Engineering by nature: DS Automobiles and Chihuly at Kew
Image credit: Jonathan Wilson
Cars and art come together in the Royal Botanic Gardens.
If you are a long-established car marque, with a distinguished history and at least one iconic car model to your name, how would you launch both the latest models in your new range alongside your all-new electric powertrain?
If you are DS Automobiles, the French automaker whose stated design raison d'etre is to 'embody the spirit of avant-garde and a sense of luxury savoir-faire', where better to launch your new environmentally friendly engine than at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew - the world-famous centre for botanical and mycological knowledge and a key curator of Earth's biodiversity in flora.
Embodying its artistic spirit, and also to underscore its new E-Tense 'haute couture electric' engine's eco credentials, DS has gone one stage further and is sponsoring the Royal Botanic Gardens' site-wide exhibition of glass sculptures and installations by contemporary American artist Dale Chihuly, which sees Chihuly's giant glass artworks appearing throughout the garden grounds, including inside the Temperate House, the world's largest Victorian glasshouse.
The 'Chihuly at Kew: Reflections on Nature' exhibition opened in mid-April 2019 on a beautiful sunny day - perfect weather both for touring the site and for DS to unveil its latest model, the DS 3 Crossback - and runs until 27 October 2019.
As a modern auto brand, DS Automobiles was launched in 2015, although its heritage and 'spirit of avant garde' approach to motoring derives from the classic, elegant, exquisitely French, Citroen DS executive car which debuted at the Paris Motor Show in October 1955 - breaking show sales records in the process - and is still regularly hailed as one of the most beautiful cars ever produced.
In more modern times, DS as a marque has been a part of the 'Groupe PSA', the second-largest vehicle manufacturer in Europe (after VAG, home of Volkswagen, Audi, Skoda and Seat). PSA encompasses Peugeot, Citroën, DS, Opel and Vauxhall. The Citroën DS3 was the first model in the resurrected DS line, launched in 2010 by Citroën.
In June 2014, DS Automobiles launched as an automotive company in its own right, unveiling its first car - the DS 5 - at the Geneva Motor Show in 2015. Now, DS Automobiles is stepping out further from under the Citroën umbrella. DS cars will solely be available from what the company is calling its exclusive 'boutique-style' DS Stores and DS Salons, located in cities around the world and offering prospective customers a bespoke service when choosing a new car.
The personalised touch, delivered with Gallic style and a certain je ne sais quoi, is what DS hopes will differentiate the Salon car-buying experience from its competitors. The upscale presentation and focus on individual customer's needs and desires is an approach explored by other automakers, such as Ford with its Vignale badging - the more luxuriously appointed top-of-the-range versions of its core car models.
As of now, the DS offering primarily consists of two cars: the DS 7 Crossback, a 'premium SUV' launched in 2018, now joined by the DS 3 Crossback, a 'premium compact SUV' launched at the Paris International Motor Show (much like its historic Citroen predecessor) and available to buy in either petrol or diesel form from May 2019. The fully electric E-Tense versions of DS cars will start to arrive in late 2019.
The company plans to launch one new car per year, all built at its Poissy production site. Originally founded in 1938, PSA invested 150 million euros to create three new workshops dedicated to the new DS vehicles - body shop, paint and assembly - populated by specially trained teams of workers.
Built on Groupe PSA's new 'Common Modular Platform (CMP), the DS 3 Crossback is a five-door compact SUV, 4.12m in length and fitted with large 18" wheels.
Engine options range from a PureTech 100hp three-cylinder petrol unit with a six-speed manual gearbox, to PureTech 130 or 155hp engines paired with an eight-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission. Diesel options are similar, with four-cylinder BlueHDi 100 and 130 engines. All DS 3 Crossback engines are turbocharged.
Four engines, 10 wheel themes, 10 body colours and three roof colours offer broad personalisation options to prospective customers, with all models exhibiting DS' avant-garde approach to body styling and fixtures, such as the signature pearl-like vertical LEDs for the daytime running lights and 'DS Matrix LED Vision' tapered headlights.
"Viewed from the side or the rear, DS 3 Crossback is a vehicle of perfect proportions with its large wheels, well-proportioned length and strong on-road stance. From first glance, you can see it is unlike other cars. Simple, structural lines expressing performance and strength, enhanced by a bewitching light signature," said Thierry Metroz, DS Design Director.
The DS 3 also introduces some new 'quirky' touches, such as the exclusive flush-fitting door handles which fold themselves into the body of the car and only unfold once the keyholder is within 1.5m of the car. As you approach, the handles slide out and the car unlocks, reversing this process as you drive away. It's a cute trick and while hardly essential, it is uniquely charming nonetheless. Similarly, the fully digital instrument cluster adds to the high-tech look and feel inside the car.
Within the range of model variants, there are rising levels of tech spec and fittings, named after areas of Paris: Montmartre, Bastille, Rivoli, Opera, plus a sporty Performance model and a fully tricked-out launch model, La Premiere, which has the best of everything inside and out (with a £34,000 price tag to match).
"With this SUV, we want to stay clearly in the premium segment," said Pascal Beziat, director of the DS Crossback project. "This means that from the design phase we focused on a number of key points that we wanted to see separated from general models. This is why the passenger compartment, in terms of equipment and finish, looks more like what we would find in a higher segment model."
As it turned out, it was a La Premiere model DS 3 Crossback which E&T test drove for a few hours around the home counties' countryside, following a predetermined sat-nav route set for us by DS. We very much enjoyed the driving experience, in both urban and rural environments, and the in-cabin styling and luxe appointments of this particular model - with a plethora of soft Nappa burgundy leather on tactile display, along with all the desirable creature comforts fitted as standard to the car - absoutely made it a very pleasant place to spend a few hours. "A chic and comfortable living space", as DS describes it.
Electrification is the justification for DS Automobiles' partnership with Kew Gardens for the Chihuly sculpture exhibition. DS used the launch event of the DS 3 Crossback to also reveal its plans for its 'haute couture electric' drivetrain, to be fitted in what will be badged as its 'E-Tense' models, scheduled for commercial release later this year.
The DS 3 Crossback E-Tense will be the first all-electric vehicle designed in full by Groupe PSA and the company claims that the car will also be the first premium compact SUV BEV (battery electric vehicle) with a possible range of 200 miles. The DS 7 Crossback E-Tense 4x4, following shortly after, will be the first premium SUV PHEV with a 31-mile zero emissions range combined with 300hp and four-wheel drive.
The electric drivetrain of the DS 3 Crossback E-Tense will be a 100kW (136hp) electric motor with 260Nm of torque, linked to a 50kWh lithium-ion battery (fitted under the floor) and a system for recovering energy during deceleration and braking. The potential range is between 200 and 267 miles, depending on drive cycle. Being an electric engine, acceleration 0-30mph should be possible in approximately 3.3 seconds.
"DS Automobiles is where luxury and advanced technology come together. In 2019, we are launching E-Tense and we have two models which represent world premieres in their respective segments," said Yves Bonnefont, CEO, DS Automobiles. "E-Tense unites the demands of the energy transition and the pleasure of the car for independent mobility. We have chosen to completely electrify our range.
"From this year on, each of our models will be offered with an E-Tense, BEV or PHEV version which uses energy in the most efficient way, supplemented by regenerating energy during deceleration. DS 3 Crossback E-Tense and DS 7 Crossback E-Tense 4x4 are the realisation of our electrification strategy with no compromise in space, while unparalleled in style and comfort."
Unparalleled in style could fairly describe the glass sculptural work of Dale Chihuly, many gigantic, luminous examples of which are dotted around the Kew Gardens estate and hidden amongst the plants in the Temperate House.
The organic forms and rich colours of the sculptures weave amongst the Garden's live inhabitants as if planted there, often virtually indescernible from the real thing, while other artworks stand alone in the landscape in a striking evocation of the natural world.
The exhibition is only Chihuly's second in the UK in the course of his 50-year career, so represents a rare opportunity to engage with his work in a more relaxed, playful sense outside (literally) the walls of a museum or art gallery.
DS Automobiles also has a presence on site for the duration of the exhibibiton, in light of its sponsorship, so beyond the eternal beauty and wonder of the Royal Botanic Gardens themselves, glass sculptures and electric cars offer additional attractions for much of 2019.
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