Last year, DS Automobiles sold more cars in Europe than Lexus and Jaguar. Enough, in the eyes of the French firm, to declare itself the eighth biggest premium brand on the continent. Whether someone selling a weeny little crossover can truly be considered ‘premium’ is a discussion probably worth having. But whichever way you spin it, DS appears to be doing pretty well; its UK volumes were up 56 per cent in 2022.
It's upon this swagger that the DS 7 has been updated. The Crossback suffix has gone and its DRLs have become dramatic ‘light veils’ that resemble minor art installations and appear the most confident reimagining of illumination since Audi started this whole trend almost 20 years ago.
Audi is a name that gets brought up a lot when you chat to DS folk, in fact. The DS 7 occupies a space in between the Q3 and Q5, priced closer to the former while its size leans towards the latter. Though don’t go thinking it’s a bargain. The version driven here, which I promise is of some interest to PHers, starts at £55,790, with its poshest trim level sailing past £60k. If you still consider these cars as business class Citroens, that’s a lot.
To at least explain its sizeable cost (if not outright justify it), we’d better delve into the powertrain. In short it’s lifted from the similarly priced Peugeot Sport Engineered 508, a 4x4 plug-in hybrid which combines a 1.6-litre turbo engine (familiar from numerous hot hatches) with two electric motors, one at each axle, for a combined 360hp and 384lb ft. That’s enough for 0-62mph in 5.6secs and a 146mph top speed.
Electrification isn’t new to the DS 7, but this level of potency is. And it really does feel like a 360hp car when all its power unites in Sport mode, the kick between 30 and 60mph limits as you leave a village especially vibrant. It’s not so long since a Mitsubishi Evo boasted this level of power with the infamous ‘FQ’ prefix to colloquially signify the ensuing performance, after all.
The DS 7 has a bit more timber to carry than an old Lancer, of course, though at 1885kg it’s doing alright for a PHEV SUV. Especially given the quality of the trim and the sheer quantity of electric motors inside (the front seats massage and the rears electronically recline). It feels nimble by the standards of this quirky class of car, and its class-straddling dimensions make it feel at least tolerable to those not usually sold on the crossover craze. Those seven premium brands currently outselling DS offer a cornucopia of SUVs and most are more aggressive and bolshy than this. It feels a particularly successful facelift, in fact; on paper, it’s the usual nip’n’tuck treatment, with new lights, grilles and wheels. Yet the DS 7 looks more memorable than before and genuinely catches the eye.
The whole thing is unexpectedly charming, in fact. We can debate the point of both plug-in hybrids and performance SUVs until the cows come home, but this is an interesting and esoteric combination of the two. I’ll be the first to admit its existence doesn’t answer any pertinent questions, but the quandary our Matt Bird found himself in – the purchase of his BMW X3 M40i, also possessing 360hp, the result – shows that a car like this may be the best way for some of us to get our fix when family life really gets serious.
By trying to do so much, however, this particular DS 7 can’t help but emerge with a few flaws. The cossetting ride of the DS 9 saloon is absent here, its suspension (lowered 15mm and accompanied by wider tracks and stonking 380mm front brakes, for a decent overhaul over stock DS 7s) not always yielding to tougher surfaces as much as you’d hope, though in general it rolls along nicely and is no stiffer than equivalently pitched rivals rolling on similar 21in wheels. Just beware the many and numerous potholes littering the roads between the highfalutin villages these are likely to inhabit.
There are also, as per the 508 PSE, simply too many drive modes – none of them perfect. Electric makes sense in urban use and DS claims up to 36 engine-free miles, the battery replenished via a two-hour wall box charge or clawed back from the powertrain as you drive. But Comfort and Hybrid largely do the same thing, as do 4x4 and Sport. The latter does amp the 4x4 360 to its most enthralling, even the steering weight being pleasant – rare for anyone’s dynamic modes – but with one major bugbear. The eight-speed automatic gearbox won’t stick in a manual mode, and its Sport tune always holds at least one gear too low, most notably as you buzz through those tranquil villages in third. Pull the right-hand paddle for fourth or fifth and the car quickly seizes back control and shoves you down into third again. This is a fun engine with a real voracity of revs, but using the fullness of its performance feels far more appropriate in an old Mini Cooper S or 208 GTI than it does in a plush SUV. You’ll stick in Comfort for the most part.
This DS 7 handles well, though, justifying its firm ride with impressive body control. It’s not a wild entertainer but keener cornering speeds are rewarded with a tangible and satisfying sense of all four corners being worked. While it won’t slap a beaming grin on your face, there’ll be an impressed smirk at the very least. The 508 PSE is reasonably subtle in serving up its thrills and the same is true here.
And much like the 508 PSE, the DS 7 4x4 360 ultimately feels like one of those cars that’ll be worth foraging for in the classifieds in years to come. Is that faint praise for a new car? Perhaps, but there’s plenty for us to like about this particular oddball while still being a little aghast at how much it costs (its £650 monthly lease deals basically match the Peugeot’s). Quite how much this specific model will contribute to DS’s ongoing sales success I’m not sure. But then its claimed 161.1mpg and 40g/km of CO2 perhaps nominate it as a viable business option, the on-paper perks of plug-in hybrids usually greater than their real-world results. Unless your weekly schedule mirrors a WLTP test.
Perhaps there aren’t Citroen C6 or Renault Avantime levels of curiosity here – the DS 7, by rivalling Audi’s range of SUVs so openly, can’t help but feel more conventional – but there’s enough charm and character that if it really is ‘crossover or bust’ for your car shopping scenario, it’s at least worth a look. Sure, 360hp is overkill and the car is ultimately too firm to truly live up to its posh French billing, but let’s be honest: overpowered everyday transport will always have at least some childish allure.
SPECIFICATION | 2023 DS 7 E-TENSE 4x4 360
Engine: 1598cc, four-cyl turbo, plus two electric motors
Transmission: 8-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 360
Torque (lb ft): 384
0-62mph: 5.6 seconds
Top speed: 146mph
MPG: 161.1 (WLTP)
CO2: 40g/km (WLTP)
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