As we’ve noted before, DS is Citroën’s upscale, design-driven brand, a standalone company that nevertheless shares engineering with its venerable parent but attempts to distill the quirky visual sense and strong characters of the great Citroëns of the past.

The new DS3 Crossback will be its biggest-selling model, an upscale compact crossover that comes in regular and electric flavours, cramming in plenty of aesthetic kinks to sate the desires of those looking for something different. One of the sad realities of modern mass-produced cars are that differences are pretty thin on the ground, with brands spreading the shallow application of identity across a plethora of shared platforms. DS aims to bring depth of design to the lower reaches of the market, believing that some people will always pay more to be out of the ordinary.

DS3 Crossback cabin

The DS3 Crossback joins its larger sibling, the DS7 Crossback and sits above the original DS3, the car that began life as Citroën but was so successful it drove the separation into two separate companies. Other markets get more DS models – China for example has a DS4, DS5 and DS6. The original DS3 is now rather long in the tooth, and in any case, hatchbacks are being supplanted by compact crossovers like the Crossback. Aimed squarely at popular cars like the Audi A2 and VW T-Cross, the Crossback is similarly pumped up but modestly scaled.

Outside, the new car has a tough, determined stance, with a rear three quarter view that’s chunky and bold. The garish front grille lets the side down a little; as a brand, DS is slightly trapped between the need to make a bold statement and the desire to be defiantly different. There are too many cars out there with vast grilles, acres of unnecessary brightwork and baroque light clusters; perhaps the coming fleet of all-electric cars will simplify things somewhat (although a pure electric DS3 Crossback E-Tense is waiting in the wings it is visually identical to the ICE version).

DS3 Crossback driver controls

Inside is where the Crossback really stands out. It’s hard to say it ‘shines’, for this is a dark, moody cabin, with pre-patinated leather, black trim and angular stylings. It is certainly different, even somewhat eccentric and while the functionality isn’t 100 per cent intuitive, that is the price you’ll pay for going against the mainstream. The DS3 is modestly entertaining to drive, lacking slightly in zip and character, but the small size is good for urban spaces, and the full quota of cameras makes manoeuvring easy.

Ironically, perhaps, the Crossback is being slightly usurped by the sales success of Citroën’s own C3 Aircross, a stubby compact SUV that continues the parent brand’s design renaissance, an area when it is arguably outshining its new sub-brand. The only question that remains is whether DS should continue to insist on standing alone, when its achievements and approach make more sense as part of the ongoing Citroën story. §