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DS5: Vive la différence ... oh, and throw away the Citroën badge

Stylish French sub-brand wants to steal Audi’s lunch money

By Alun Taylor, 19 Nov 2015

Vulture @ the Wheel Oh, how car-makers like to mine their archive in the name of style. BMW’s Mini, VW’s Beetle, Fiat’s 500 ... all doff their caps to the style and nomenclature of an imaginary post-war automotive utopia. Citroën got in on the act back in 2010 with the resurrection of the DS marque.

A few months ago to celebrate the DS brand's 60th anniversary, PSA Peugeot Citroën took things a step further and dropped the Citroën name from the range and incorporated DS as a stand-alone legal entity. The new Citroën DS5 is thus actually the new DS5.

To be fair to Citroën, it isn’t just making cars that look a bit like its models of yore. The new DS models are unashamedly modern and devoid of retro flimflammery.

The question then is, can a mass-market car maker move 'up market' in Europe (in China DS Automobiles will have its own showrooms) just by boosting the style quotient and slapping on a funky badge?

Let's get that name out of the way first. What does DS mean? Well "DS" is pronounced "Déesse", which in French means goddess. That was what the name used to mean. But ask Citroën today and you'll be told it stands for Different Spirit. Surely that would be ED for Esprit Différent? Such are the homogeneous, pasteurised, anglo-centric days in which we live. Le Général would not, I suspect, approve.

Citroen DS5: A little bit of coupe, a little bit of estate - a lot of Gallic flair.

A little bit of coupe, a little bit of estate; a lot of Gallic flair

Turning from the word to the metal, the first thing that struck me when I walked up to the DS5 is that it is actually quite a small car. Many people assume it's a DS-ified version of the C5. It's not. The DS5 sits on the extended version of the PSA PF2 platform, which underpins such lacklustre models as the Peugeot 308 SW and Citroën Berlingo. The C5 sits on the larger PF3 platform.

That makes the DS5 something of an inbetweener. A little larger than a Ford Focus or VW Golf, a little smaller than a Mondeo or a Passat. While basically a five-door hatch, the shape of the DS5 is a curious sort of crossover/coupe/estate hybrid. It's the cab-forward design (just look at the sweep of those A-pillars) that has the effect of making the DS5 look bigger than it actually is from a distance.

The actual dimensions become more apparent when you climb inside. Snug is a good word for it. The broad centre console takes up a lot of room in the front, and the back is really only suitable for two passengers. If you are much over 5 foot 10 the raised centre cushion will take your noggin too close to the sloping roof for long-journey comfort.

Large boot - closer to Mondeo than Focus on capacity

The large boot's closer to a Mondeo than a Focus on capacity

There’s a decent amount of luggage space though: 465 litres with the rear seats up and the parcel shelf in place. For comparison, a Ford Focus has 316L, a Mondeo 541L. The larger boot at the expense of rear legroom lends the DS5 a slightly GT-ish aura. An affordable car to drive to Marseilles for a long weekend with a lot of luggage in the boot and Isabelle Adjani in the passenger seat.

Not the rooomiest 5-door hatch when it comes to rear legroom

Compared with other 5-door hatches, it doesn't have a whole lot of rear legroom

Considering the workaday underpinnings the DS5 looks pretty sensational. The original model was arresting enough but the new car has some subtle exterior alterations to further separate it from the mass-market herd.

Most obviously you will now search in vain for a Citroën badge. From nose to tail all you can see are stylized chrome DS badges.

New LED running lights give the full Knight Rider effect

New LED running lights give the full Knight Rider effect

The nose is new too and features a vertical grille that will become a DS brand-signature. Elsewhere the chrome work has been expanded to accentuate the “sabres” that swoop up along each side of the bonnet. The LED lighting system has also been pepped up: when you activate the central locking the running lights and indicators do a whole Knight Rider routine that’s bright enough to be seen from low orbit let alone across a car park.

Some may bemoan that Citroën didn’t push the styling boat out further and give us something as radical as the Renault Avantime or Vel Satis, but neither of those models sold more than the handful and graphically demonstrated the perils of getting too far ahead of the curve of public acceptance.

That said, some of the metalwork is a bit fussy for my tastes. There’s a strange bit for panel curvature over the front wheel arches that when I first noticed it looked like a dent and sent me running around the car too see if the other side matched.

Cabin fever

Citroen DS5: The cabin's very stylish and well screwed together if a little snug

The cabin's very stylish and well screwed together if a little snug

It’s in the cabin where the designers have really had a field day. The window controls are all in the centre console while the head-up display and sunroof controls are directly above them in the overhead control panel.

This may not be the most obvious place but blimey it looks good. There was many an “Ooh!” and “Aah!” from passengers in the DS5.

HUD controls and DS assistance button in overhead console

HUD controls and DS assistance button in overhead console

Things look even better from the driver's seat. The three-pod LCD instrument binnacle is very à la mode and the seven-inch touch screen is much easier to use, both physically and in terms of the UI, than the systems I've encountered on recent Peugeot-Citroën models like the C4 Cactus and 308.

Not the obvious place for the window controls but it looks snazzy enough

Not the obvious place for the window controls but it looks snazzy enough

The satnav worked well and I had no problem hooking up my Android phone via Bluetooth. It’s not all good news on the connectivity front though. The DS5 is yet another car that refused to let me connect over MirrorLink. What a shame Citroën didn’t early-adopt Android Auto and/or Apple CarPlay, both much more in keeping with the whole DS ethic.

The analogue clock is a stylish touch but I was slightly disappointed that the DS button in the roof console only connects you to a breakdown service. I’d rather hoped that when you pressed it some crêpes and coffee would emerge from the (very small) glove compartment.

As befits a semi-premium motor the DS5 is very well bolted together. In fact the build quality is a country mile away from the cheap and flimsy tat that Citroën was knocking out as recently as ten years ago.

All the doors, switches and buttons work with a reassuringly Germanic ‘thunk’ and everything that should be damped in a premium car is indeed damped. The leather watch-strap pattern seats are a perfect compromise between comfort and grip. My only small niggle is that the foot rest is just a little too high for my taste. I’ve noticed this on a few French cars. Are the French getting shorter?

Narrow rear window's not great for reversing, but cameras are a worthwhile extra

Narrow rear window's not great for reversing, so the cameras are a worthwhile extra

Visibility is good rather than great. The split A-pillar lets you see what's afoot at the front but the narrow rear window can make it feel as though you are reversing an Atlantic Wall pill box. The reversing camera and parking sensor package is certainly a worthwhile £540 optional extra fit on the base Elegance models.

The first DS5 attracted much criticism for the harshness of its ride. A sin of Biblical proportions for anything with a Citroën badge on it. The ride was particularly bad on cars fitted with the optional 19-inch alloys though quite why anyone would specify drug dealer wheels and ultra low profile rubber on a Gallic boulevard cruiser is beyond me.

Thankfully, the new model suffers no such problems despite sitting on vin ordinare MacPherson struts at the front and independent trailing arms and coil springs at the back rather than anything related to the Paul Magès-designed hydropneumatic suspension of the original DS.

With the help of revised springs and dampers and, in the case of my review car, sensible 17-inch wheels, everything is now smooth and compliant. I wouldn't call it sporty. The DS5 is not, and is not supposed to be, a sports car, but the trade off between serene progress along Blighty's rough and ready motorways and agile handling on sweeping A and B-roads it’s just about spot on.

Hit the middle pedal hard and the DS5 pulls up in good order too, as befits the spiritual descendant of the first mass produced car to be fitted with disc brakes. In a tip of the hat to the original DS the headlamps of the DS5 steer with the wheels to help you peer around corners.

120bhp BlueHDi is least powerful engine in range but very economical

The 120bhp BlueHDi is the least powerful engine in the range, but it's very economical

Forget that 0-60 nonsense

My test car came fitted with the most anemic engine in the DS5 line-up, the 120bhp 1.6L BlueHDi turbo-diesel. It’s not an engine for the speed freak and can get to 62mph only in a rather leisurely 12.7 seconds though that is more down to the gearing than the absolute absence of power. But only men having midlife crises and spotty 18-year olds worry about 0-60 times.

As turbo-diesels go it’s both refined and tractable and thanks to a very slick six-speed manual gearbox, light clutch and a healthy dollop of torque (there’s 221lb-ft available from 1,740rpm) you can bundle the DS5 down the road with much more urgency than the numbers suggest. And you'll save money while doing it.

Even if you drive it like an nitwit you’ll never get much less than 50mpg. On longer runs I regularly managed over 65mpg. Granted that’s short of the official extra-urban figure of 78.5 but still not bad for a car of this size. With a 13-gallon fuel tank the DS5 has an easy 800-mile range, wholly in keeping with its GT-esque pretentious. Assuming you believe such figures the DS5 pumps out 104g/km of CO2.

If you want to get from A to B faster you can always choose the 150bhp or 180bhp diesel models or the Hybrid4 version which combines a 2.0L turbo-diesel engine at the front with a 20bhp electric motor at the rear to give you four-wheel drive and low speed electric-only motoring. There’s also a 165bhp petrol turbo though as with the most powerful diesel you have to make do with an automatic gearbox.

Not a Citroen badge in sight at the back

Not a Citroen badge in sight at the back

The Reg Verdict

Is Citroën’s plan to make DS the Audi to its Volkswagen going to work? It just might you know. The DS5 is stylish, well made, well equipped, a pleasure to drive and with the entry level turbo-diesel engine very economical. And it has the added benefit of not being German. The problem is one of nomenclature. Will people ever reply, when asked what they drive, “a DS 5” rather than “a Citroën DS5”? I’m not sure. But it’s a darned sight more likely than people saying “a Vignale” rather than “a flash Ford Mondeo”.

Summary Stylish five-door estate-cum-coupe crossover with oodles of Gallic chic, a refined and efficient 1.6L turbo diesel engine, impressive build-quality and not a Citroën badge in sight.

Price: OTR from £25,980. As tested £29,080. More info can be found here.

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