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Driven: DS 5 BlueHDi 150. Image by DS.

Driven: DS 5 BlueHDi 150
The newest French 'brand', DS, offers the 5 as its range-topper.

 



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DS 5 BlueHDi 150

3 3 3 3 3

Good points: stylish looks, attractive and high quality cabin, high levels of drivetrain refinement.

Not so good: poor ride, unusual specification gaps, does it feel different enough to a Citroen?

Key Facts

Model tested: DS 5 '1955 Special Edition' BlueHDi 150 S&S manual
Price: DS 5 range starts from £25,980; car as tested £30,200
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: five-door hatchback
CO2 emissions: 105/km (Band B, £0 VED first 12 months, £20 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 68.9mpg
Top speed: 127mph
0-62mph: 10.6 seconds
Power: 150hp at 4,000rpm
Torque: 370Nm at 1,500- to 2,000rpm

Our view:

We are now supposed to accept that the DS 5 is no longer a Citroen. No, we know - it looks exactly the same as the Citroen DS 5, minus the double chevrons on its nose and the deletion of the Citroen badge at the back, but there you are. This is from the brand DS, model name 5. And it's the new marque's range-topper.

But what does DS aim to offer over and above a Citroen? That's the crux of this venture. And it leaves us with a dilemma. At the time of the split of DS from Citroen, the overarching French marque didn't really have a sporty image to speak of. And, to some extent, it never has. OK, there are odd exceptions to the rule - the DS3 Racing (with chevrons, of course), the Saxo VTS and the... the... er, the CX Turbo 2 - and a truly legendary WRC heritage (thanks, mainly, to Sebastien Loeb), but in truth Citroen is an innovator and maker of cars with sumptuous ride quality, rather than road rockets. Leave that sort of nonsense to Peugeot, eh?

So there are two gaps in the parent brand's line-up that DS could plug: it could choose to be really sporty and go after, say, BMW; or it could ramp up the luxury levels even further and provide a Gallic alternative to Mercedes-Benz. The message to DS is therefore clearly 'pick one or the other, stick to your guns and see what happens'. Our problem here is that we think it has tried to go for both and ended up stuck between two stools.

Don't get us wrong, there's a lot to like about the DS 5, not least its aesthetic. In simplified terms, it could be dismissed as merely a big hatchback... and it is, of course, but that's to do its chunky styling a disservice. It's more than 4.5 metres long with a 2,727mm wheelbase, yet it's the width that marks it out, as at 2,128mm from door mirror tip to door mirror tip the 5 is a proper fat boy. But as it's all in proportion, it works. The interior is great too, with tasteful switchgear and DS-embossed Criollo semi-aniline leather with a 'watchstrap' pattern. OK, if you've driven a lot of modern Citroens, this stuff will all feel familiar but the digital displays are all perfectly crisply rendered and seen in isolation, the whole cabin looks worth the £30,000-plus entry fee. It's illuminated by light streaming in through three glass panels in the roof - two single items in the front and a wider one at the rear, and despite none of them opening, we think this is a nice, individualistic touch. A note here on red: DS obviously thinks this is the colour of premium. Red picks out various key data in the touchscreen in the middle of the dash, while the temperature and fuel gauges, the rev counter and the Gear Efficiency Indicator are displayed in said hue.

No complaints here with the front seat space, comfort or massive boot, either, yet rear space is tight and there are some weird bits of specification. Like the lack of heated seats as standard, or even as a standalone option. They're part of a £500 Electric Comfort Pack, although you can only get this on the entry-level Elegance or top-spec Prestige trims, not this Limited Edition model. Also, ventilated seats are nowhere to be seen, while there are various other comfort technologies - likely to be found on German competition - that are lacking. Yes, first-world problems all and probably not deal-breaking gripes, but for an upmarket car aiming to take on the premium opposition, these sorts of things should be covered.

On the move, the 2.0-litre diesel engine doesn't let you down. It's smooth, quiet, muscular and good on fuel, returning a real-world economy figure of nearly 50mpg while being hacked all over the North Yorkshire Moors - 400 miles and more of up hill, down dale, stopping to pass oncoming cars on narrow lanes and starting again from countless junctions. Yes, once again 68.9mpg looks out of the question but if all you do is plough up and down the M4 in your DS 5, expect to get close to 60mpg if you're an attentive driver. A free first year's road tax and just 20 quid per annum thereafter is also seriously tempting for such a luxurious car. Further benefits are the excellent all-round visibility, light and precise six-speed manual gearbox (the more powerful 2.0 HDi with 180hp gets an EAT6 automatic transmission instead), and the near-total suppression of wind and tyre noise.

The chief issue with the DS 5, and it's a biggie, is the ride. Which is poor, borderline dreadful for this sort of car. It's like being in a German, run-flat tyres-equipped sports saloon from 2004, because while the 5 can put on a classy, refined air if the road surface is super-smooth and the speeds are high, the rest of the time it picks up nearly every surface imperfection going. It crashes through only marginally sunken grates, bobbles constantly around town and, as a final insult, has suspension that is particularly noisy when going about its business. Furthermore, the Limited Edition only runs on 18-inch wheels, not even the sort of stylish-but-crunchy 19s of rivals. Sure, going for mega-soft springs and dampers could just as surely introduce travel sickness in passengers as fitting shocks with all the intransigence of diamond, but DS has gone way too hard here. That a Citroen C4 Cactus rides with so much more aplomb than the DS 5 says it all, really.

This lack of composure might - and we only say 'might', mind - be acceptable if the DS 5 drove sharply, but it's a long way from being sporty. While the steering is precise, the brakes are strong and the body control fine, the car summons up little enthusiasm for being thrashed along a twisting road. That 150hp engine, for all its easy-going excellence, is no performance unit and the 5 also has rather long gearing, meaning it labours terribly off-boost if you dare to be one cog too high in the gearbox. Which leaves us with an awkward conclusion: it has a luxury interior but a rock-hard ride that never cossets; and while 370Nm and big alloys might hint at some sort of performance 'sleeper', the 10.6-second 0-62mph reality is anything but. So it's missing targets all over the place.

There's so much here that's encouraging and we'd love to see DS replicate some of Lexus' success, only with that very particular flair that only Citroen seems to possess. Thus, when the time comes to bring in an all-new 5 in a few years' time, the single most important change will be the suspension - DS has to give the 5 wholly different damping and go for that classic Citroen/DS heartland of floaty ride characteristics, and suddenly this fledgling French brand would be so much more enticing. As it is, the jarring facets of its dynamics make it a bit of a damp squib.

Alternatives:

BMW 320d Gran Turismo: we could have easily said the 420d Gran Coupé, because both are slightly 'unusual' takes on regular BMWs. We don't like the look of the 3 GT but in all other respects, it's ahead of the DS 5 for ability.

Jaguar XE 2.0d: with the new Ingenium diesel engine, a sharp chassis and leonine (that's the wrong sort of big cat, but we digress...) looks, the Jaguar is a traditional, diesel executive saloon - the sort of thing the DS must defeat. And it doesn't. The XE is the better car all round.

Lexus IS 300h: the hybrid option, which is reserved in appearance and has an interior that's beautifully made but full of unusual switchgear, which you'll either love or hate. And the CVT is dreadful.


Matt Robinson - 5 Oct 2015









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