The Sunday Times Driving Placeholder
Not quite the romantic lead it wishes to be
Pros
Novelty value in executive saloon sector
Sleek and swish interior
Done away with the predecessor's poor gearbox
Cons
Dull compared with vintage DS models
Lost all its sex appeal
Not for claustrophobics

First Drive review: DS 5 (2015)

Sorry, chérie. DS isn’t so darned sexy any more

More Info

First Drive review: Citroen DS 5

2015 DS 5 at a glance

  • Handling: ★★★☆☆
  • Performance: ★★☆☆☆
  • Design: ★★★☆☆
  • Interior: ★★★☆☆
  • Practicality: ★★★☆☆
  • Costs: ★★★☆☆

PARIS in the springtime and in the Jardin des Tuileries, in the biggest marquee this side of Kim Kardashian’s wedding, DS Automobiles is launching itself and its first car, the DS 5. There are canapés and spotlights, music and dancing girls.


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But wait: wasn’t this car once a Citroën and wasn’t it formerly known as the Citroën DS5? It was. But that was when DS was merely the badge for fancier versions of Citroën’s standard hatchbacks and before the company decided to take DS from foxy sub-brand to stand-alone luxury marque. (Think Lexus and Toyota.)

In that bold decision we should note the operation of basic pragmatism: no one in 2015 would consider a car premium if it had a Citroën badge on it and no one would pay a premium price for one either. So no flies — and no chevrons — on the DS 5.

And fortuitously it’s 60 years since Citroën brought us the original DS, a coincidence that can be parlayed into further celebrations so this new, forward-looking brand is born pre-gilded with historic glory. Because if there’s one thing the luxury goods market tends to shun on sight, it’s an arriviste.

You’ll have your own feelings, perhaps, about this highly selective co-opting of history for branding purposes. But what we can report from Paris is that there are risks attached to driving a new DS 5 onto the same stage as a classic DS, no matter how loud you pump up the music.

It’s an improved car, but it’s all about the brand at this point

The original DS is one of automotive history’s leading treasures; endearingly gawky from certain angles, long, lean and cool as ice from others.

It’s a well-known fact that any classic DS always contains either Isabelle Adjani or President François Mitterrand. Stand any new hatchback next to one of those cars and it’s going to look like a boiled sweet on the ground beneath a statue.

First Drive review: Citroen DS 5

Fortunately, beyond the exhibition tents in the Jardin des Tuileries, the DS 5 won’t be battling for attention very frequently with the DS 19 Chapron cabriolet of 1958 (a pale red one and the nicest car I’ve been in a tent with all year). It will be measured against similarly regulation-constrained, executive-charming Audis and BMWs and Mercedes, in which company it must surely have a fighting chance.

The front end is purged of Citroën references and garnished with not one but two DS badges. It retains the “floating roof” of the Citroën-badged DS5 and the chrome swoosh on the front wing, the “watch-strap”-style leather weave on the seats, the sculpted switches. There’s a new touchscreen with a mobile phone interface and there are 12 fewer buttons on the dash, so the interior feels cleaner and swisher.

However, the Citroën version was not famous for the softness of its underpinnings. Indeed the general consensus was that you had probably ridden more comfortable ghost trains.

On a drive through Parisian traffic and beyond, via the autoroute, to some open country roads, the DS 5 never felt unwelcoming — a transformation achieved, apparently relatively humbly, by a slight raising of the ride height and some relaxing of the dampers.


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The old DS5’s poor and cranky gearbox has been replaced, too, with a slicker six-speed model. The 2-litre diesel engine was a touch rumbly, in a possibly less than premium way. But there’s a smoother, quieter 163bhp petrol version with a pleasurably swift automatic transmission if the noise bothers you.

If you wanted to complain, you could mount a case for a mild sense of claustrophobia. The high dash and the bank of switches in the roof panel corral the front seats a touch, and the roofline crowds the back.

It’s an improved car, then, but it’s all about the brand at this point — and DS is going to need a bigger flagship. In development, apparently, are an SUV and a saloon as the range grows to six models. Lots more work ahead for the dancing girls.

2015  DS 5 BlueHDi 150 Elegance specifications
  • Price: £27,140
  • Engine: 1997cc, 4 cylinders
  • Power: 148bhp @ 4000rpm
  • Torque: 273lb ft @ 2000rpm
  • Transmission: 6-speed manual
  • Performance: 0-62mph: 10.6sec
  • Top speed: 127mph
  • Fuel: 68.9mpg (combined)
  • CO2: 105g/km
  • Road tax band: B (free for the first year; £30 thereafter)
  • Release date: On sale now

 

DS 5 rivals

BMW 318d Gran Turismo SE, £31,275 (view cars for sale)

  • For Better to drive than the DS 5; interior feels more upmarket
  • Against Expensive to buy; cannot match the DS 5’s economy and emissions

Volkswagen Passat 2.0 TDI GT, £26,545 (view cars for sale)

  • For Understated yet robustly built; a comfortable cruiser
  • Against A blander choice than the BMW or DS

 


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