What is it?
You’ve almost got to feel sorry for French brand DS. Since it split from Citroen in 2015, it’s struggled to find its feet at the premium end of the market, and that’s been reflected in the brand’s sales. In the entirety of 2020 (though it was a disastrous year for car sales) the firm sold fewer than 2,400 cars. Want some perspective? Audi, BMW and Mercedes all sold more than 100,000 each – granted with broader ranges, but you get the gist.
The firm is now attempting to expand its appeal by taking advantage of the increasingly popular electrified market, but does it succeed?
While the larger DS 7 Crossback is already available as a plug-in hybrid, the brand’s first EV is this, the DS 3 Crossback E-Tense compact SUV. It arrived in 2019 with petrol and diesel engines but now gets a battery-powered option for the first time.
Sitting on the same platform as a host of electric models from Peugeot and Citroen, this compact electric car aims to give buyers an interesting alternative to more mainstream options but retaining the same charm and bold design you get with the standard DS 3 Crossback.
What’s under the bonnet?
If you’re familiar with the Peugeot e-208 or Vauxhall Corsa-e, this DS’s powertrain will come as no surprise.
A 100kW electric motor serves up 134bhp and 260Nm of torque and gives decent performance – 0-60mph taking just 8.5 seconds, though the seamless power delivery actually makes it feel quicker than that figure suggests. A 50kWh battery is also utilised, which DS claims allows for a 200-mile range.
More useful, though, is that you can top up the battery at up to 100kW, meaning that with the fastest chargers a 0-80 per cent charge takes just 30 minutes. Plug in at home with a wallbox and DS says it will take eight hours.
What’s it like to drive?
The zippy powertrain of the DS 3 is a big asset to here, with strong pace off the line – to the point where it can overwhelm the front wheels and make them spin, though that’s not unique to this model. It’s also a far more refined affair than its combustion-powered siblings, which always felt a bit coarse.
Bizarrely for a city-based model, it also feels best-suited to higher speeds, where the ride proves more comfortable. Around town and at slower speeds, though, the ride quality is quite poor, with the car actually shaking if you hit a pothole or rut in the road. Given the original Citroen ‘DS’ was renowned for its superb ride, it’s a shame that attribute hasn’t carried through to this model.
How does it look?
It’s safe to say DS isn’t frightened to do things differently when it comes to style, and this 3 Crossback is a model you’ll either hate or love the look of.
Personally, we’re in the latter camp, and we admire DS for not following the crowd. From its fancy Matrix LED headlights that have a pink tinge to them, to the fancy grille, boomerang-shaped running lights and pop-out door handles, there is plenty that’s daring about the way this small SUV looks.
One of the few criticisms we can label at it was that our test car came with a strange textured black material for the top half of the car, which felt and looked cheap, and contrasted with everything ‘premium’ that DS is trying to be.
What’s it like inside?
If you thought the outside was a bit brave, though, you should take a look at the cabin. Up front you’ve got a widescreen 10-inch touchscreen that’s clear and easy to use, but the shortcuts for it are placed on cool diamond-shaped buttons. Below it there’s the spacecraft-like curved gear selector, and surrounding those are the electric window buttons. It’s certainly different, that’s for sure, though the somewhat random ergonomics means it can take time to adjust to.
A host of materials and textures are also used – such as a quilted dashboard– that help to lift the feel and look of the cabin, and largely it’s quite an upmarket affair, though some cheaper plastics means it’s not knocking on the doors of the German premium brands yet.
While not losing out on any of the regular Crossback’s interior space, though, it’s still not a very practical choice. Rear space is compromised, while visibility isn’t anything worth shouting home about, either.
What’s the spec like?
Regardless of the DS 3 Crossback you go for, you’re unlikely to be disappointed by the kit, with standard features including automatic climate control, 17-inch alloy wheels, electric folding door mirrors and a digital instrument cluster. Performance Line brings some black accents and tinted windows while a ‘+’ specification adds larger 18-inch alloy wheels, a 10-inch touchscreen and Matrix LED headlights.
At the top of the range, the Ultra Prestige features fancy quilted leather, a reversing camera and additional driver assistance technology.
While not cheap, prices are broadly aligned with rivals, with the range starting from £31,000 (including the £3,000 government grant) and rising to £35,600 for the Ultra Prestige. At the latter price, it does seem rather pricey, though.
If you’re looking for an electric car that’s going to stand out from the crowd, the DS 3 Crossback is worth considering. The funky styling inside and out makes it genuinely – and refreshingly – different, while a decent electric range adds to the appeal.
But this is far from a well-rounded package. The ride quality leaves plenty to be desired, while practicality misgivings mean you’d struggle to use it as a family car as well. If you’re happy to sacrifice some of that style, the plainer Kia e-Niro is a much more versatile option.