DS = Different Spirit By Alex Willmott
Let me introduce you to a different spirit, a dragon with the mind of a genius. I was offered a chance to drive a brand-new DS 7 Crossback from York to Paris, and back again. For those who have suffered at the hands of the M25, you’ll understand that I didn’t jump at the opportunity immediately. After seeing one photo of the SUV, I came to my senses, and thank goodness I did. At first sight the car leaves a lasting impression. Parked in front of the house, you could almost hear it begging to be driven, much to the envy of the neighbours.
Instantly you know that it’s a car that is clearly on the side of the driver and the passenger alike. A beast with class. A powerhouse with poise. The latest technological innovations with the brand’s Parisian savoir faire, introducing new levels of driving comfort and performance, this SUV effortlessly oozes luxury and technology. With a plug-in hybrid petrol drivetrain hosting a 200hp petrol engine, two electric motors (with an output of 80kW/109hp each) an automatic transmission with eight speeds positioned across the front axle, a lithium-ion battery with a capacity of 13kW/h and output of 90kW, the DS designers have missed nothing, absolutely nothing.
I sat down with the CEO of DS, Yves Bonnefont, and he explained that though the brand has its eyes on the here and now, it is as equally invested in the there and then: tomorrow’s world. In fact, the company has already drafted a concept design for what their vehicle will look like in 2035. They’ve even named it – DS X E-Tense. Yes, this is what true innovation looks like.
Lead designer Thierry Metroz explained to me that the design for the 2035 was as much about poetry as it was about pragmatism. And there’s no denying that the design is one heck of a sonnet. It felt like we had been shown a glimpse of something sacredly scientific. An asymmetrical revelation that can drive or be driven, split into two Tron-like pods, with the charm of Cézanne and the flair of Baudelaire, this machine will change driving forever. For those of us with combustion engines, there is a time coming soon where we’ll upgrade to the DS X E-Tense much like when horse-drawn carriages were replaced by cars. The ultimate upgrade is coming, and it’s coming from France.
Sam Bird, the man at the wheel of the DS Formula E machine, sums up the spirit of brand. He told me that he “Has a taste for winning”, and his performance didn’t disappoint. From behind, he took the initiative, and despite seeing one of his front axles ripped off, reducing his car to just three wheels, he crossed the line to take a podium position. Fearless, resolute and rich in adaptability, a DS driver through and through.
I was fortunate enough to get a preview of next season’s DS Virgin Formula E car, and it really is a Batman fantasy. If the All Blacks manifested into a racing car, it would surely be this. I’ve never heard the hushed murmurings of the word “Wow” spoken so much by so many in my 33 years on earth to date. I didn’t know whether to drive it or write a novel about it, such is its grandeur and menace. The image of electric vehicles has changed irreversibly over the last two years, and it’s largely down to investment and vision. DS are now pioneering the imminent retirement of the combustion engine but are refusing to compromise on power and the driving experience in the process.
DS lead designer Thierry Metroz told me, “At DS, the advanced innovations seen on concept cars add life and bold spirit to our production vehicles.” From the SUV to the DS X E-Tense, you can see this boldness at every stitch, fitting and finish. I wouldn’t want to be a competitor of DS Automobiles. I think I’d sooner beg for a job with their design team than try to out-think them.
At this point of any car review, it’s usually fitting to sober the compliments up and add some negatives. You won’t find that in this one. The only negative I can think of is that right now I don’t own a DS 7 Crossback. Much like France, it’s impossible to fully grasp the class and capability of the SUV in just a weekend, but I fell in love regardless. And as a 33-year-old man, I’m happy to admit that I actually dreamt of this car on the bedsheets of the Molitor hotel (another Parisian delight). I was told that driving in central Paris was a nightmare, but not for the DS 7 Crossback. With its incredible monitoring system to ensure you’re never too close to another vehicle, to its wing mirror genius lighting system to secure the blind spot, Paris at rush hour felt like a Sunday stroll up the Dordogne.
We’ve seen automobile giants like VW get things totally wrong in recent times. Searching for shortcuts is a recipe for disaster when it comes to cars. DS have taken a different path from some of the ‘bigger’ brands in their market, and it’s admirable. Despite their obsession with class, technology and victory, they’ve seemed to achieve the impossible, ensuring that the customer experience is second to none. They take people personally. There’s no hierarchical nonsense among the culture, no rhetoric that has flooded the automobile market. What needs to be said is said, and what needs to be designed gets the investment needed. The truth is that there is no shortcut to excellence, and these guys understand this to the inch.
I’m not the sort of person that is attracted to the power in a car. I once famously looked for indicators on a go-kart. However, even a snowflake like me was bowled over by the gusto of the Crossback SUV. For once I was the shark in the water, and a beautifully safe shark at that. At petrol stations I received compliments for the car. Little did they know I was just reviewing, and I didn’t tell them. I just smiled and replied, “C’est bon.” But I was lying. It wasn’t good, it was phenomenal; I just didn’t know the French word for phenomenal.
It’s no wonder that President Macron chose a DS vehicle to usher him to his inauguration. If I had my way I’d choose one to take me everywhere. Ultimately, the DS team are a set of dreamers, workers, pioneers and players. From their Formula E racer to their road portfolio, it was a pleasure to be among such disruptors. I am convinced, in the very depth of my DNA, that the future of driving is bright, electric and French, and the DS team will be conducting the orchestra of tomorrow’s roads.
Reflecting the refinement of DS Automobiles, DS 7 Crossback features one of the most attractive finishing techniques used in luxury watchmaking: guillochage. Dating back to the 18th century, this technique is still used today to enhance the dial, casing or movement of a watch. The engraved motifs of intersecting or overlapping lines can be extremely varied. Guillochage demands artistic qualities as much as it does technical and mechanical skills. This exquisitely complex type of decorative feature is reserved for premium watches.
“For DS, hybrids are not only about performance and efficiency. They are also designed to optimise cabin space and boot capacity,” Eric Apode, VP, Products and Business Development told me. And this is certainly the case on DS 7 Crossback, with its unique, ingenious architecture: the automatic electric gearbox is positioned in a transverse layout. The battery, which powers the rear axle, is of compact dimensions and placed under the cabin. This layout means that the floor is virtually flat in row two: a key advantage in terms of space optimisation.
DS Connected Pilot: drive or be driven?
DS Connected Pilot makes it possible to delegate driving and also to take back control at any time. Taking another step towards autonomous driving, this system is more than just a driving aid: DS Connected Pilot provides maximum support at all times, taking over on the driver’s command.
This truly innovative system features Stop & Go Active Cruise Control, which adjusts vehicle speed accordingly to the car in front. This function acts on the steering to precisely position DS 7 Crossback in its road lane, respecting the driver’s choices and habits. Active at speeds of up to 112mph according to national speed limit legislation, it controls the vehicle’s speed and course for the driver. Particularly useful in traffic jams or on the motorway, this function contributes to safety, efficiency and peace of mind at the wheel of the DS 7 Crossback.
The on-board camera of DS Connected Pilot recognises broken and unbroken road markings. While driving, it continuously analyses the image of the road ahead to understand the vehicle’s situation. If DS 7 Crossback deviates from the road markings or accidentally crosses a white line, the system gently moves the wheel slightly in the opposite direction to keep it on course. If the driver wishes to maintain the vehicle’s trajectory, they can cancel the corrective manoeuvre by keeping a grip on the steering wheel, particularly if or when taking action to avoid a potential collision. The corrective manoeuvre is also interrupted if the indicators are activated. This function is activated from 18mph and is then operational up to 112mph. This ingenious system is also able to manage DS 7 Crossback in traffic jams: the car restarts automatically without driver action. Driving comfort is maintained, without pointless stress or unnecessary action.
Thierry Metroz says:
“At all stages of the design process, the guiding aim for DS 7 Crossback was to express refinement, excellence and the best know-how implemented to the highest standards. The result is there to see, with an ideally proportioned car brimming with personality. It’s a perfect alchemy of strength and style.”
DS X E-tense release date 2035:
The cockpit is accessed by an Elytre door that is trimmed with a carbon fibre/leather weave. Inevitably, the eyes are drawn to the pyramidal architecture of the single seat, which adapts perfectly to the driver’s build like the fitted seats seen in motor racing, while its reclined position helps to keep the car’s centre of gravity low. The steering wheel is an enticing combination of leather, wood and metal, and incorporates capacitive senses to monitor the driver’s efforts. The two-tone Millennium Blue and Navy Blue Aniline leather is finished with DS’s trademark pearl top-stitch pattern.
Located within the front wheels, the two motors selected as the source of the all-electric DS X E-Tense’s power provide unrivalled response. For road use, peak power stands at 400kW (540hp), a figure that rises to 1,000kW (1,360hp) in ‘circuit’ mode which allows the driver to savour the exquisite performance of the suspension engineered by DS Performance, the technical team behind DS’s Formula E programme. The carbon fibre chassis sits on innovative springs and torsion bars, while traction, grip and deceleration is controlled by an advanced active system conceived to optimise performance, whatever the type of road surface.
Thierry Metroz states: “We were given complete freedom to give shape our dreams and this creative process led us to imagine a two-faceted car, capable of delivering the best of two worlds: that of providing intense, unfettered driving enjoyment, with an abundance of power, and that of blending the art of living ‘à la française’ with autonomous motoring. In a way, DS X E-Tense comes across as a reinterpretation of the motorcycle sidecar, with a bold asymmetric stance, but on four wheels.”