If you want a premium mid-sized SUV in the current market, you're not short of choice. But there's nothing quite like this, the DS 7. Jonathan Crouch takes a look at the latest version.
Ten Second Review
As the DS brand points out, beyond the motor industry, three of the world's top five luxury brands are French. Why shouldn't Gallic style be equally desirable when it comes to cars? Perhaps it can be with this one, the DS 7, here usefully improved. This upper mid-sized Crossover was the first of the company's very own designs and it's still appealing for the right kind of customer.
Back in 2017, the DS brand brought us its first uniquely-designed car, the DS 7 Crossback. Under its skin lay much that was shared with mid-sized Peugeots and Citroens, but it was all covered with a thick sheen of Gallic gloss that allowed this car to represent a refreshing alternative to the Teutonic ambiance that tends to dominate amongst premium mid-sized SUV models of this sort.
There were a few signs of classic DS innovation here too. Given the marque's heritage in pioneering suspension technology, it was appropriate that the highlight from launch was a camera-driven active damping system that set new standards in this sector, recognising bumps and road undulations before you even reach them. Features like adaptive headlights and a 'DS Connected Pilot' package with 'level 2' autonomous driving were more familiar to buyers looking at the latest models of this kind, but the DS 7 Crossback aimed to set itself apart with a uniquely sumptuous, tactile interior. The idea was to bring a bit of Louis Vuitton and Chanel to the mid-sized premium segment. That's also the idea with this updated model, which has lost the 'Crossback' moniker and is just called 'DS 7'. Let's check it out.
Nothing major's gone on in terms of changing the dynamic engineering on offer here. Instead, DS has concentrated on broadening its 'E-TENSE'-branded Plug-in Hybrid powerplant line-up, relinquishing all the other previous conventional unelectrified units, save for an ill-promoted 1.5-litre BlueHDi 130hp diesel at the bottom of the range. The E-TENSE options start with a front-driven 225hp model. Beyond that, your DS 7 E-TENSE will be of the AWD sort that supplements the PHEV system's 1.6-litre petrol engine with an electric motor on the rear axle, as well as one at the front. In the E-TENSE 4x4 300 variant we tried, that means a total system output of 296hp and an EV range from the now-larger 14.2kWh battery of 42 miles. The new top DS Performance-fettled flagship model, the E-TENSE 4x4 360, is similarly engineered but offers 355hp and a 36 mile EV range, plus lowered suspension, wider tracks and bigger brakes.
As with the original version of this car, the quality of ride on offer isn't quite as serene as you'd hope it might be from a brand founded on last-century history of tackling uneven surfaces with typical Gallic nonchalance. Even with the 'DS Active Scan' system on top models like the one we're trying here (a system which uses a forward-facing camera to anticipate bumps before you reach them), the low-speed ride can be fidgety, though with the system fitted, you do float over speed humps rather pleasingly. However you specify it, this Gallic model is at its best when you're wafting along and enjoying its more relaxed approach to life as the mandatory 8-speed EAT8 automatic transmission slurs its way smoothly through its various ratios. You can't ever set it to stick in the gear you want, but if haste really is required, it can get with the programme and play its part in propelling your DS 7 along at a decent lick. All DS 7 E-TENSE models get selectable 'Sport', 'Hybrid' and 'Electric' drive modes - with an extra '4WD' setting if your chosen variant has a rear axle motor.
Design and Build
This revised DS 7 gets a restyled front end, with slimmer 'DS PIXEL LED VISION 3.0' headlamps and 'DS LIGHT VEIL' daytime running lights. The DS WINGS and the grille are larger and the valance has been redesigned with a range of colours depending on the model.
The slimmer scale-like LED rear lights with a vortex effect have also been redesigned with a dark metallic finish. And the boot lid and badge have been reworked with sharper lines, while DS AUTOMOBILES lettering replaces the previous 'CROSSBACK' badge to sign off the visually stretched rear section. The wheels are new too, with redesigned 19-inch rims for the usual models and more exclusive 21-inchers for the top E-TENSE 4x4 360 version.
Inside, there's smarter upholstery, with specifically draped Nappa leather on the dashboard and door panels. The 12-inch high-resolution centre touchscreen has been redesigned too, now featuring a menu made up of widgets for accessing all its functions with a single movement: for controlling the connected navigation, the ventilation, the digital audio sources and journey information. As before, the cabin design is intended to be an extrovert celebration of everything that's cutting edge in French fashion. Alcantara, open-pore wood inlays and leather feature in copious quantities appropriate to the Parisian-themed trim package you've chosen. Even the techno-fest that must rather incongruously fit in around all of this frippery can't escape the Louis Vuitton treatment. So the centre screen gets a strange barrel-style crystal-like centre volume dial. And, like the 12-inch instrument binnacle TFT monitor, can be configured via a 'DS Sensorial Drive' feature to display its information in shades of either Cashmere or Titanium.
Second row rear seat space is good; even for a six-footer sitting behind quite a lanky front seat occupant, the legroom on offer should be quite sufficient. But bear in mind that if you go for one of the E-TENSE Plug-in versions that you won't get the third seating row that's fitted to the more conventional diesel version; that back row's strictly for kids. Out back, there's a decently-sized 555-litre boot. Fold the rear seats and the capacity rises to 1,752-litres.
Market and Model
DS 7 pricing ranges from around £37,000 to nearly £63,000. There are five trim levels - 'Performance Line', 'Performance Line+', 'Rivoli', 'Opera' and 'Opera Premiere' - which feature distinctly styled interior packages (DS calls then 'Inspirations'), most themed and styled around the perceived ambiance of various Parisian districts. The core DS7 line-up is built around three Plug-in Hybrid E-TENSE petrol engines and a conventional diesel. Either way, you have to have auto transmission.
Safety for this updated model is optimised with 'DS DRIVER ATTENTION MONITORING' and 'DS DRIVE ASSIST' level 2 semi-autonomous driving. 'DS DRIVER ATTENTION MONITORING' analyses the driver's level of attention with two cameras. The first checks the behaviour of the car in its surroundings and the second, positioned facing the driver, diagnoses where they are looking and their face and eyelid movement which translates to the level of sleepiness and attention. This is unprecedented in the segment. The DS 7 is also equipped with 'DS DRIVE ASSIST' adaptive cruise control that can initiate stopping and restarting without the driver intervening and an aid that enables the driver to keep the car either where it is or where they position it in the lane.
Cost of Ownership
Let's get to the exact WLTP figures that the DS 7's various engines can produce, all of which are helped by the light weight of this car's underlying EMP2 PSA Group platform. The base 1.5-litre BlueHDi 130 auto diesel model manages 53.3mpg on the combined cycle and up to 144g/km.
With the E-TENSE Plug-in derivatives, there's a WLTP driving range of up to 43 miles thanks to the larger 14.2kWh battery. The DS engineers reckon that even running the car in its more usual 'Hybrid mode' (whether the engine and the battery work together) you should still get very frugal returns. All of this assumes you keep the car fully charged. If you drift into using it just in petrol-powered form, your returns will drop like a stone.
But let's assume you're fully bought into making full use of the electrified tech. On the move on a DS7 E-TENSE PHEV variant, energy is regenerated whenever the driver decelerates or uses the brakes, which extends the battery range. Another function, 'E-SAVE', also allows the driver to generate extra energy to drive in all-electric mode for the last 6 or 12 miles of a journey. The map on the centre-dash touchscreen shows to the driver in real time the distance which can be driven in the car's full-battery 'Electric' mode or where charging stations are available nearby.
You'll need to spend rather a lot of time in 'Electric' if you're to get anywhere close to the official efficiency figures, for the E-TENSE 4x4 225 model quoted at 250mpg on the combined cycle and 28g/km of CO2. Charging time for the 4x4 models, empty to full with a 7.4kW garage wallbox, is 1 hour 55 minutes. The E-TENSE 225 variant can only charge at up to 3.7kW, so needs almost twice as long - 3 hours 45 minutes. With all E-TENSE models, you'll need six and a half hours with a traditional 3-pin domestic socket.
What else? Well, a little annoyingly, the fuel tank is 20-litres smaller than it is in a conventionally-engined DS 7: blame battery packaging for that. Still, enjoy the tech. Through a provided 'MyDS' app, you can programme or switch on charging and follow your car's state of charge on your smartphone. The warranty is an unremarkable three year/60,000-mile package. Service intervals are every year or every 20,000 miles with normal usage or every year or 12,500 miles if the car is regularly driven in an arduous conditions.
Charismatic, elegant and satisfyingly rare, the DS 7 has brought something different to the upper class part of the mid-sized SUV segment and continues to do so in this improved form. It's an interesting confection this, relatively conservative in its overall exterior shaping but extreme and individualistic in its Gallic cabin demeanour. Will there be enough premium segment customers wanting that kind of combination? It'll be interesting to see.
Ultimately, we like it most because it feels special - or at least it will for the right kind of buyer. That customer will love the painstaking attention that's been paid to almost every detail of this design. In some respects, the execution isn't perfect - but then, as we've remarked before when reviewing this boutique French maker's products and considering its competitors, there's something rather soul-less and clinical about perfection. The DS brand is about a 'Different Spirit' - a different way to go. Other marques have promised that: with this car though, this one delivers it.