French premium brand gets PSA’s new supermini platform first. Does it deliver against class leaders like the Mini Countryman and Audi Q2?

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The PSA Group – car-making Goliath, parent of Peugeot, Citroën and Vauxhall, and now part of the Stellantis Group of brands – invested €100 million in preparing its Poissy plant for DS 3 Crossback production.

As a statistic, this is a blunt but effective measure of just how much stock is being placed in this bold-looking new car.

The original DS 3 was a great-looking car. This one needed to be every bit as desirable given its price and positioning. If it was, you could forgive it a lot else besides. But, while I appreciate it’s subjective, I’m just not sold on the looks

A bold play it is, too. Following the larger DS 7 Crossback, this is only the second ground-up product from DS Automobiles, and is aimed at usurping traditional premium brands in the hugely popular and still growing B-SUV crossover hatchback segment.

The Audi Audi Q2 and Mini Countryman are the cars in the firing line but, unlike those manufacturers, DS is still establishing its credentials and remains a relatively unknown quantity to the majority of drivers.

The earliest DS specimens of the modern era were, of course, derived from existing Citroën models – and most enjoyed limited success. In fact, the likeable DS3 hatchback aside, it’s no stretch to say that DS Automobiles has endured heavy commercial weather, even since it was established as an independent entity in 2015.

The DS 7 Crossback would seem to be leading a revival and today’s road test subject needs to bolster those sales and deliver much more besides. This car could be seen as one of a number of raised ride-height supermini SUVs currently supplanting their hatchback forebears.

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It’s a car very much of its time in other ways, too. The CMP platform on which it’s based has been co-developed with PSA’s Chinese partner, Dongfeng Motor; there is an electric version arriving shortly; an emphasis has been placed on style and ambience; and much is being made of its segment-leading driver-assistance technology.

Price £29,455 Power 153bhp Torque 177lb ft 0-60mph 8.8sec 30-70mph in fourth 10.5sec Fuel economy 40.6mpg CO2 emissions 114-121g/km 70-0mph 48.7m

The DS 3 Crossback range at a glance

There is a choice of automatic or manual transmissions, but it is engine dependant. There’s no four-wheel drive option. Equipment-boosting ‘Plus’ packages are available on mid-range Performance
Line and Prestige trim levels, while a launch edition called La Première comes almost fully loaded.



DS 3 Crossback 2019 road test review - hero side

If plump body panels and aggressive light housings set the DS 3 Crossback apart at a glance, dimensionally it fits neatly into the mould of existing premium B-segment SUVs. At around 4200mm long, 1530mm tall and 1800mm wide, this potentially pivotal new car for the DS brand is almost an exact match for the Audi Q2 and Mini Countryman, and it’s a size smaller than a BMW X2.

Not everyone will be convinced it belongs in the same sphere as those manufacturers on the basis of its brand and its design alone, you suspect – but the car’s high beltline and prominent grille (the latter quite zeitgeisty in its scale) will effectively distance it from the Peugeot, Citroën and Vauxhall models that will eventually share this platform.

Crossback borrows from traditional luxury cars such as the Tesla Model S and Range Rover Velar with its flush-fitting door handles. Trimmed in chrome, they deploy when the driver is within 1.5 metres of the car.

That new CMP platform is not only 30kg lighter than the one its replaces – due to a greater proportion of lightweight materials in its make-up, says PSA – but is also ready to adopt a full battery-electric powertrain alongside the conventional combustion engines DS will offer at launch. In fact, the DS 3 Crossback E-Tense could reach showrooms as early as this year, with a 132bhp electric motor and a 50kWh battery pack giving a range of around 200 miles.

In the meantime, petrol options are limited to a downsized 1.2-litre threecylinder turbocharged engine sold in three states of tune ranging from 99bhp to 153bhp. The more powerful options are paired with an eightspeed automatic transmission, while the entry-level petrol and sole diesel – a 1.5-litre four-cylinder BlueHDi unit with modest power and torque outputs but the lowest CO2 emissions – use a six-speed manual.

Predictably, there are driveshafts only for the MacPherson strut front axle, though the rear axle is at least fully independent, with a multilink arrangement that bodes well for rolling refinement. In fact, no concession at all is made to off-road driving, which is surprising because other PSA models in the same class have offered a traction control program that manipulates braking and vectors torque to maximise traction on slippery surfaces.

Meanwhile, coil springs are paired with passive dampers – unlike for some rivals, which get adaptive dampers at high trim levels.

Elsewhere, DS does more to justify the Crossback’s premium positioning. A new Drive Assist function mirrors those increasingly found in full-size luxury vehicles. It combines adaptive cruise control and active lane-keeping between 40mph and 110mph, though the driver is required to keep their hands on the wheel at all times.


DS 3 Crossback 2019 road test review - cabin

The cabin of the DS 3 Crossback is one with no shortage of interesting distinguishing features, but the truth is that its various shortcomings and inconsistencies rob it of a really convincing selling point, either in terms of practicality or premium-worthy ambient richness.

The act of getting into the front seats could and should have been made easier than it might be in a normal supermini. However, although the car offers a broadly convenient raised hip point for your backside, your heels tend to be tripped up when entering the car unless you lift them very carefully over a sill that’s unusually high, wide and obstructive.

The diamond-shaped ‘buttons’ beneath the touchscreen were irritatingly variable to the touch. As often as a hefty prod resulted in no action from one, an accidental brush of a finger would trigger another – because some are buttons and others capacitive sensors.

Once you’re aboard, the architecture and packaging of the front of the cockpit seems quite innovative. The air vents, instruments, infotainment display and the switchgear that controls it are all collected on a panel that sweeps across the fascia at a common height – but just underneath that, the dashboard and door panels are recessed away from you, making plenty of space for your knees and elbows.

Even though the leathers and mouldings of our test car were dark, that made for a pleasing sensation of space, and for good visibility, up front. The same isn’t delivered for those sitting in the back, however – the view out of the car hampered by a rising beltline and DS’s shark-fin bodyside styling feature.

Our upper-mid-level Prestige-trim test car came with DS’s Opéra-grade interior as a cost option (£950), which brought particularly soft black leather seats with a watch-strap upholstery motif, and a black and mottled bronze leather fascia panel with decorative stitching.

Between those upmarket trim elements and the stylised switchgear of the centre console, the car is at pains, in places, to convince you that it is a designer luxury good worthy of its price premium. In other places, however, the quite hard, plain, shiny and uninviting finishes of the lower secondary mouldings are unworthy of the same description.

Meanwhile, the DS 3 Crossback’s large touchscreen infotainment display and its digital instruments are another attempt to convince you of its sophistication doomed only to partial success, owing to the slightly clunky, tardy usability of the former and the latter’s omission of a really clear and readable ‘classic’ instrumentation display mode.

The 10.3in widescreen display would be a real rarity as standard equipment on a car at this price – but it only comes on Prestige-trimmed models and above. That means you could pay more than £27,000 for a Performance Line car and find that, while the standard-fitted system does include smartphone mirroring for Apple and Android phones, you don’t get factory satellite navigation.

Much as it might not come as a great consolation, the upper-level DS Connect system isn’t that impressive. It’s not one that lures you to interact with it through particularly slick graphics or a clever manual input device, and much of the real estate of the screen to either side is wasted when it’s displaying navigation mapping or radio tuner information.

The navigation is supplied by TomTom, and it’s respectable for usability and mapping detail but no better. The system comes with three years of live traffic information, online search functionality and fuel station, parking and weather information from purchase, after which it’s subject to subscription.


So, what business does a 1.2-litre three-pot petrol engine have within the nose of a supposedly high-end, near-£30,000 compact SUV?

None whatsoever, you might think. Still, downsized engines like this in cars at such a price point are only going to become more common – and you have to admire DS for its boldness in being among the first to develop and fit one. Despite any reservations such a blueprint might inspire, the truth is that this motor doesn’t leave an impression of being in over its head. In terms of straight-line thrust, its 153bhp and 177lb ft see what is currently the most powerful of the DS 3 Crossback breed accelerate from 0-60mph in 8.8sec.

A pair of big-bore chromed exhaust tips somewhat overplay the modest 1.2-litre three-cylinder engine sitting beneath the Crossback’s high bonnet. It’s an example of where DS has brazenly put an emphasis on style and presence.

That’s not exactly eye-widening, and rivals with bigger engines are certainly quicker. But the Puretech engine by no means comes across as lethargic or lacking in urgency, either. Its efforts from 30-70mph though the gears – our most telling measure of real-world performance – were fairly encouraging: the run was completed in 8.3sec, only a tenth slower than the 148bhp, 1.4-litre Audi Q2 we tested in 2016.

The Crossback’s ever-so-slightly rorty three-cylinder soundtrack didn’t serve to grossly undermine its upmarket aspirations. While admittedly becoming a bit strained and out of breath as the tacho needle approached its 6250rpm redline, the characterful nature of its timbre is certainly more endearing than the often dull, nasal drone that’s typical of some larger four-cylinder engines common at this price point. Mid-range torque feels as strong as you’re likely to want from the car, and throttle response is more than respectable both in roll-on acceleration and from a standstill.

The weakest aspect of the Crossback’s powertrain is its eight-speed automatic transmission. While capable of executing reasonably smooth gearchanges when simply tooling around, its slowness of decision-making and its tendency to fumble upshifts under hard acceleration is clear.

The integration of the engine’s stop/start system within day-today, stop-and-go running isn’t particularly impressive, either. It’s overly eager to cut the motor as the car slowly comes to a standstill, before returning to life a bit hesitantly as you ease off the brakes to proceed once more.


DS 3 Crossback 2019 road test review - cornering front

It may seem a shame to keener drivers that the first outing of PSA’s new CMP platform should be beneath a lifted compact crossover, as opposed to a squatter, lighter, more agile supermini – but, given how popular this breed of car is right now, it’s not a surprise. A lower hatchback would certainly have been a truer indicator of the platform’s capacity to provide engaging handling.

The DS 3 Crossback is inoffensive but surprisingly forgettable to drive, considering how eye-catching and contentious it is to look at. Where rivals such as the Mini Countryman and Audi Q2 trade on an abundance of dynamic character, the DS feels plain and wishy-washy by comparison. It’s as though PSA is still trying to work out exactly where the DS brand fits in next to comfort-oriented Citroëns and sharper, more dynamic Peugeots within the group’s wider portfolio.

DS has captured that Paris look, but a less-than-formidable ride suggests the car would feel more at home on the city’s grand boulevards than its cafe-lined cobbles

On faster country roads, the 3 Crossback’s road-holding manners are respectable – but it’s plainly a fairly softly sprung prospect, big on assistance level and slightly short on agility and feel. There’s no alarming shortage of traction through bends, but softer spring rates can lead to more pronounced levels of body roll, and slower handling responses, than you may be expecting.

With 2.75 turns between locks, the steering is only medium quick, and with little to no information being passed from the contact patches to the rim, it’s difficult to find the encouragement required to engage with the DS on anything more than a functional operational level.

Of course, for many, the manner in which the DS can tackle a B-road will be moot. More important is its ability to make the process of navigating narrow city rat runs or manoeuvring through multi-storey car parks as easy as possible. As for the former, the steering’s lightweight set-up plays to the DS 3 Crossback’s favour. However, its small rear screen does affect the latter somewhat.

The DS 3 Crossback took to Millbrook’s Hill Route in a way that could hardly have been described as enthusiastic, but it managed to keep things together well enough. Body roll during cornering was more pronounced than what you would encounter on the road, but for the most part the manner in which this arrived didn’t feel too sudden or disconcerting.

Steering remained mostly light and tight-lipped for feel, although switching to Sport mode did at least introduce a more confidence-inspiring amount of weight that was welcome during high-speed cornering.

The presence of a manual mode allowed for a greater level of control over the car’s gearbox, too, but didn’t quite remedy the often tardy shift times we had experienced on the road and the mile straights. Nevertheless, the 1.2-litre engine proved punchy enough to pull the DS up the route’s steep inclines at pace.


Disappointingly, the DS 3 Crossback’s softer suspension configuration doesn’t deliver an outstanding primary or secondary ride.

Uneven stretches of cross-country road can cause the body to become animated, while damping over crests and compressions isn’t so sophisticated that you would single this car out for praise as particularly comfortable among its class – and that seems quite a major dynamic failing. There’s a perceptible sense of restlessness about the way the body conducts itself over a less-than-perfect surface, and it’s accompanied by a secondary ride that fails to deal with sharper intrusions as well as you would hope.

Regardless of the speed at which you travel over them, expansion joints, manhole covers and broken ridges produce loud, sharp-edged thumps within the cabin. The suspension seems to suffer from shortages of both shock absorption and wheel control in particular – the axles dropping away from beneath the car over crests only to then be shunted quite abruptly, and sometimes audibly, back up into the arch.

Perhaps this wouldn’t be as pronounced on smaller alloys, but our test car’s 18in rims certainly made for a ride that felt unbecoming of what is supposed to be an upmarket, plush take on a compact crossover – and that didn’t improve enough at town speeds to justify its lack of composure out of town.

Ride apart, though, there are some compensations to report here. The car’s driving position is better than what we were finding in DS’s cars only a few years ago, although some testers said they would like a bit more in the way of reach adjustment in the steering column.

Meanwhile, the cabin is also better insulated against road and wind noise than the Audi Q2 we tested in 2016: at a 70mph cruise, our sound gear measured 68dB here and 73dB for the Audi.


DS 3 Crossback 2019 road test review - hero front

DS Automobiles might aspire to be held in the same regard as the likes of Audi, but it isn’t there yet – neither in terms of brand recognition, nor for all-round design sophistication, and not for perceived cabin quality.

There would be little cause for complaint were the DS3 Crossback’s pricing strategy to reflect this, but examples with the more powerful petrol engine options – which wider test experience suggests are the only ones you should consider for a premium-worthy driving experience – cost close to what you would pay for a Mini Countryman or Audi Q2. Our test car’s basic price of £29,445 is only fractionally less expensive than a Q2 in S Line trim with Audi’s 148bhp 1.5-litre TFSI engine.

DS brand’s relative lack of reputation doesn’t prevent the 3 Crossback from forcing its way between Mini and Audi

The DS also can’t match the Audi’s forecast residual values, though at 45% versus 48% after three years and 36,000 miles, it is far from a poor showing, and does in fact better the Mini Countryman Cooper Sport. Still, on that basis, you wouldn’t expect monthly finance deals on the car to be as attractive as rivals. As for running costs, the DS’s low CO2 figures may make it appeal to some company car drivers, but a touring economy of 48.6mpg is only adequate.

By comparison, the larger, heavier and more powerful Ford Focus ST-Line X we road tested earlier this year managed 43.8mpg from a 1.5-litre three-pot turbo petrol engine, and you would expect a car with less swept volume from the class below – even one with a raised ride height – to put more distance between the two.



DS 3 Crossback 2019 road test review - static front

As an exercise in expressing what DS Automobiles stands for through design, the DS 3 Crossback may be more successfully aligned with the brand’s supposedly avant-garde ethos than the DS 7 Crossback that came before it.

Few testers described it as particularly alluring, but that its bold styling - both inside and out - will likely attract as many people as it will repel means it should be in line for qualified success. But while the French marque appears to have found better form in some ways here, there are shortcomings elsewhere that dampen the 3 Crossback’s overall appeal.

No design smash hit. Short on perceived quality and dynamic polish

Unremarkable handling and a choppy ride are notable offenders, as is an interior that fails to deliver the sort of space and convenience that compact crossover buyers are now used to. And while the three-pot engine affords a creditable blend of performance, refinement and economy, the car’s lofty asking price might well discourage those drawn to its left-field image.

By and large, then, this seems a car capable of sparking intrigue but only really sustaining it on a superficial level, failing to convincingly back up its design with the luxury, dynamic sophistication or day-to-day convenience necessary to make it a contender in its class.


Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

DS 3 Crossback (2019-2022) First drives