Citroën recently held a specialist auction in Paris to clear out the reserve collection of its celebrated Conservatoire. While it’s never great to see car companies selling off the family silver, the Leclere sale in December 2017 also revealed some uncomfortable truths about the marque. In among the brochures, sketches and random bits of rally cars there were precious few far-out concept designs (happily those are being kept). But of the one-off cars that were being sold, most were surprisingly prosaic. They showed a company in danger of losing its design edge, more concerned with fashion than form, with innovation abandoned somewhere in the fug of the noughties.

By eschewing the eccentric big saloons and endearing compact cars that made its name, Citroën was set to miss out on the designer revival of the past few years. The company’s retreat from this self-imposed design wasteland was to revive the ‘DS’ name, first as an upmarket edition of its regular models, then as a standalone sub-brand, more luxurious and premium than the regular cars, and now as a standalone premium brand in its own right. It’s a source of some irony that since DS has found its own two feet, the parent company has had a couple of bona fide hits that evoke the company’s glory days. The C4 Cactus, the new C3 and the forthcoming C3 Aircross are all quirky, original cars that stand out from a rather bland sector. 

The limited-edition Moondust is suited and booted with leather trim and accessories galore

If you want a little bit more, the thinking goes, you’ll forego the everyday model range and upgrade to a DS. The DS4 Crossback, seen here in its new limited-edition Moondust trim, is a crossover – a fashionable genre that draws inspiration from the pumped-up aesthetics of the SUV, except on a more modest scale. The Crossback isn’t big or especially brash, although the silky body colour certainly helps it stand out. Despite having such a vast repository of design ideas to draw upon, the Crossback could be commended for ignoring retro design and trying to do its own thing (although perversely, we see hints of the classic old 2CV in the curve of the rear and the two pronounced creases on the flanks, which probably wasn’t the designers’ intention).

This is a capable, everyday car with a light touch of everyday luxury. Compact enough for the city, perfectly comfortable on the open road (although serious off-roading isn’t its forte), the DS4 Crossback is also a conundrum. If you want more space, the company’s vast new DS7 Crossback has just arrived. If you want design, it pains us to say that Citroen’s own C4 Cactus does functional aesthetics rather better. But maybe that’s because the Cactus remains defiantly rough and ready, distantly related to the farm machinery stylings of the original 2CV. This is not what DS is about. The DS4 Crossback offers up leather trim, accessories galore and that silky paintwork, creating a far more premium package. The DS is a worthy contender in the increasingly hardfought small SUV sector, possessing a character all of its own. Whether it’s the character DS intended to convey is another matter.