DS 7 Crossback: The deluxe déesse
The DS 7 Crossback brings French luxury to the family SUV, says William Scholes
ROLAND Barthes, the French philosopher, argued in an essay published in 1957 that cars were “almost the exact equivalent of the great Gothic cathedrals”, writes William Scholes.
“I mean the supreme creation of an era, conceived with passion by unknown artists, and consumed in image if not in usage by a whole population which appropriates them as a purely magical object,” he said.
For Barthes, the vehicle that exemplified his ‘car as art’ thesis was the Citroen DS.
Today, it is hard to imagine how otherworldly the DS looked when it was introduced in 1955.
Perhaps heavenly is a better word - DS, when pronounced as Déesse in French, means ‘goddess’.
In both form and function the DS was almost impossibly futuristic, a car perfectly in tune with the space age optimism of the 1950s.
“It is obvious that the new Citroen has fallen from the sky inasmuch as it appears at first sight as a superlative object,” said Barthes.
Fast forward six decades, and it is unlikely that today’s glut of SUVs would prompt comparisons with cathedrals, though if you squint hard some at least look like four-wheeled gargoyles.
Their shortcomings - which can be conceptual, cosmetic, dynamic and otherwise - have done almost nothing to curb their appeal.
It is unlikely that today’s glut of SUVs would prompt comparisons with cathedrals, though if you squint hard some at least look like four-wheeled gargoyles
It means that anyone in the market for an SUV - and it seems almost everyone is these days - faces an almost impossibly vast choice of contenders for their cash or PCP budget.
A great many of these cars are pretty much indistinguishable from each other - all safe bets, but also on the dull side.
This means the ground ought to be fertile for a car manufacturer who wants to sow something a little bit different in the consciousness of the motorist who would rather stand out from the crowd.
Enter, then, the DS 7 Crossback. The USP here is a French blend of conspicuous luxury, technology and a sense of craftsmanship and avant-garde - their word - styling.
DS Automobiles was launched as a standalone brand in 2014, spun off from a Citroen range that included the funky DS 3 hatch, which remains a popular Mini rival, and the plain weird DS 4 and DS 5 models.
Given the special place it occupies in the motoring pantheon, it was a brave, confident move by the bosses at the Peugeot group, which also includes Citroen and more recently Vauxhall, to appropriate the DS name for its premium venture.
An alternative view would be that few contemporary consumers have strong memories about the Citroen DS - its last full year of production was 1974 - so the nameplate is ready for a prejudice-free 21st century reboot.
The DS 7 Crossback is the first to be launched as a proper, not-inherited-from-Citroen DS model.
It certainly stands out from the crowd, which must go a long way to counting as a triumph.
The lights are particularly interesting, and one imagines that DS hopes these sorts of details will capture the imagination of prospective customers.
Indeed, the headlamps alone are probably the most cutting edge you will find on any car on sale, regardless of price.
Unlock the car, and they pulse a purple colour, as three little crystal-like cubes on each side of the car go through an elaborate choreography of Darcey Bussell-pleasing swivels and turns from the ‘off’ to the ‘on’ position.
At the rear, the taillights have a complex 3D pattern, which DS describes as looking like “the scales of a reptile”.
Arguably the DS 7 Crossback’s real calling card is its wow factor interior.
Here, there is much quilted, diamond-stitched leather and surfaces punctuated with shiny inlays and switches, which look closer to something you would find in the Swarovski catalogue than inside a family SUV.
There are also many LED-illuminated surfaces, many of them to imaginative effect.
A large analogue clock also rotates into view at the top of the dashboard when you turn on the ignition.
Yes, as with the trick headlamps, it is all a bit ostentatious and perhaps a little unnecessary, yet it somehow works, in a sub-Bentley kind of way.
A jumbo 12.3-inch high-definition digital screen sits in front of the driver, with a 12-inch screen in the middle of the dashboard.
Other tech options include a night vision camera.
My test car had a thrusty 222bhp petrol turbo and automatic gearbox combination, which was decently brisk and economical.
The DS 7 Crossback has outstanding refinement and even motorway speeds it is a quiet, soothing companion. It is the sort of calm that conveys luxury at least as well as the things you can touch and feel in a car
The DS 7 Crossback sets no new dynamic standards for SUVs, but while its handling might be average, its refinement is outstanding.
Engine, wind and tyre noise are expertly suppressed, and at even motorway speeds the DS 7 Crossback is a quiet, soothing companion.
It is the sort of calm that conveys luxury at least as well as the things you can touch and feel in a car.
The rest of the DS 7 Crossback is pretty much what you will find in other similarly-sized SUVs, including the excellent Peugeot 3008 and upcoming Citroen C5 Aircross with which it shares a platform and oily bits.
You are left in no doubt about the premium positioning of the DS compared to its mainstream siblings when you look at the price list.
The DS 7 Crossback starts at £27k but many versions are high-£30ks and it is possible to spend almost £50,000 on one.
That pitches the DS 7 Crossback into territory occupied by the Range Rover Evoque and its ilk, which is tough competition.
The DS’s air of luxury and manifest individualism in a saturated market will win it converts.
To paraphrase Roland Barthes, the DS 7 Crossback is worth a closer look
So too should the high attention to detail in customer service that DS hopes the brand will become synonymous with as it continues to grow.
Next up is another SUV, the DS 3 Crossback, which is due to be in showrooms by summer 2019, and four other models are due for launch by 2023.
Roland Barthes observed how the great Citroen DS was explored by would-be customers “with an intense, amorous studiousness”
“It is the great tactile phase of discovery, the moment when visual wonder is about to receive the reasoned assault of touch (for touch is the most demystifying of all senses, unlike sight, which is the most magical),” he wrote.
The DS 7 Crossback may not inspire today’s semiotician’s in quite the same way but, to paraphrase Barthes, it is worth a closer look.
AT A GLANCE
DS 7 Crossback Prestige 225 Auto
Price: £38,990. As tested £39,740, with pearlescent paint £750
Engine and transmission: 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol turbo, eight-speed automatic gearbox, front-wheel-drive; 222bhp, 221lb.ft
Performance: Top speed 141mpg, 0-62mph in 8.3 seconds
Fuel consumption: 47.9mpg (combined), 43.3mpg (real world), 135g/km
Car tax: £205 in first year, then £140 annually
Benefit in kind: 28 per cent
Euro Ncap safety rating: Five stars (91/87/73/76), 2017