DS Automobiles is aiming to be the premium side to Citroën. Their offering to the family hatchback market is the DS 4. It seeks to blend style with family-friendly functionality. And now there’s also the DS 4 Crossback. With a more rugged appearance and higher ride height, it adds a crossover element to the car. I was quite keen to see how it stacked up, and after making a few phone calls it wasn’t long before I had one on the driveway. Would this be a perfect blend of crossover capability and hatchback versatility, or a confused blend of too many things? Time to find out…
Looks – 9/10
The DS 4 is a smart looking car, and in my opinion the Crossback looks even better. The addition of plastic cladding to the wheel arches give a rugged appearance, whilst a raised ride height gives a bit of extra clearance. My test car was the Prestige model, which means full-LED headlights at the front, alongside a tweaked front bumper which includes gloss black inserts and a chrome grille surround. 18-inch black alloys sit under the plastic arches, and a chrome window surround frames the sweeping shape of the glass. The rear door handles are hidden, allowing for a smooth door panel. That being said the rear doors are a strange shape; narrow at the bottom but wide and pointy where the handles are. This makes them awkward in tight car parking spaces. At the back, a gloss black roof spoiler, gloss black lettering and a black plastic bumper insert complete the package. This car looks like a wonderful blend of urban and rugged, as a crossover should.
Inside you can certainly see that the DS models are meant to be more premium than their Citroën siblings. Especially with the optional leather interior (£850) which come with a fancy ‘watchstrap’ pattern to them. The steering wheel is enormous; it would look more at home in a boat than a car. It’s chunky, features silver trim and frames the dials. You can change the colour on the dials, but other than that they are a reasonably simple design. The media screen is nestled neatly into the dashboard, but could have done with being a bit bigger. I found the materials to be generally good, although some of the switchgear felt a bit cheap and flimsy. My favourite feature in the cabin was the panoramic element to the windscreen, which features a sliding panel on each side of the rear view mirror where the dun visor is. Push the panel back and an extra 8 or so inches of glass is visible. It may not sound like a lot but from the front seats it makes a big difference.
Handling/Performance – 4/10
My test car came with a 1.2-litre PureTech engine, which may seem small for a family hatchback. Fear not though; it is a turbocharged, 3-cylinder unit which produces 130PS and 230Nm of torque. This is sent to the front wheels via a 6-speed manual gearbox. I actually rather like this engine. Pottering around town is efficient, and the turbocharger helps when you need to stretch its legs somewhat. On paper it’s not the quickest: 0-62mph in 9.9 seconds and a top speed of 123mph. But from behind the wheel it feels rather nippy. The soundtrack is a distinct 3-cylinder ‘thrum’. What I didn’t like about the DS was the clutch. The bite point is far too high, which means you knee the steering wheel every time you set off. And try as I might, I just couldn’t get the driving position right. I was too close to the pedals, and too far away from the steering wheel all at the same time.
For the Crossback, the suspension has been softened. Ride height has also been raised by 30mm. Now the softened damping works; it makes the DS 4 a wonderful motorway companion. But the raised ride does no favours for cornering ability. There is noticeable lean on entry, and the Crossback never feels composed. The steering wheel is big, which is especially shocking if you are familiar with the Peugeot button-sized ones. There is no real weight or feel to the steering either, which doesn’t help the lack of confidence through the bends. Although what underpins the whole driving experience is that driving position. I never really felt ‘set up’ in the car, and this resonates on a country road blast. Lastly there is no 4WD option, nor is there a Grip Control system (as found in the wonderful Peugeot 2008) which, to me, defeats the object of the Crossback. It hasn’t got the substance to back up its style.
Economy – 9/10
I sang the praises of the 1.2-litre PureTech engine, and you will be pleased to know that it’s also rather frugal too. And this is especially impressive given its ability to hold its own on the motorway; never feeling underpowered. On a combined cycle the fuel consumption is a not-too-shabby 54.3mpg, which will mean you frequent the petrol station less often. With start/stop technology, the little engine emits just 116g/km, putting it in VED band C. That’s free road tax in the first year, and £30 thereafter; giving you a bit more money to spend on the family. The only reason I couldn’t award the DS 4 a perfect 10, is that the Ford Focus 1.0-litre EcoBoost emits just 108g/km, and sits a band lower.
Practicality – 7/10
When it comes to practicality, the DS 4 does alright. There is plenty of room in the front, and a decent boot for shopping and prams. But then on the flip side the rear doors have small openings which make getting into the back a bit tricky. Because of the odd driving position I found rear leg room a bit sparse. The list of equipment on the Crossback is reassuringly comprehensive, including satellite navigation, auto lights, auto wipers, heated front seats with a massaging lumbar function, dual-zone air conditioning, reversing camera and keyless entry and go. That makes it a great car to live with day to day; a vital trait of a family hatchback. Sadly the Crossback lacks the all-terrain capability to truly live up to its name, and that makes the crossover styling, which looks great, feel a bit superficial.
Fun – 6/10
Around town, the DS 4 fits in. It suits the reflective shop windows, Booths car park and speed bumps. And around town you aren’t cornering at speed, so it drives well. Because of the eye-catching looks I was quite happy to tootle round town. A crossover should be able to do all this and then cope with adverse weather, but without a 4WD system or Grip Control (which is excellent by the way) the Crossback lacks the capability of a true crossover. So then you’re left with what is basically a family hatchback on stilts. And when you get to the good roads that causes a problem. From behind the wheel it doesn’t feel like the car was designed for the keen driver, more for the pedestrians to look at. And that’s rather bittersweet.
So to summarise, I ended the week with mixed feelings. The looks are great, but in certain areas it feels like this comes at the expense of practicality; the rear doors being a prime example. The engine is wonderful, but is let down by an awful clutch and rather boat-like cornering. And with no 4WD option (or even a version of the Peugeot Grip Control for that matter) it’s no more capable than most family hatchbacks. Prices for the Crossback start at £22,745 and with a few options on it my test car was £24,565. It’s a lot of car for the money, coming in at around the same price as a Ford Focus Titanium. To get more information head over to a dealer or visit the DS Automobiles website. The DS 4 Crossback is a car for the urban jungle; opting for style over substance.
Total Score – 35/50