As brand-DS’ pathfinder model becomes available to order, we find ourselves once again asking, what on earth is the distinctive series for?
Yesterday, Autocar reported that PSA’s new DS7 Crossback crossover is now available to order in the UK market, with RHD deliveries starting in early 2018. Pricing ranges from about £28,000 in entry-level Elegance trim to over £43,500 for the highest specification ‘Ultra Prestige’ model. That’s right up there with ‘Premium Luxury’ in the redundant nomenclature stakes wouldn’t you say? Isn’t ‘Prestige’ prestigious enough any more? One could be forgiven for imagining DS’ marketers have had rather a lot of time on their hands of late, so this does rather smack of a certain laziness on their part.
Be that as it may, what does the best part of £30k buy you if you skip down to your local DS dealer (what do you mean, there isn’t one near you?) and place your order? Well, for a start it buys you a vehicle underpinned by a version of PSA’s modular EMP2 platform and (one imagines) internal body structure shared by Peugeot’s 3008, Citroën’s forthcoming C5 Aircross and Opel’s newly introduced Bigland models. Engines too are shared PSA units – a 1.2 litre triple and a four cylinder 1.6 in two states of tune. For diesel lovers, a 1.6 and an ultra-frugal (their words, not mine) DVR 1.5 litre unit will be amongst the boxes awaiting one’s tick.
Chassis-wise, the DS7 offers few surprises, apart from the option (available as standard on the £42,650 LaPremière launch model) of the ‘Active Scan’ suspension system. In a similar manner to that of Mercedes, this utilises a front-mounted camera to scan the road surface, while the car’s ‘brain’ electronically pre-sets the damper stiffness in anticipation of road disturbances.
Now while this does sound a good deal more elaborate than the novel damping system to be employed by Citroën throughout their range, not only will it be interesting to compare the two approaches in practice, but equally tempting to speculate as to which (analogue or electronic) will prove more durable in service. However, anyone looking for all-wheel drive capability will have to seek alternative council. The DS7 will, until 2019 at least, be front-drive only. Come now, you really weren’t considering taking your sliver of finely crafted French auto-couture through some muddy outfield, were you?
Styling is, well, lets be charitable and simply say derivative. A pinch of Infiniti, several heaped tablespoons of Audi, it is both everything and nothing. Having said that, it’s probably pitched pretty much spot on within the market’s centre of gravity. Nothing to scare the horses, but enough tinsel and trinkets to make every day feel like Christmas at Iceland. (Or another frozen food retailer of your choice).
All of this arrives on the back of a recent piece in Automotive News, where they pondered the relative trajectories for PSA’s new four-brand structure. Five if you count Vauxhall. (I don’t) With both Peugeot and Opel/Vauxhall aimed at similar sectors – (the upper end of what PSA describe as the generalist section of the market) and Citroën occupying a less clarified ‘people minded’ value for money segment – (is there really such a thing Linda?) – ANE’s Peter Sigal argues (not entirely convincingly I’d suggest) that the double chevron appears to be the PSA brand at most risk of becoming redundant.
Of Carlos Tavares’ marque cache, Opel/Vauxhall are the top performing by sales, followed by Peugeot, with Citroën a more distant third. However, while both French brands have gained volume through 2017, the former GM duo have lost share in a rising market. DS on the other hand languish firmly in the doldrums with registrations of a mere 31,052 cars in the year to August. According to ANE, September added another 4,683 to that total. So even with a very favourable wind behind it, DS automobiles look likely to top out 2017 with sales of around 50,000 cars in Europe, which pales into relative insignificance within the bigger PSA picture.
With chronic overcapacity and an epidemic of pre-registrations artificially bulking up sales figures, the picture is a good deal less cut and dried across the three (and a bit) generalist PSA brands, so while brand-DS could theoretically gain margins three times that of the cooking PSA brands, they still have to do the numbers, an area where the current range has failed rather dismally.
“Shaping New Horizons” is how DS currently defines itself in its TV advertising. It doesn’t say much does it? Neither, if we’re honest does brand-DS itself. While market analysts suggest Citroën’s current positioning is ill-defined and ‘misunderstood’, if anything within the PSA portfolio truly lacks definition, it’s the distinctive series. But moreover, it’s a needless distraction from the bigger issues facing Tavares’ new auto empire.
I imagine the DS7 is likely to find a (minor) niche within the market, similar to that of Alfa Romeo or similar, although I suspect it will largely prove to be amongst those with little knowledge or interest in automobiles. But is a minor niche enough? It just isn’t, is it?