DS Automobiles’ successes in the all-electric Formula E racing series are starting to show their worth.
Motorsport is considered the ultimate test bed for car manufacturers. With big budgets and competition against other teams promoting innovation and accelerated development, road cars often feature technology first seen on track.
And with the public more aware than ever of the dangers that traditional petrol and diesel engines can pose to air quality, every car manufacturer now has an electrified vehicle strategy.
That’s why the all-electric Formula E racing series is becoming increasingly popular – major manufacturers such as Porsche, Jaguar and Audi have all signed up recently. But one relatively low-volume car maker in France has already been making headlines in the sport.
DS Automobiles – the premium arm of PSA Group, which includes Citroen, Peugeot and Vauxhall – has been pretty successful since joining the Virgin Racing team in 2015. Brit Sam Bird steered his car to fourth in the final championship standings for the past two seasons, and the team has achieved 14 podiums so far in the sport.
The first fruits of this labour are starting to show – at the launch of the new DS 7 Crossback SUV, the car maker invited journalists to try its latest hybrid prototype version, slated for production in 2019, at the firm’s test track and Formula E headquarters just outside Paris.
As we walk across the freezing concrete towards the prototype, nothing on the outside hints that this is a work-in-progress model. However, once we open the door we’re greeted by two large, red ‘kill switches’ on the centre console, while a man who barely speaks any English sits in the back with a laptop, constantly analysing a Matrix-like feed of information.
We pull away in all-electric mode, and there’s not even the faintest hint of a whirring motor – the smooth silence strikes you immediately. There are two 80kW electric motors, one on each axle, which receive power from a 13kWh battery that’s fitted under the passenger seat so there’s no impact on luggage space.
In addition, there’s a 1.6-litre petrol engine under the bonnet, which combined with the motors results in a 300bhp output and a 0-60mph time of less than seven seconds.
DS Automobiles says that it has taken what it has learnt from Formula E to build powerful, efficient electric propulsion – and from our brief drive it’s clearly proved successful. The 31-mile electric-only range isn’t particularly revolutionary – it’s about right for hybrid models – but it’s the driving experience that’s most impressive. Smooth, quiet and responsive.
It helps that the firm has resisted the urge to use a continuously variable transmission, known as CVT, which is common on hybrids because it helps efficiency but returns an odd, elastic driving sensation.
Instead, there’s a more traditional eight-speed automatic. We were warned that it wasn’t properly calibrated yet, and there were a few instances where it got flummoxed when you really put your foot to the floor, but in ordinary driving it drew no attention to itself. A CVT would have irritated, even during our short stint.
It’s no surprise to see a manufacturer building hybrid models these days, but credit where it’s due – DS Automobiles appears to be on to a winner with its system.
If its motorsport success can be transformed into desirable low-emission vehicles that prove popular on the forecourt, the case for ‘green’ racing will become even more compelling.