Driven: DS 3 Crossback

The DS brand, a luxury badge attached to Citroen cars that’s been spun out to be a marque in its own right, initially struggled to make an impression on UK buyers.

The DS 3 was a well-liked but ageing hatchback, the 4 was an unloved Focus rival that missed the mark by some margin, while the DS 5 was a luxury model that failed to live up to luxury expectations.

Now DS is dropping the Citroen hand-me-downs and going its own way. The 7 Crossback SUV has been well received, and this DS 3 Crossback brings the same sense of style and distinctiveness to a smaller, more affordable model.

DS 3 Crossback Profile

It’s got the Audi Q2 and Mini Countryman in its sights, both capable models from long-established brands, so the French firm is trying to raise the bar with a plush, fully-loaded La Première launch edition. Once they’re gone, a range of three luxury models and one apparently sporting version will have to suffice, powered by petrol engines producing between 100 and 155hp, and a single 100hp diesel option. A pure-electric model arrives later in the year, too.

I’m in the sporty model, inexplicably capitalised as PERFORMANCE Line. There’s a 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine under the clamshell bonnet of the DS 3, producing a handy 130hp which is enough to propel the car from standstill to 62mph in 9.2 seconds. That’s not exactly hot-hatch territory, but there’s enough grunt to keep up with all but the most enthusiastic of traffic.

DS 3 Crossback Rear

The Crossback name hints that outright handling prowess probably wasn’t high on the list of priorities at the chassis design meetings, so the 3 sits in a bit of a no-man’s-land where it’s quite agile and quite comfortable, but doesn’t excel at either. You could argue that’s a positive outcome, as erring towards one extreme or the other would alienate a significant chunk of buyers. While DS has tried to be all things to all people though, it ends up feeling a little anonymous to drive.

Hurtling through country lanes is not necessarily the domain of a small SUV but, should you be in a hurry, there’s plenty of grip available with no worrying handling traits. It’s softly sprung which leads to a bit of extra body roll, but that pays off in urban environments, where the DS 3 Crossback feels most at home. Diminutive dimensions and lightweight controls make it a cinch to manoeuvre but, while it soaks up most imperfections well enough, some sharper-edged potholes will crash their way through to the cabin.

DS 3 Crossback interior

Nobody will sit in a DS 3 Crossback and think the cabin is bland. Once they’ve got past a surprisingly high sill, it’s a bounty of shapes, surfaces and materials that makes the Crossback stand out from literally every other car on sale. There’s a diamond theme running through every element, from a bank of buttons across the centre stack through to tiny knurled details on the steering wheel buttons. Surfaces are covered in an Alcantara material that leaves everything feeling magnificent, but step back and you’ll see that it’s all actually rather conventional. That said, mixing push-buttons with touch-sensitive panels leads to the occasional accidental activation.

Above all of this style sits an infotainment touchscreen that, despite the obvious diamond theme, shares its inner workings with every other Citroen and Peugeot. It’s usable but has some frustrating quirks in the user interface. That’s matched by digital instruments that look great, but you can’t help but wish for at least the option of a traditional set of dials. There’s also no navigation system on the Performance Line model but, pleasingly, both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are fitted as standard, allowing for smartphone mirroring.

Being design-led, it’s not the world’s most practical SUV, especially as it’s barely any bigger than a Ford Fiesta. Still, the front of the cabin is spacious enough to keep anybody happy; those wide and tall sills sit below doors that seem to be set far away from the seats, adding significant elbow room. It’s pretty good in the back too, with enough space for a couple of adults to get comfortable. Even leg and headroom is sufficient, but it’s definitely best when limited to just two passengers. It does get a bit dark in there though, especially as that distinctive and stylish ‘shark fin’ eats into valuable window space. There’s less to say about the boot, which is surprisingly small, with just 350 litres of luggage capacity – that’s less than you’ll find in the back of a Volkswagen Polo, but slightly more than in a Fiesta.

That kind of sums up the car in many ways. It sits in the middle of things, not entirely certain whether it’s a luxury SUV, a sporty hatchback, a sensible family car or an overt demonstration of design. It succeeds in many areas, but never excels in any. It’s close enough to the mark that if it’s exactly what you’re after, then it’ll be absolutely fine. For everybody else, the sheer number of rivals (including the new Nissan Juke and Renault Captur) means there are better options out there.

Model Tested: DS 3 Crossback Performance Line PureTech 130 Auto
Price: £26,520
Range: £22,120 – £39,490
Top speed: 124 mph
0-62 mph: 9.2 seconds
Power: 131 PS (129 bhp)
Torque: 230 Nm (170 lb ft)
Monthly PCP*: £362
Official economy: 42.2-47.1 mpg
Road test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 109-117 g/km
Car Tax: £150
Insurance group: 20E

* Monthly PCP estimate based on 20% deposit, 36-month term, 5% APR, final payment of 40%.

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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, DAD.info and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.