By Jonathan Crouch
The DS 3 Crossback is hardly inexpensive but in compensation it's a satisfyingly desirable take on small SUV motoring. The design is individual, the cabin feels special and it's well equipped. Plus the combustion engines are willing and economical - and there's the option of full-electric technology if you want it. This is the car that really moved the DS brand forward.
Automotive manufacturers wanting to be really profitable tend to focus these days on two things; premium brands and compact SUVs. Here's a car that aimed to satisfy on both counts, the fashionable DS 3 Crossback, introduced here in 2019. It shared most of its engineering with familiar PSA Group superminis like Peugeot's 208 and Vauxhall's Corsa, but packaged it all up with a stylised expression of Gallic savoir faire. Buyers were promised distinctive looks, jewel-like detailing and cutting-edge technology. There was also the option of a full-electric 'E-TENSE' version too.
Size-wise, the car fits somewhere between supermini-based 'B'-segment SUVs and 'Qashqai'-sized 'C'-segment SUV models - positioning which might actually be ideal for some potential buyers. This model's combustion engines were amongst the most efficient on the market and there were some genuinely individual trimming choices to make this model really stand out. DS called it 'Haute Couture' and hoped potential buyers would find this car refreshingly different. The DS 3 Crossback sold in its original form until mid-2022, when it was facelifted and renamed simply as the 'DS 3'. It's the 2019-2023-era DS 3 Crossback models though, we look at here.
What You Get
'DS' stands for 'Different Spirit' and the look of this car is certainly different, the idea being to offer a more interesting take on 'B'-segment supermini-based SUV design. Established DS themes include the LED fangs in the front bumper and the unusual shark fin between the side windows, but perhaps it's just as important to point out that the dimensions here position this car amongst the bigger contenders in this segment, targeting Audi Q2s and Honda HR-Vs rather than Jukes and Renault Capturs.
At the wheel, it's like nothing you'll have experienced before. If diamonds are a girl's best friend, as Marilyn Monroe once assured us, then ladies are going to absolutely love this Crossback's cabin because that's a theme that reoccurs almost everywhere. Of course if you favour Teutonic simplicity and clarity of form, you won't like it at all. What's served up here is a glorious antidote to all that, a celebration, the DS designers hope, of everything that's cutting edge in French fashion. You can't help suspecting that the infotainment screen would have been diamond-shaped too, had it not been necessary to source it from the PSA Group parts bin. The dashtop-mounted screen is conventionally square and offered in either 7-inch form or, if you have it with navigation, a larger 10-inch size. Anything that isn't included on the central display (and much that is) can be found on the smart virtual instrument screen you view through the leather-bound three-spoke steering wheel.
Rear leg room actually isn't bad at all, helped by the scalloped seat backs and the way that it's easy to slide your brogues beneath the chair in front. Thanks to the sloping roof line, head space isn't quite as good, but much more of an issue is the way that your side view out is so restricted by that 'shark fin' side pillar design. The boot offers 350-litres of space and is accessible via a low loading lip, so lugging heavy items in and out will be easy. Push forward the 60:40-split backrest and 1,050-litres of space is revealed.
What to Look For
You'll need to buy carefully but the use of common Peugeot and Citroen parts means that reliability shouldn't be any worse than models from those brands. Most of the problems we came across tended to centre on electrical issues with things like the sat-nav and air-con. And with the central screen, which is known to sometimes fail, glitch out or go blank; check its functions thoroughly. Some of the seat material is fairly light in hue, so may be starting to look a bit grubby. We've come across several start-up issues, one owner's alarm kept going off and there have been a number of reported battery problems. The most common problems with come across to the car's accessories and electrical systems, such is the retracting door handles, which seem to have a mind of their own. We've also heard owners report issues with certain advanced driver assistance systems which can sometimes be rather over-assertive. There were two recalls for the combustion versions, one for models made between May-September 2019 (a defective fuel tank) and the other for diesels made between October 2019 and October 29020, which may have blocked AdBlue injectors.
With the E-TENSE version, owners have complained that the car isn't able to correctly gauge how many miles are left in the battery; often apparently, the display shows just 170 miles or so, even when fully charged. There have also been some gripes about setting the charging timer correctly. And suggestions that the usable battery capacity is actually some way below the claimed 50kWh. The charging app is also apparently awkward to use. As usual, with all DS 3 Crossbacks, check for wheel scuffs and interior child damage; and insist on a fully stamped-up service history.
(approx based on a 2020 DS 3 Crossback E-Tense - Ex Vat) Front brake pads sit in the £30 bracket. Front brake discs sit in the £83-£100 bracket. A wiper is around £14-£19. A pollen filter is around £15. A wing mirror glass is around £18-£23.
On the Road
Back in 2019, the DS brand was still deciding exactly how its products should ride and handle. Dynamically, this one is amongst the better cars on its kind in the small SUV segment. To be more specific, the steering's pleasingly accurate but could do with a tad more feel for the times when you're pushing on through tighter bends. Body roll is well controlled for such a relatively high-sided small car. And the ride's relatively pliant, feeling good at highway speeds though it can be upset by deeper potholes and sharper speed humps. The six-speed manual gearbox is quite slick too, though you can only have it with the two entry-level 100hp engines, the BlueHDi 100 diesel and the PureTech 100 petrol unit.
The same three cylinder 1.2-litre petrol engine also features further up the range with either 130 or 155hp, but in these guises must be mated to an 8-speed automatic gearbox. As a DS 3 Crossback buyer, your other option is the fully-electric 'E-Tense' version, which uses a 136hp electric motor linked to a 50kWh lithium-ion battery and can offer 200 miles of WLTP-rated driving range. If, as is more likely, you're happy with combustion power, you'll find that petrol and diesel variants can offer class-leading levels of segment efficiency. The PureTech 100 petrol variant for instance, manages up to 52mpg on the combined cycle and up to 105g/km of CO2.
Competitor nameplates have the market recognition that DS is still seeking - but the company found more of it courtesy of this car. It has a special feel lacking from most similarly-priced rivals - and its E-TENSE electrified technology was ahead of them too. It's not the most practical option of its kind in terms of rear seat room or boot space - and not everyone will like the looks. But there are some nice equipment touches, spec levels are quite generous and the combustion engines are superbly efficient.
And in summary? Well as we said when reviewing the larger DS 7 Crossback, we like this car 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. Again, it's certainly true that in some respects, the execution here isn't perfect - but then there's something rather soul-less and clinical about perfection. Ultimately, this car, like its brand, is aspirational. If you are too and you're shopping in this segment amongst 2019-2023-era small SUVs looking for something a bit different, we think there's just a chance you might like it very much indeed.