New DS 3 Crossback E-Tense prototype review

The fully electric DS 3 Crossback E-Tense arrives in the UK later this year, and we’ve tested a prototype model

We hardly need to point out the demand for small electric SUVs; Kia and Hyundai have already done that with their spectacularly successful Kona Electric and e-Niro. Well, here’s something a bit different to compete with them: the DS 3 Crossback E-Tense.

Complete with a 50kWh lithium-ion battery pack that gives this small, front-wheel drive soft-roader a range of 200 miles (on WLTP), the DS 3 Crossback is set to become the first premium offering in the pure-electric compact SUV market, offering an all-electric alternative to the likes of the MINI Countryman PHEV.

Charging is done via the CCS port on the car’s rear passenger-side, which is compatible with the vast majority of public fast chargers. This is quickly becoming the standard charging socket, so this – and the standard Type 2 and three-pin cables supplied with the E-Tense – will allow you to plug into your normal domestic socket, a home wallbox charger if you choose to have one installed, as well as the vast majority of public chargers.

The three-pin cable - the slowest charging method - will trickle power out of a normal socket at home, but it’ll take at least 16 hours; probably more like 20 hours for an 80% charge. The fastest charge the E-Tense offers is a 100kW rapid charge, which’ll do the same 80% top-up in 30 minutes. The more common 50kW rapid chargers will take around an hour.

A 7kW home charger will do the vast majority of the charging for most E-Tense buyers, with a full charge taking around 8 hours. DS is very keen to push home its confidence in the battery pack, too. The E-Tense comes with liquid-cooled batteries to prevent them getting too hot during rapid charging – a key factor known to affect a battery’s longevity.

The batteries can also be pre-heated if you set a select charging time (via the dedicated App that’ll be offered), which helps with charging time and battery preservation. More importantly, there’s an eight-year, 100,000-mile battery warranty that means DS will replace the batteries if they drop below 70% of the as-new performance in that period.

We had a quick spin in an E-Tense prototype around some scruffy mountain roads, and found it very easy to drive. There are two levels of brake regeneration – normally you barely feel it at all, or with a tug of the gear-lever you can step up to a stronger regeneration level. However, both are progressive and easy to predict as you come off the throttle and let the car harvest the braking energy.

Brake pedal feel at slower speeds is a little hard to judge for smooth stopping, but otherwise the electric powertrain delivers power smoothly, and the extra weight doesn’t seem to have harmed the DS 3 Crossback’s cushy ride comfort. It’s a bit choppy over low-speed bumps and ruts, but otherwise it’s a composed, quiet vehicle. The bespoke rear axle and suspension that the E-Tense gets over the petrol and diesel DS 3 Crossback alternatives is very effective, managing the circa 250kg weight of the battery pack.

Overall, it’s a nice balance of punchy low-speed acceleration and keen but tidy handling that will make light work of winding through town. Exactly what an urban SUV should be, then.

Practicality isn’t high on the DS 3 Crossback’s priorities. Small SUV it might be, but this is more of a high-set city hatchback, than an actual family SUV. Space in the rear seats is okay for two shorter adults: there’s almost the same as the standard petrol or diesel DS 3 Crossback, but you lose a bit of foot room to the raised floor. Otherwise headroom is acceptable, but most adults will feel a bit hemmed in after a while.

A 350-litre boot is a fair size for normal use, but bear in mind that that’s barely any better than you get in a Volkswagen e-Golf. The e-Golf’s space is actually more usable as it doesn’t suffer from the DS’ high boot lip, or folding seats that leave a huge step in the boot floor.

The E-Tense will be offered in a variety of trims, but even the cheapest car will come with a touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, air-con, reversing sensors, auto lights, lane-keep assist and traffic recognition. Most buyers will go for one of the higher spec trims that include a bigger touchscreen with sat nav, leather, climate control and more.

The driver gets an impressively striking space, with large diamond shapes everywhere from the speakers to the metal-look switches in the car’s central spine. Some of the plastics disappoint, and even some key touchpoints like the Start-Stop button feel a bit brittle and cheap. Still, the general feeling is one of a high-class interior, albeit with a fairly fussy dash layout that takes some getting used to.

UK pricing runs from £33,850 for the entry-level Performance LINE version, to £35,850 for the mid-range Prestige and £38,850 for the range-topping Ultra Prestige – with all figures inclusive of the government's plug-in car grant.

The DS 3 E-Tense doesn’t actually have any direct rivals yet, and on top of that it’s great to drive and smart to look at. It could well be the first DS model since the company became its own upmarket brand in 2015 to really register with the buying public.