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A French revolution in luxury
COFFEE freaks say a French press is the best method for brewing a killer cup of coffee.
It is, but only if you're not the one cleaning it, which is why mine doesn't get used as nearly much as a drip filter.
French cars are a little similar. They deliver big in many ways, but often have notable quirks that an owner has to put up with, ranging from imprecise driving dynamics, or just totally illogical design choices.
That might be why the idea of a French luxury car, VW-owned Bugatti aside, simply hasn't been taken seriously until now.
Can this one, the DS 7 Crossback, change all that?
Under French carmaker Citroën, DS cars have been around since 2009, before the division was spun off into its own sub-brand DS Automobiles in 2015.
The DS premise involves serving up an opulent motoring experience with Gallic flavour, in contrast to its Citroëns. In other words, DS Automobiles is to parent brand Citroën what Lexus is to Toyota.
Previous DS models had snazzy styling and tonnes of interior flair, but their Citroën roots were always quite obvious, and arguably the brand has never quite delivered a convincingly upper-crust motoring experience.
Maybe that's why the brand has gone big with the DS 7 Crossback. It's the largest DS car to date, and it cashes in on big-car fashion trends: it's a mid-sized sport utility vehicle (SUV) around the same size as a Toyota Harrier, is clad in lurid "Curcuma" mustard-yellow metallic paint, and has a colossal front grille.
It makes for an impressive facade, but the wary punter knows that French cars have come with design quirks that are great to look at but not so practical to use in real life.
Upon closer inspection, the impressive facade doesn't crumble. The DS 7's intricately-designed head and taillight units offer plenty for the eye to enjoy, and in more ways than one, too: the headlights do a little welcome dance when you unlock the vehicle, but as active LED units, they also provide extensive, clear illumination at night.
A luxury car's cabin these days means dark materials, an enveloping feeling, and plenty of high-tech displays. The DS 7's is spot on with its menagerie of leather, suede, soft-touch plastics, and dark or satin chrome for the buttons. It's all properly luxurious to look at and to touch.
A large 12.0-inch touchscreen infotainment display spans the centre console, and it has pretty much everything a modern infotainment system should have, from navigation, to Bluetooth connectivity, to smartphone integration (Apple CarPlay and Android Auto). You can even customise your preferences through individual profiles for different drivers.
There's design flair inside too, in the sense that the cabin almost looks like the inside of a diamond factory explosion. As a motif, the diamond shape is everywhere - it's on the buttons, the speaker grilles, the infotainment system's animations and wallpaper - and that goes some way to upholding the idea that the DS 7 has been made with more than simple transport in mind.
DS even emphasises its French origins here, with a 14-speaker sound system by audio experts Focal Audio, and a BRM-branded timepiece that pops up when you press the start button.
There's a smile-inducing amount of comfort features too, including ventilated massage front seats, electrically-adjustable rear seats, wireless device charging, an automatic tailgate, and more.
For previous French cars, this is about where the lofty heights start to falter, but the DS 7 maintains its form in almost all other aspects of cardom.
The turbocharged 1.6-litre engine has plenty of power, with 225hp to play with, and nothing but smooth unobtrusiveness from the eight-speed automatic gearbox.
We found the car surprisingly agile, too. It feels nowhere near as large to drive as its looks and stance suggest. With plenty of space for four and a large 555-litre boot, long trips North will be made easier because the cabin's relatively quiet, and if you tire easily behind the wheel, adaptive cruise control and steering assist help take some of the load off, while an attention-detection system makes sure you don't get too dozy either.
It almost seems DS has thought of everything, really. The DS 7 isn't a car without drawbacks, but they're acceptably small in the big scheme of things, and especially for the S$185,999 it costs to buy one.
The almost comically-huge 20-inch wheels detract from steering precision a little, and impart a busy ride quality, despite the camera-assisted 'Active Scan' adaptive suspension system.
The large infotainment screen isn't quite as razor-sharp or lag-free as say, a BMW's, and there are still one or two things that don't quite make sense - the power and turbo boost display shows no metrics unless you're in Sport mode, for instance.
The DS 7 isn't quite neck and neck with German luxury brands, but it doesn't need to be. It's priced where it needs to be, only slightly more than mainstream SUVs like the Toyota Harrier but still far below, say, an Audi Q5.
The main question is whether anyone needs a new luxury brand, or whether having one around would be as desirable as having, say, a self-cleaning French press for coffee.
But the DS 7 Crossback is a big step forward for its brand, and potentially a giant step towards bringing the taste of French luxury to a much-wider audience.
DS 7 Crossback Opera Puretech 225
Engine 1,598cc, inline 4, turbocharged
Power 225hp at 5500rpm
Torque 300Nm at 2750rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
Top speed 8.9 seconds
Fuel efficiency 5.9L/100km
VES band C1
Agent Cycle & Carriage
Price S$185,999 with COE