- Two style-led compact crossovers go head-to-head
- Are they worthy alternatives to family hatchbacks?
- Can you have style and substance?
Your eyes aren’t fooling you. The DS 3 is no longer a three-door supermini that’s all about the style, competing for sales with the MINI Hatch and Audi A1. It’s become a fashionable compact crossover as far more people are buying any form of SUV over more traditional hatchbacks – especially three-door ones with premium aspirations.
The DS is still aiming for the higher-end of the market and with its new Crossback bodystyle it takes on the Audi Q2, Mazda CX-3 and Volkswagen T-Roc, the latter of which we’ve lined it up against for this test.
Both come with eye-catching styling (only applicable to the T-Roc if you spec a vibrant colour with matching wheels and interior), a wide range of engine options and that ever-so-desirable high (ish) ride.
But which of these two dinky SUVs should you choose? Read on to find out…
What are the model ranges like?
Buyers have a choice of four engines in the Crossback – three petrols and a diesel. The sole diesel option is a 1.5-litre BlueHDi unit with 100hp, while the PureTech petrol range is made up of 100hp, 130hp and 155hp options. Both 100hp engines come with a manual gearbox, while the PureTech 130 and 155 engines come with an eight-speed automatic transmission.
In terms of trim levels, the DS 3 comes in Elegance, Performance Line, Prestige and Ultra Prestige trims, while an exclusive La Premiere Limited Edition tops the range – at least at the car’s launch.
The T-Roc range offers a similarly extensive selection of engines, kicking off with a 115hp 1.0-litre TSI petrol. Moving up the petrol range there’s a 150hp 1.5-litre TSI Evo unit and a 2.0-litre TSI with 190hp and 4Motion all-wheel drive. If you prefer a diesel, there’s a 115hp 1.6-litre TDI, with a 2.0-litre TDI with 150hp available if you need a bit more shove.
There’s a familiar selection of VW trims to choose from, ranging from S, SE, Design, SEL and R-Line.
What are they like inside?
These two cars couldn’t be more different inside. DS has gone to town on the 3 Crossback’s interior, with almost every surface designed to within an inch of its life. Initial impressions can feel a little intimidating – there’s a lot of different surfaces and shapes going on, but it doesn’t take long behind the wheel to familiarise yourself with where everything is. It’s just a more stylised version of any other Peugeot or Citroen interior. And with models like the Performance Line coming swathed in soft Alcantara, it certainly feels as premium as DS is aiming it to be.
Some may find it quite dark inside though – and it feels a lot more cocooning than the T-Roc, which has a greater sense of space. However, there’s little to complain about the driving position, and the digital instrument cluster adds plenty of interest, and feels in keeping with the modern interior.
The T-Roc has a very different vibe inside. Go for a regular model and it’s essentially what you’ll find in the smaller Polo supermini. That means it’s all very restrained and solid, with little design flair, but excellent ergonomics.
You can just get in and use everything with ease, like any VW. Spec an optional interior pack, however, and you can lift the interior with some very vivid colours across the dashboard, the centre console and door cards. You’ll need to be quite brave to go for some of these options, and we’re not sure it suits VW’s image. Quality isn’t significantly better than the DS, either.
The infotainment system is simpler to use however, and the separate air-con controls just make life easier, where in the DS you have to operate all of that via the touchscreen, which can be slow to respond and just isn’t as clearly marked with menus.
What are they like to drive?
Both are good cars to drive, with a focus more on comfort than anything else. That’s certainly no bad thing, as most crossover buyers will want something easy to drive – not anything with an overly firm ride like a sports car.
The DS 3 Crossback impresses here with a floaty ride when fitted with smaller alloy wheels. There’s quite a bit of bodyroll when you go through a corner, and the light steering can make it feel a little vague, but the combination of exceedingly comfortable seats and soft suspension make it really rather pleasant. The driving position is spot on, too. We have noticed that the whole car can shift about over big bumps in the road, though.
The T-Roc feels similarly comfy, but with slightly better body control – it doesn’t feel like it tips as you go into a corner, and there’s a bit more feedback through the steering wheel – you have to put a bit more effort in and there’s more definition between the driving modes available to you. The ride is a little firmer but by no means uncomfortable, and is just a bit more composed overall than the DS 3.
Are they practical?
The differences between the two cars are more clear cut when it comes to practicality. The T-Roc has greater interior space than the DS 3, with two adults able to comfortably fit in the rear without feeling hemmed in. Jump in the back of the DS 3 and there’s more restricted access due to smaller doors, far smaller windows and darker headlining across more of the range, so it feels more claustrophobic.
It's also a lot more difficult to fit a child seat in the back of the DS 3, with far smaller doors to manoeuvre into place, and less room in the back overall for the kids to swing their feet around.
It’s similar in the boot, with the T-Roc’s 445-litre load space trumping the DS 3’s 350-litre boot. Access is easier, there’s a moveable boot floor and almost 100 more litres of volume to take advantage of.
There’s also more storage in the front of the T-Roc for odds and ends, and visibility is superior all-round, too. Small niggles in the DS 3 like awkwardly placed door handles take a little getting used to, and you have to open the boot by pushing a button located by the number plate, which can easily attract plenty of muck and dirt.
How much do they cost to run?
The two aren’t far removed from each other here. The best T-Roc for running costs is the 1.6 TDI with a claimed 51.4mpg, however if you’re not doing big miles this isn’t really worth it. The 2.0-litre TDI also claims around 50mpg and is a better option for longer distances, but even the 1.0-litre TSI averages a claimed 44.1mpg, while the 1.5 is capable of 42.2mpg.
For the DS, the claimed figures are more impressive. The star of the range is the BlueHDi 100, claiming up to 62.7mpg. But even the petrols are surprisingly frugal (at least on paper), with the PureTech 100 capable of up to 52mpg according to DS. The more power you get, the less economical it becomes, with the PureTech 155 claiming up to 46.6mpg.
The Parkers Verdict
These two crossovers are both worthy of recommendation. If you want something a little different with kerb appeal and an interesting interior, the DS 3 Crossback is well worth a look. Once you get used to the interior layout, it’s a very pleasant place to be inside, it’s very comfortable and – for the most part – feels like a premium product.
However, it falls apart when it comes to practicality. The rear is more of a squeeze than the T-Roc, and the boot falls way short of the VW’s spacious load area. It’s also very expensive in higher-spec trims, meaning the VW represents far greater value. We’d exercise caution when speccing a T-Roc – avoid the jazzy colours for the interior trim and wheels unless you absolutely must have them.
The T-Roc is just more rounded than the DS 3, so it takes the spoils in this test.