Why we ran it: To see if Citroën’s luxury offshoot has finally built a car with the right mix of integrity and premium feel to take on the German, British and Swedish elite
Life with a DS 7 Crossback: Month 5
DS has its eyes on the wealthy uplands of the premium-loving buyer. Has this SUV been the vehicle to take DS there? - 4th December 2019
Ever found yourself staunchly defending one of your offspring while knowing full well they’ve done something wrong? That’s what running the DS 7 Crossback for a few months has felt like.
With the odd exception, everyone who borrowed the big DS for a short period always came back with something to complain about, rather than a glowing report. Whether this is more indicative of the inherent need to critique (or just plain cynicism) of my colleagues or something fundamentally wrong with the car is up for debate, but it certainly wasn’t universally loved.
Although I initially shared many of my peers’ criticisms of the car, I found the foibles softened through familiarity. Part of that could be because of the generally more positive reactions of friends and family, particularly when they’d climbed aboard and experienced the car’s best asset – its interior ambience.
With a 110-mile town and motorway round-trip commute to contend with each day, its ability to relax you was always welcome. The soft, watch-strap leather seats were superbly comfortable and endlessly adjustable, with little touches such as electrically reclining rear seats and multi-mode massaging on our Prestige model aiding this.
More subjectively, everything looked and felt significantly more premium and, for that matter, special than something like a Nissan Qashqai, which it should, given the price. The DS is not a cheap car, but whenever I asked anyone how much they thought it was, most said something in the region of £50k. Passenger space was excellent, too.
There was loads of room for all sizes in the front. I also found that three adults could get comfortable enough for a couple of hours in the back before needing a break – and the same can’t be said of a Jaguar E-Pace. The boot also proved easily capable of swallowing luggage for a week away and, in one instance, me, when I slept across the folded back seats after a music festival.
The flip side of DS’s design-led approach is that the ergonomics are less than perfect, which was my colleagues’ main complaint. After 8000 miles at the wheel, I adapted to such things as the odd placement of the window switches in the centre console, the hidden-away cruise control stalk, the fussy layout of the digital dials and the need to press and hold the lane keep assist button on every drive to turn the system off and avoid infuriating steering interventions. But I never warmed to the infotainment, a clear and large screen spoiled by often laggy menus, irritatingly fiddly touch-sensitive function buttons and the DAB signal, which dropped out when switching back to it from another source.
Another common whinge was the shortage of refinement and grunt from the diesel engine. Again, this was something I became accustomed to: the sedate pace combined with the gruff, pronounced engine note at higher revs, made worse by the lack of wind and road noise, encouraged a more relaxed gait. But a couple of days in the more powerful 2.0-litre model reminded me how much I missed having plenty of torque in reserve and how not needing to work the engine as hard to get up to speed worked wonders for the noise issue. It wasn’t even notably less efficient, so that’s definitely the one to go for.
If it sounds like I’m being negative… well, I am a bit. Niggles like these detracted from a car that, in all other respects, did a stellar job of providing a soothing and relaxing commuting experience. The ride, too crashy on our first petrol Performance Line model with 20in wheels, seemed notably more settled on the 19in-equipped diesel, its supple nature welcome after a stressful day.
The driving experience in general was clearly engineered with comfort at the forefront, although we were a little disappointed to find Citroën’s cheaper C5 Aircross to be more isolating. Still, the 7 has nice steering and better body control than its lesser sibling, so while you won’t relish every corner, it proved at least competent enough that nobody felt seasick whenever the pace was upped.
Despite mixed impressions over our time with the 7, I developed a fondness for its overall charm. Maybe it’s just that you don’t see many around, but it turned a lot more heads than a BMW X3 would have and the swivelling headlights made a cool impression at night.
But there’s still a job to do on the image front: I lost count of how many times I had to ‘explain’ DS to people, and when the response was “so it’s a posh Citroën?” I found it hard to disagree. DS needs to ramp up its dealer presence, marketing efforts and product rollout, which, we’re assured, is the brand’s plan.
A new flagship saloon is coming next year, for starters, and that should be sufficient to make a brand identity impact if not a substantial boost in sales. We wish the brand all the best.
I feel like the DS 7 confuses premium with complicated. I’ve sat in Lamborghinis that made more sense than the 7’s design-centric cabin layout. The bigger issue is that even once you get your head around the relocated window controls or diamond-centric touchscreen, it’s still too easy to spot the PSA Group switchgear and low-res reversing camera lurking underneath. There’s work to be done before DS can target the more affluent customer base it wants.
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Cabin ambience This could be the PSA Group’s plushest model yet and the detailing makes it a feel-good environment.
Dealer experience DS knows service a cut above that of Citroën is crucial and it’s on the right track from what we saw.
space The DS 7 is priced to compete with Audi’s Q3 but it’s a good deal bigger, which paid dividends on holiday.
Ergonomics Those not accustomed to the car found the infotainment and button placement an irksome affair.
1.5-litre diesel Avoid it. Its so-so performance and refinement mean it has no place in a supposedly premium car.
Final mileage: 8087
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Life with a DS 7 Crossback: Month 4
Are the premium ambitions of DS apparent at its dealers and the service they offer? - 6th November 2019
Establishing a premium car brand from scratch isn’t exactly a walk in the park, but spinning one off from your existing mass-market business can be just as tough.
That’s the problem DS faced when it first split from the mothership. It’s all very well spending big to create a range of distinct models shod of their Citroën identity, but if those same cars have to be sold out of a Citroën dealership, it rather undermines the new brand’s credibility.
So when the service warning light in my DS 7 came on prematurely, it gave me the perfect opportunity to find out whether the aftersales experience delivered the goods.
DS is still firmly in the middle of its establishment stage. It has just 36 UK dealers, split between 32 DS Salons, which are effectively spaces tacked on to the side of Citroën and/or Peugeot dealers, and four DS Stores, which are more independent facilities in their own right. The plan is to gradually convert many of the existing Salons into fully fledged Stores as the brand’s product line-up grows.
Although I have a more local DS Salon in Swindon, Wiltshire, I elected to take my car to the nearest DS Store, in Crawley, West Sussex, where I was greeted by their polite service manager, Tim. The site is a fraction of the size of a typical Audi or Mercedes dealer (with the DS 3 now thankfully retired, the firm sells only two models, remember) but it’s certainly more upmarket in appearance than the classic all-white charm-free Citroën dealer next door.
Efforts to boost the premium-ness include leather swatches hanging from the wall and surrounded by tools for upholstering, and there’s a glass jewellery case full of expensive trinkets, watches and the like.
The service experience is less superficial: not only will a valet collect the car for servicing and deliver back clean as a whistle, but for a fee they’ll also deliver the car on a branded track to wherever you need it. There’s DS Club Privilege, too, an owners-only club that provides access to bespoke events across the UK, such as fashion shows, cookery classes and even truffle hunting, if that’s your thing. Aspirational offers include discounts for posh hotels and private yacht charter companies.
If this all seems unnecessary to you, don’t worry: this DS Store gets the basics right, too. Tim sat me down and gave me a full and frank explanation of everything they were going to do to my car: as well as a software update to make the service light less keen to glow, they’d check the calibration of the parking sensors, regas the air-con and update the sat-nav software. This was all free, of course, as was a comprehensive health check.
Happily, while this was going on, I wasn’t lumbered with a high-mileage 3 as a replacement car: DS does only like-for-like courtesy cars, so I had an opportunity to try a 2.0-litre diesel 7 Crossback for the first time. Put simply, that’s the one to have if the petrols are too thirsty, as I’ve always suspected. Not only does the extra 49bhp and 73lb ft make it feel a good dose more effortless to get up to speed than in my 1.5-litre diesel, but it’s also more refined as a result. The gearbox changes up more readily to keep revs lower and it generally feels less strained. Despite this, the fuel economy penalty is negligible.
Make no mistake: this was no transformative dealer experience. We’d expect nothing less from other, more upmarket brands. But it was a grade beyond what Citroën offers and that goes some way to help the 7 Crossback ditch the somewhat unfair stigma of being a Citroën C5 Aircross in posh clothing.
Dealer’s courtesy car The polished DS service experience includes a like-for-like courtesy car, except the 2.0-litre diesel I was given was actually better. It was faster yet more refined, too.
Inappropriate 1.5 diesel A few days in the dealer’s car served to remind me how our 1.5 diesel feels out of place in a premium product and is only 2-3mpg more efficient than the 2.0.
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Life with a DS 7 Crossback: Month 3
Not hard to get comfortable inside - 16th October 2019
The DS 7 really does have cabin comfort nailed. Not only is it more spacious than most rivals, but the seats themselves are excellent: stylish to look at, nice to the touch, supportive and very plushly padded – no Germanic hardness here. On another note, as a fan of felines, I’m very fond of its ‘cats paw’ massaging function, too.
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Meeting the family - 2nd October 2019
I recently had a chance to get the DS 7 alongside its DS 3 Crossback sibling. Although ‘my’ SUV seems the better resolved product, I wish it had some of the smaller car’s distinctive design touches. Separately, turns out the DS 7 does have a variable boot floor, meaning I could’ve had a better night’s sleep in it after the Reading Festival...
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Upmarket SUV goes up against a cheaper but related Citroën - 18th September 2019
Premium sells these days, as we know. You can thank the proliferation of tempting monthly lease deals getting models such as the Mercedes-Benz A-Class into the UK’s top 10. The German ‘big three’ are dominating the sector and, as such, it’s not easy to set up shop with a new nameplate.
Our DS 7 is the first ‘proper’ DS – that is, the first that isn’t simply a rebadged Citroën, with a bespoke look inside and out. But, as is typical these days, its underpinnings are more humble than appearances suggest. It uses the same platform and mechanicals as mainstream siblings from the PSA Group, including its closest relation, the Citroën C5 Aircross.
I wanted to find out if the sharing of oily bits is really noticeable any more, or if the 7 feels just too similar to its cheaper stablemates. As luck would have it, Alistair Clements has been running a C5 Aircross for our sibling title What Car? at the same time as I’ve been running the 7. Swapping for a few days gave us both a chance to compare these two back to back to see if the DS merits its £8000 price jump.
Both of these family SUVs are distinctive to look at, but it’s the 7 that steals a second glance from more passers-by on account of its eye-catching lighting graphics. Is it pretty, or groundbreaking? Not quite, but it creates sufficient intrigue that I’ve had a few strangers come up to me to ask what it is. It’s not a situation Alistair has had in the Citroën: it’s attractive enough, but in a derivative rather than standout way. Interior differences are more profound.
Although the C5 Aircross isn’t lacking in terms of outright build quality next to the 7, it instantly feels less plush. The DS still gives off a sense of occasion after thousands of miles behind the wheel. It’s a new level of material richness and cabin design for the PSA Group and the thickly padded leather seats are supremely comfortable. The 7 is ever so slightly roomier, too.
There’s not much between them in terms of tech. Both have the same driver assistance systems and, although the 7’s infotainment screen is a lot larger and clearer, the actual software isn’t any cleverer. The Citroën scores a point with slightly better usability. Details such as having to hold the button of the 7’s annoying lane keep assist function down for a few seconds every time you get back in (and you usually forget until it first activates on the move) is irksome.
Interestingly, the Citroën claws back a victory on the road. Both are softly sprung, but the Aircross’s progressive hydraulic damping means it cushions you from rough roads and potholes more convincingly. By comparison, the DS has quicker steering and a bit less body roll, but it’s still a long way from being any fun to drive. Comfort is the name of the game for both and it’s the cheaper French effort that wins out.
The DS would triumph in the refinement stakes were it not for our car’s diesel engine, which sounds raucous and feels strained next to the Aircross’s 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol. In fact, the engine remains my biggest bugbear with the 7, being short of both the performance and refinement we’d like to see in a near-£40,000 car.
Overall? It’s personal preference more than a convincing win but, for me, the Citroën’s honesty, value and smoother ride appeal more than the DS’s glitz and glamour.
Perceived quality You’ll struggle to find an SUV cabin that looks or feels more special for the cash. It’s a new level of material quality for the PSA Group.
Small details Ergonomic details irritate, such as the effort needed to turn off lane keep assist and the lack of a toggle switch for instrument brightness.
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Boot proves more spacious than you think - 11th September 2019
Mostly, the DS 7 pounds the M3. But recently, its line of duty was extended when poor planning meant I spent the night huddled in the boot after a day at Reading Festival. It was not fun: there’s enough room for a sixfooter to lay flat but, when folded, the plush reclining rear bench leaves a chunky step in the boot floor. My side still hurts…
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Life with a DS 7 Crossback: Month 2
Unexpected service warning is a cause for concern - 21 August 2019
Passing 4000 miles in the DS 7 has brought about a warning saying it’s due a service – which is odd given the official service intervals specify four times that mileage. The car is insistent that we have another seven months before the full year is up since it left the factory, but still the warning is there. Whether this is deliberate or indeed a fault, we’ll be popping into a dealer.
Life with a DS 7 Crossback: Month 1
Welcoming the DS 7 Crossback to the fleet - 10th July 2019
It’s generally accepted that the French have the small car game down to a T. Renault, Peugeot and Citroën have all enjoyed great success with their respective mass-market superminis over the past few decades. But at the other end of the market, it has been a very different story: the statement that ‘nobody buys big French cars’ is a well-worn motoring adage for a reason.
Citroën’s last attempt was the curvaceous C6, which sold as many in seven years of its existence as the brand had hoped to sell in one. But things have changed in the past few years. The PSA Group took the plunge in launching a separate luxury brand, DS, and after a few years of flogging lightly tweaked Citroëns, DS has its first bespoke model, the 7 Crossback, on sale for over a year now. In that time, DS has already sold more of these than Citroën ever did C6s.
So have the French, for the first time in decades, built a large, posh car that the public actually wants? We’re going to be running DS’s flagship SUV for a few months to see if it can really get under our skin and deliver the quality and engineering substance that’s in such abundance at this end of the market.
Initial impressions are good, but not outstanding. DS’s designers have plenty of heritage to tap into but no immediate styling legacy, so they could start with a clean sheet. But, of course, attempts to make large cars of the Gallic variety look otherworldly haven’t really pulled in the punters. The 7 Crossback reflects that. The shape is largely a derivative of most other premium mid-sized SUVs, which is perhaps disappointing, but the detailing at least is unique and eye-catching.
The exterior lighting has drawn the most comments from friends and family so far. Every model gets cool, layered 3D-effect rear lights and our Prestige spec also has intricately detailed LED front lights, featuring three light modules that rotate through 180deg as part of a light display when you unlock the car. It’s more of a gimmick than anything else, but it’s details such as this that help elevate the 7 Crossback above and beyond its platform-sharing Peugeot and Citroën siblings.
The interior is more successful at looking and feeling a cut above, to my eyes. It’s here where DS has really tried to portray the avant-garde, high-class image it is chasing. And it has done so pretty well. The design is elegant and attractive and the main touch points on the dashboard, centre console and doors all feel pretty plush, with much of it covered in rich-feeling leather.
Granted, poke around the lower half of the cabin and you’ll find some scratchy plastics, although there are still a number of ergonomic flaws that I’ll detail in further reports. There are a few neat touches you won’t find in a mainstream SUV, though, such as a BRM clock that swivels out of the dash on start-up and interior lighting that can be activated with a wave of the finger. Small details, yes, but details that haven’t lost their appeal after several weeks of using this car for my daily grind between Newbury and Twickenham.
One feature that I’ve yet to put to much use is the space on offer. This is the ace up the 7’s sleeve because it’s priced to compete with cars such as the Volvo XC40 and Jaguar E-Pace but is considerably roomier than most. I’ve not heard a peep from longer-legged passengers in the back yet but that, along with the boot space, will be put to a sterner test later this summer as the holiday season beckons.
It perhaps speaks volumes that I’ve got to this point in the report without even mentioning the way the 7 Crossback drives. I should also qualify here that DS sent us a 222bhp petrol-powered model to test initially before it was switched for the 128bhp diesel we have here. Whereas the petrol unit has decent punch in reserve, this base diesel has so far felt (and sounded) strained when trying to get up to speed briskly or attempting an overtake. The fine but unremarkable 45mpg figure so far reflects how hard this unit has to work to shift such a large, tall car.
Thankfully, the rest of the experience behind the wheel encourages a relaxed pace, anyway. It has clearly been tuned with comfort in mind. The plushly padded seats are the first hint of that. Soft suspension means a fair amount of pitch and wallow, but that translates to a largely supple ride, even if, like many SUVs, it’s too busy and unsettled at lower speeds. It’s nothing like as bad as the petrol-powered car, though, which ran 20in wheels and thumped and crashed far too much for my liking.
With 2000 miles added already so far, we’re starting to uncover why you should – and shouldn’t – consider this alongside the established premium competition. More on that in the next report.
The idea of Citroën’s divine Déesse being reinvented as a French version of Lexus sits slightly uncomfortably with me, so I approached the 7 with some scepticism. And, though it’s still early days, I remain unconvinced. The DS feels like what it is: a mid-range Citroën wrapped in chrome and lined with leather. It just feels a bit flimsy in a class with premium Germans that’d seemingly survive a nuclear holocaust.
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DS 7 Crossback BlueHDI 130 Prestige Automatic specification
Prices: List price new £36,875 List price now £38,620 Price as tested £37,470 Dealer value now £26,700 Private value now £23,734 Trade value now £22,450 (part exchange)
Options: Metallic paint £595
Fuel consumption and range: Claimed economy 49.3mpg Fuel tank 62 litres Test average 47.5mpg Test best 51.3mpg Test worst 43.4mpg Real-world range 648 miles
Tech highlights: 0-62mph 10.7sec Top speed 123mph Engine 4-cyls, 1499cc, turbocharged, diesel Max power 128bhp Max torque 221lb ft Transmission 8-spd automatic Boot capacity 555 litres Wheels 19in, alloy Tyres 235/50 R19 Kerb weight 1428kg
Service and running costs: Contract hire rate £351 CO2 106g/km Service costs none Other costs Adblue £22 Fuel costs £975.80 Running costs inc fuel £975.80 Cost per mile 8 pence Depreciation £10,175 Cost per mile inc dep’n £1.39 Faults Premature service light
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