From the outset, the DS brand staked a claim to French luxury, a global retail phenomenon that is nevertheless underrepresented in the auto industry. By pitching its range of mid- and full-size SUVs and crossovers at a more discerning, idiosyncratic buyer, DS is a car company that wants to stand for something in a world of homogeneity. 

This is admirable, as is the company’s commitment to building only full electric (BEV) or plug-in hybrid (PHEV) models by 2025. The new DS3 CROSSBACK E-TENSE is a flagship for this strategy. Although essentially identical to its ICE-powered sibling, the E-TENSE is pure electric drive, with a 200-mile range and all the accoutrements and visual quirks that have come to define the brand. That means everything is a cut above the conventional, with patinated leather and faceted metal on the interior and angular switchgear and graphics that are all thoughtfully on brand, with a geometric theme than runs through everything. The company is especially proud of its headlight designs, which feature LEDs that swivel into place on larger models. 

Even though this is the first ‘premium compact EV’ (DS’s words), the DS3’s performance or dynamics aren’t especially notable, although this is a car aimed at city and suburban living, not the open road. It is easy to drive and easy to live with, a functional car with a dash of something different. For a more upscale GT experience, the DS3 is joined by the new plug-in version of the DS7 CROSSBACK. Design might be subjective, but comfort is not, and we can report that the DS7 goes some way towards recapturing the aloof, pothole-surfing ride quality of its forebears. To emphasise how special it wants these cars to be, DS has come up with a ‘Virtual Vision’ showroom, a concept that allows customers to specify cars online and then turn up in one of the brand’s new DS Store ‘lounges’ and experience ‘their’ car in convincing VR.

One thing still rankles. Could DS go further? If you had stewardship of a shiny new brand, one that was built on 70 years of heritage chock full of technological innovation and bold, fearless design, wouldn’t you be exceptionally well-placed to make an era-defining statement about personal mobility? DS is that brand and yet, in its 5 years of existence, this goal has not been achieved. Right now, the potential is extraordinary – as illustrated by a few recent concepts – but DS’s reality is that of a company based on mood boards, rather than a delight in being different. The DS3 stands out – a bit - but it’s hardly breaking any barriers. It doesn’t even come close to its namesake, the original Citroën DS of 1955, still regularly cited as one of the most extraordinary cars of all time. 

DS’s next car is the DS9, a big saloon that shares a fair chunk of parts with its PSA sibling, the handsome Peugeot 508. But again, DS doesn’t go far enough. Why not have fared-in rear wheels as a nod to the DS, CX and XM of the past? Why not include a space-age interior? The mysterious Gallic quality these cars are striving for lies somewhere between luxury and idiosyncrasy. Although the former can be monetised and franchised around the globe, the latter seems frustratingly incompatible with selling cars. All credit to DS for trying, but its journey is not over yet. §