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DS 7 Sportback review: What the French know that you don't
THE French have an embarrassing secret. Actually, they probably have lots of them, but pertaining to the car industry, they have one that must be particularly galling: over there, the wealthy buy German cars. But that was before the DS 7 Crossback came along.
This is very likely the best luxury car you've never heard of. It's better equipped than just about anything at its price level, and is better to drive than, say, the BMW X1, Lexus NX or Volvo XC40, to name some of the posh sport utility vehicles (SUVs) that habitually steal its lunch.
You can buy three versions at the moment, and price-wise this is the middle of them: the DS 7 Crossback Puretech 180 Grand Chic, to use its full, rather patrician-sounding name.
It costs S$173,999 with Certificate Of Entitlement, but also with all sorts of premium stuff inside. Go ahead and name a luxury feature, and the DS7 is likely to have it.
Rear seats that recline? Oui. Cameras that scan the road ahead for bumps so the suspension can adapt itself to them? You bet. Massage chairs? Yes, and they're good enough that after sitting in one, my wife cast a rather meaningful eye at me and said it's a good thing for my sake that I still do the dishes.
If your own car has any of those, it's quite possible you paid twice as much for it than the DS 7's price. Even the most spendy model, the Puretech 225 (the number tells you how many horsepower it has), sneaks under the 200 grand mark, at S$195,999.
Of course, features like those would mean little in a luxury car if the car itself didn't feel, well, luxurious. In that respect, the DS 7 does a perfectly credible job.
It has the big grille, slim lamps and sinewy body that car buyers find so appealing these days, but takes things a step further with little touches like jewel-like headlamps whose LEDs do a little welcome dance when you unlock the doors.
Inside, a little timepiece rises from the dash when you jab the button that fires up the car. (It says "BRM" on it because that is the name of the watch manufacturer who designed it, and not because the engine goes "Brm! Brm!" when revved.)
Words like "atelier" and "couture" spring to mind when you slide yourself into the DS 7's cabin. I have no idea what they actually mean, but if they have anything to do with French craftsmanship and flair for design, then they apply here.
In contrast to the business-like minimalism that pervades German car interiors, the DS 7 has plenty going on in terms of textures and motifs. Diamonds are a recurring theme, so patterns that incorporate them are everywhere. Neat stitching for the leather that covers much of the cabin gives quite a handmade feel, too.
Mind you, departing from the hegemony of German luxury cars means that things inside the DS 7 can get a bit befuddling, especially when it comes to diving into the menus of the 12-inch touchscreen infotainment system. I never did figure out how to silence the navigation system, and the virtual instruments can apparently be tailored to your preferences, but doing so is probably my generation's "how do you program this damn VCR?" moment.
Thankfully, nothing mysterious lurks behind the actual driving experience on offer. The DS 7 has a small engine, but one that's enhanced by turbocharging, so it's a bit coy to start with but comes on strong once the revs build up.
It's surprisingly surefooted through bends, too, especially since it actually feels quite softly sprung. That might be the fancy suspension at work, as the DS 7 feels like it squishes down minor imperfections on the road, though it's still affected by major ones.
A tall car that rides as comfortably as this can sometimes end up handling like a pink blancmange but here, the steering feedback, traction and cornering grip are all a notch above satisfactory, which is more than can be said for the DS 7's aforementioned rivals.
Yet, what will count more with buyers is the lounge-like atmosphere in the cabin, the generous rear seating space, the large boot and so on.
Of course, the obvious downside to buying the best luxury car you've never heard of is that your friends have never heard of it, either.
But, leaving aside the folly of making a large purchase based on what other people think, there is hope for DS Automobiles yet. Within its segment, the DS 7 Crossback was actually France's best-selling car last year. Your pals might be in the dark, but at least the French have caught on.
DS 7 Crossback Puretech 180 Grand Chic
Engine 1,598cc, turbocharged in-line four
Power 180hp at 5500rpm
Torque 250Nm at 1650rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
0-100km/h 9.6 seconds
Top Speed 220km/h
Fuel Efficiency 5.9L/100km
Agent Cycle & Carriage France
Price S$173,999 with COE