DS3 Crossback Review

Pythagoras would have absolutely loved the DS3 Crossback.

Nearly every surface, both inside and out, is littered with triangles and geometric shapes.  They dictate the design of everything from the switchgear to the headlights, culminating in a weird upward kink to the rear window line that worked on the old DS3, but seems oddly out of place here.

That, as it turns out, is actually quite a good metaphor for this car.  Form following function is a totally alien concept to DS, Citroen’s ‘avantgarde’ spin-off brand.  All considerations take a back seat to the pursuit of what DS calls “distinctive sculptural styling.”

Whether that works for you is, of course, entirely a matter of personal taste, but there are certainly some elements I found to be strangely appealing: the squidgy trim across the top of the dashboard and doors, for example, or the watch-strap seats.

The digital instrument cluster is keen to show off its own swoopy-swishy geometric animations that would probably send our ancient Grecian friend into raptures of joy, and although the screen itself seems a little small at first, it offers everything you’re likely to need.

The 10-inch touch-screen carries a matching theme, and is presided over by a series of touch-sensitive buttons arranged beneath it.  It all works well enough, despite being occasionally sluggish and reluctant, but falls into the perennial trap of forcing you to use the touch-screen to adjust the temperature.

DS makes much of what they call their attention to detail, but ironically that’s where the DS3 falls down the most.

The interior door furniture, for instance, is all in the wrong place; I was forever using the top of the door bin to close the door, while not one single passenger could find the door handle when trying to get out.  The handle’s not illuminated, either, so it’s impossible at night, while the top of the door bin constantly cut into my leg when driving.

The engine start button (a rhombus, for variety) has to be held in for ages for the engine to start; the column stalks can’t be seen from the driving position, nor can the controls for the mirrors or the terminally annoying lane departure assist; it took me three days to find the trip computer; the glovebox on right-hand-drive models isn’t big enough even for gloves; there’s no start/stop disable button; those retracting exterior door handles twice nearly closed on someone’s fingers.  This, I fear, is a list that could go on forever.

Some of these are things I dare say one could get used to, and there’s perhaps an argument to be made that that’s worth the effort: in a world of identikit SUVs, it’s about time we had the choice of something a little bit different.

Added to which, the DS3 is actually a decent drive.

The 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine is quiet and refined, the ride is soft and comfortable in a typically Gallic way, and outside noises are all kept well at bay.  That’s all most people need from a compact SUV these days.

Predictably, though, there are problems.  And the eight-speed automatic gearbox is responsible for most of them.

It’s the only box on offer for all but the 100hp engines, and although it swaps smoothly from one ratio to the next when bumbling around town, it’s easily confused by any other scenario.

Use the steering wheel-mounted paddles to downshift to gain engine braking for a hill descent, and after a few seconds the gearbox will get bored and shift back into top gear, leaving you picking up speed towards the car in front.  Planting your foot in the carpet to kickdown for an overtake will see the ‘box fool you by enthusiastically shifting down a cog or two, only to cruelly snatch it from you just as you pull out.  And twice I found myself coasting backwards down an incline towards an expensive insurance claim because of the DS3’s reluctance to co-ordinate a stop/start system, a gearbox, and an electronic parking brake.

That stop/start system is far too keen to shut down the engine, too, making a quick getaway at a busy junction almost impossible without delving into the touch-screen’s menus to disable it.

This, then, was a car I really wanted to like, and still has a lot going for it.

But at the best part of thirty grand, you’d have to really like triangles to buy one.

Tester’s Notes

Entry-level Price£22,120Price as tested£29,270
Engine1199cc 3-cyl petrol turboTransmission8-speed auto
Power131hp @ 5,500rpmTorque230Nm @ 1,750rpm
0-609.2 secsTop speed124 mph
Economy47.1 – 42.2 mpgCO2109 – 117 g/km
Dimensions4118 x 1802 x 1534 (LxWxH)Kerb Weight1205 kg