DS 7 Crossback E-Tense: inside the design
Here, we look to the future of the DS brand by exploring its past and present
There are two things you need to know about DS Automobiles. The first is that it is a brand that is maturing at a time of massive change for the motor industry. The second is that it is has a very high opinion of its approach to design and culture. This is not necessarily a bad thing; corporate confidence can be very reassuring. But combine the two and things get complex. DS’s design heritage is both blatant and baffling. The name has its origins in a model name spun off into a new model, then a sub-brand, then into a standalone company, albeit one that shares platforms with its former parent Citroën. In the manner of many modern car companies, DS models are numbered. Currently they have the DS 3, DS 7 and DS 9: the bigger the number, the more expensive and prestigious the car.
The DS 7 Crossback sits squarely in the middle of the road, an automotive soft rock compilation album with one or two belting tracks. This latest variant is the E-Tense, a plug-in hybrid that plugs the gap between conventional engines and the company’s pure electric range, which so far consists only of the DS 4 E-Tense. Yes, ‘E-Tense’ refers to both plug-in hybrid and pure EV models, a muddle that highlights how the whole industry is scrambling to integrate low-emission tech. In a decade, we’ll presumably look back at this transition with bemusement, wondering why cars were quite so confusing back in the 20s.
The problem is platforms. In terms of engineering, the DS 7 has to be all things to all people, and although its chunky crossover body shape is perfect for its wide-ranging brief; family car, premium car, low emission car, go-anywhere car, it looks ungainly. This impression is mitigated by the detail design and the interior, which is well above average and refreshingly different. On the road, the DS 7 is accommodating, not exhilarating. You won’t be disappointed by the DS 7’s ability, for it is pleasant to sit in and easy to drive, especially in the low-speed environments that occupies so much of modern motoring. Diverting a burst of electric energy to the drivetrain gives it a decent burst of speed but it’s still no match for the eerie magic carpet ride of its vintage namesakes, despite the ‘DS ACTIVE SCAN SUSPENSION’ system that uses a camera and sensors to prime each wheel for imminent changes in the road surface.
One of the original drivers of the DS brand was the lure of China’s burgeoning middle classes. Here was a pool of highly educated consumers, extremely well versed in the aesthetics and rankings of the world’s luxury good companies, many of whom have their heritage and headquarters in France. Even though it has a presence in nearly 40 countries, with a carefully shaped retail presence – the DS SALONS – it was success in the vast Chinese market that was to be the brand’s primary driving force. Up until now, that hasn’t quite worked out as planned. For a start, DS is no Vuitton – nor is it Chanel, YSL, Louboutin, Dior, etc., etc. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to draw a direct equivalent between any automotive and fashion brand, regardless of their country of origin or historical provenance. Despite this flawed analogy, the company hasn’t stopped pushing a narrative of ‘French luxury’. In practice this means quilted leather, angular, faceted coppery metallic trim and a quirky little rotating clock in the centre of the dash, a la Maserati (a company once owned by Citroën, lest we forget).
The DS range is still freighted with more potential than it currently delivers. However seductive the details, the whole package feels somewhat lacking. The new DS 9 and forthcoming DS 4 will certainly help re-align the brand as a provider of elegant quirkiness, especially in the light of Citroën’s recent resurgence as a source of creativity and innovation. The DS 4 in particular finally places the company’s faceted design language on a body that’s the right proportions. The DS 7 is still only halfway to its destination. §