IAIN ROBERTSON 

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If you were moved by the swan-like DS7, as Iain Robertson was, then you will fall in love with the ‘ugly duckling’ DS3, as much for its up-market cabin detailing, as its slightly awkward on-road stance; this is the compact DS that delivers in spades.

‘Troubled’ DS is the intended luxury brand of the Peugeot-Citroen stable. It has rested unhappily with just one DS original model, the DS7 (the regular DS3, DS4 and DS5 models are also the former Citroen badged variants, which gifted them an unfortunate hangover). As a brand, DS was always going to need, with a sense of desperation, other new models to carry its badge.

IMGIt was too facile to expect a new model range from the outset. In fact, calling the brand ‘DS’ could have been termed a Chinese-funded step in the wrong direction, based far too heavily on just one truly memorable Citroen model range. After all, the DS, which was developed from the ID range, ran from the late-1950s to the early-1970s. Today, that car is described as a Gallic style icon, for very good reasons. Yet, it was the car that also destroyed the original Citroen. It was too costly. It was not profitable enough. It was unreliable. Yet, it was ingenious.

Translating ingenuity into a brand-new model range is far more difficult than the ideology suggests. A dealer network has been established; small in its number of outlets, it is essential to providing the brand with a consumer base. However, checking the regular monthly registrations of DS models in the UK (as supplied by the SMMT) has made depressing reading. What DS needs are more models.

IMGInstead of standing for ‘Goddess’, DS should represent Different Style, because that is what this offshoot of the PSA Group and its all-new DS3 Crossback is all about. It is very difficult for car designers to create sleek and sensual outlines from a body length of just over four metres; any attempts to do so would result in severe restrictions to the amount of cabin space available and, when part of the styling remit is to carry up to four adults of average stature, even the best of the designers would have to deal with management rejections as well.

The regular DS3 features a kicked-up B-pillar, a styling frippery carried onto the new Crossback model, which features four passenger doors, as opposed to just two. Riding slightly higher than your average hatchback, supported by its Crossback nomenclature, suggests that the cutesy five-door is an SUV…except it is not. It is just front-wheel drive and is poised more frog-like than sideways swipes at any French person might suggest. I would refer to this car as a ‘marketing tease’. The market seems to adore SUVs and crossovers and making the new DS3 fit with them is little more than a practical sales ploy.

IMGIf it has to carry one cross, it is that its styling, while fun, is slightly over-earnest. Yet, there is nothing over-wrought about its core engineering. Powering DS3 is a three-cylinder, 1.2-litre petrol-turbo power unit developing a healthy 130bhp and an even healthier, diesel-like 170lbs ft of torque. I say ‘diesel-like’, because of its low-down grunt and relentless energy. Familiar PSA territory, it is a really excellent and very refined small capacity engine and is enough to whisk the Gallic tiddler from 0-60mph in just 8.9s, before it runs out of steam at 124mph, driving through an 8-speed fully automatic gearbox. With a posted average of 47.1mpg and CO2 exhaust emissions of 109g/km, allied to 16,000 miles service intervals and Group 20E insurance, keeping running costs at a low ebb is a target attained.

Despite the aforementioned ground clearance (170mm), the DS3 features a moderately low centre of gravity that provides assured road holding, excellent grip and very tidy handling. In fact, its ride quality is astonishingly good for a car possessing a wheelbase of just over 2.5m, featuring no untoward pitching, excellent roll and bounce control and a level of bump absorption belonging to cars at least one class up from DS3. It feels very grown-up and its driver feedback reminded me of the Oleo-pneumatic suspension that used to be a feature of many Citroen models in the past.

IMGAs an up-market model, notably in Prestige trim and with a pearlescent white paint finish (£950), it is priced at a fairly steep £28,905 (pre any dealer discounts). However, it is really well equipped, with billowy cross-hatched leather seats and a startling range of driving position adjustability. Apart from the customary steering column range, the driver’s seat can nuzzle the carpet, providing an immense amount of headroom (especially for the taller occupant), while retaining excellent leg and shoulder space. Alternatively, persons of smaller stature can also obtain a comfortable driving position. DS has certainly got the packaging right with its newcomer.

The cabin details are more concept car than production reality but, once familiar with the ‘diamond’ structure layout of the switchgear and the positioning of the ‘Start’ button in the centre of the column stack, it not only looks fantastic but has such tremendous tactility that you cannot help but marvel at it. In some respects, better grouping and more attention to an ergonomic layout might be preferable but DS is building its case slowly but surely and, with electrification due soon, I would not bet against it making an indelible mark. Being different is not a sin and it was something that the original DS mastered to perfection.

IMGConclusion:      If you wondered where Gallic avant-garde went, peer more closely at the new DS3 Crossback, it has it in abundance. An up-market price tag accompanies the new model but it manages to impart a high-quality appeal that has been missing from French motorcars for far too long.