. “I used to have a Citroen and loved it”. I did not quibble by pointing out this was a DS, not a Citroen.
Another was a French man and his family who stood and admired the DS, clearly proud of his country’s product. When I tempered my enthusiasm for the car by pointing out its less-than-generous space, he shrugged and said: “it is a DS3!”.
There’s an up-market bit of theatre when you walk up to the DS 3 Crossback. If you have the keys in your pocket, the door handles pop open, Jaguar style. Already primed for something a little special you open the door and, yes, it does look somewhat special.
There are diamond shapes absolutely everywhere inside.
When one reaches a certain age, low-slung cars can be a problem. Yes, I know from the embarrassment of having to get helping hand to exit, after driving a McLaren 650S Spider. That’s one of the advantages of a taller crossover. Getting in and out is easier. Unfortunately it’s not as easy as it should be on the DS 3 Crossback, thanks to a rather high and wide door sill.
But, once you are installed in the distinctively upholstered, comfortable chairs, you are faced with a digital dashboard, a row of diamond-shaped switches on either side of the centre console and more diamond-shaped switches on the dashboard.
Space in the front is quite good. But, my acid test for rear seat space is to leave the driver’s seat in my preferred long-legged driving position and see if I can get comfortable behind that. On the DS3 I reckoned if I ever got in, I would not get out again. Even with the seats right forward it was still quite tight in the back, with headroom also feeling somewhat limited.
The boot, opened by a button on the keyring, is reasonable but certainly not class-leading in terms of capacity. The load floor is also notably uneven when you fold down the rear seats. The space that you might expect for a spare wheel is taken up with various other things, most notably a large sub-woofer with a grille in the boot floor.
With the introductory La Premiere edition of the DS, Citroen has pulled out all the stops, loading this version of the DS 3 Crossback with luxury goodies. In addition to the expected complement of equipment, the La Premiere test car came with head-up display, plus a very upmarket massage function in the electric driver’s seat. You will also find connectivity enhancements including a charging mat for your mobile phone, plus USB sockets.
In addition to adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning (which I tried to remember to switch off every time... I’m not a fan) the DS3 takes a further step towards self-driving with DS Drive Assist.
Turn on the adaptive cruise control and the DS Crossback will look for the white lines. When the car has sensed the lane, the display will turn green to indicate that the DS Drive Assist is engaged and the car will steer itself to keep within the lane. With the adaptive cruise control, it will slow down and speed-up with the other traffic.
But this is not a self-driving car. A warning will remind you to keep your hands on the steering wheel if you let them stray.
If you are like me, it might take some time to stop yourself instinctively adjusting the steering. But, each time you make a correction, the steering system will disconnect. With time you will learn to trust the system, while remaining ready to take over steering when required.
One of the features, I most coveted was the adaptive headlights, or DS Matrix LED Vision as they are officially called. Self-dipping headlights are nothing new, but adaptive headlights are still rare, but most effective.
The car senses the tail lights or headlights of other cars and blanks the sections of light that would dazzle. The big advantage over dipping headlights, is that the lights will still shine high where there are no other vehicles – meaning you will still get illumination of road verges (which tend to disappear into darkness with conventional dipping lights).
I drove the car first on normal setting and, for my taste, it was a bit lacking in weight in the steering and soft in the suspension. Sport tightens things up a bit. But, it still feels a bit floaty and anything but sharp.
Very impressive is the 1.2-litre engine which, despite its small capacity, packs an amazing 155 bhp and pulls this not insubstantial car through the revs and even dual carriageway hills with remarkable willingness. The usual yardstick of 0-62 mph is dispatched in rapid 8.2 seconds.
Equally important, the DS 3 Crossback is reasonably economical with a combined fuel economy figure of 45.7 mpg. My own overall consumption on a mixture of city, country roads and dual carriageways was a creditable 37.6 mpg, most of that in Sport setting. An electric version of the DS3 Crossback is imminent.
So the DS 3 Crossback is a bold and – in La Premiere trim – technology packed car that gives DS a strong contender in the crossover sector. Judging by the interest it should create some strong interest for the relatively new DS marque. DS 3 Crossback La Premiere
CO2 emissions: 128 g/km
Combined fuel economy 45.7 mpg
Top speed: 129 mph
0-62: 8.2 secs
Power 155 bhp
Engine size 1199cc petrol
Boot capacity 350/1050 (back seats up/folded)