The Citroen DS5 is a refreshingly Avant-garde mid-sized alternative in a segment dominated by conservatively styled Japanese and German cars.
Launched internationally in 2011 and in Australia the following year, the DS5 is now the flagship model in the French manufacturer’s line-up, its arrival coinciding with the discontinuation of the full-size C6 sedan. It also spearheads Citroen’s premium DS line, which has been designed to pay homage to the legendary nameplate of the 1950s-1970s.
The industry’s official VFACTS guide positions the Citroen DS5 in the ultra-competitive BMW 3 Series class, though at $48,990 in petrol guise and $51,990 for the diesel, it is actually a closer rival for high-grade versions of the Mazda 6 and Volkswagen Passat, and the base Volvo V60.
The pricing makes the Citroen DS5 $4800-$7800 more expensive than the more practical C5 wagon. The DS5 is also 300mm shorter nose-to-tail than its showroom sibling, at 4.5 metres, and offers 40 litres less boot space (465L v 505L).
The single Citroen DS5 DSport specification is reasonably well equipped, however, making a stronger value case than many may expect from the historically overpriced marque, though it’s still perhaps $5000 too expensive.
Standard are directional xenon headlights and fog lights with cornering function, both of which react to steering inputs to actively illuminate the road ahead. LED daytime running lights, keyless entry, auto wipers, front and rear parking sensors and a reversing camera with guiding lines add to the DS5’s technology suite.
Stepping inside reveals a head-up display, electronic park brake, push-button start, dual-zone climate control, eight-way electric driver’s seat with massage function, heated front seats, and an eight-speaker infotainment system integrating satellite navigation, AUX/USB inputs and Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming.
Then there are the unique features that are harder to put a price tag on, like the three glass roof panels and the fighter jet-style ceiling-mounted switches. The centre console-positioned power window switches will also no doubt appeal to pre-VF Commodore drivers suffering withdrawal symptoms with the latest model…
The layout may not be the most efficient or intuitive, though the sharp graphics of the centre screen, instrument cluster and head-up display look modern and classy.
Cabin quality also appears impressive, with soft-touch rubbery plastic spread across the dashboard and doorsills, black fabric liner over the pillars and ceiling, and brushed and gloss metallic highlights used elegantly throughout the cabin. Smooth leather also covers the seats, centre console bin lid, instrument cluster hood and steering wheel; the latter wide and oddly shaped, but a snug fit in the driver’s hands.
The DS5’s interior isn’t without flaws, however. Citroen’s designers have clearly gone to great trouble to create big windows between the split front pillars, but they effectively mean the driver has four pillars to look around instead of two. The heavily raked windscreen and high seating position also make for a slim view out the front, which is further hampered by the rear-view mirror and connecting arm that obscure much of the view to the left. Big windows between the middle and rear pillars mean the view out the rear is excellent, however.
A cavernous centre console bin and decent door pockets provide useful storage options up front, while the 60:40 split rear seats fold completely flat to expand the boot, which features a puncture repair kit in place of a spare wheel.
The rear seat bases are quite flat, however, causing adult passengers’ knees to float around unsupported. There’s also precious little foot room beneath the front seats and legroom rivals small cars such as the Volkswagen Golf, rather than mid-sizers such as the Passat. Meanwhile, those approaching 180cm will nudge the ceiling.
Our Citroen DS5 test car was equipped with the 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine, which produces 120kW of power at 3750rpm and 340Nm of torque at 2000rpm. On paper it looks a touch underpowered, particularly when the equivalent Mazda 6 that pumps out an extra 80Nm and is 22kg lighter than the 1615kg Citroen.
In reality the DS5 never feels brisk, even when revved towards its redline. Instead it pulls gradually rather than delivering a big hit of grunt, which is ideal for cruising but less inspiring around town and when overtaking on the highway. The engine is a quiet, however, with little noise and vibration transferred to the cabin.
The six-speed automatic transmission seeks to maximise efficiency by quickly transitioning up through the gears, though it can take some convincing to drop back down when the throttle is quickly pressed. Gears are held longer in Sport mode, but it’s still hesitant to give you an appropriately low gear at times, particularly under harder braking and on downhills.
Fuel use was 8.1 litres per 100km after a week of mixed driving conditions with a suburban skew – up slightly on its claimed 6.1L/100km average.
While the Citroen DS5 is relatively new to our market, its underpinnings are not so fresh. The car’s PSA PF2 platform traces its roots back more than a decade to the Peugeot 307 of 2001. Unfortunately for the DS5, it feels its age rather than feeling honed and matured.
Over bumps and road joins the DS5 stumbles, feeling fragile over coarse surfaces where each imperfection transferred to the cabin in a corresponding jiggle. The suspension also makes plenty of noise. It certainly doesn’t have the lush ride quality for which old large Citroens are renowned, and which the superseded C6 delivered.
The body itself shows decent control, however, feeling settled on smoother surfaces and through clean corners, and resisting excessive roll. The DS5 is, however, a car that relies largely on the grip generated from its 18-inch 235/45-profile tyres to string corners together.
The electric steering is lightly weighted and consistent in its movements despite being a little slow to react, with a slight delay between inputs and the car’s reaction. There’s also noticeable kickback when bumps are met with an off-centre wheel.
The DS5 is covered by a three-year/100,000km warranty, three years roadside assistance, and capped-price servicing, which caps the cost of the first three services (conducted at 12-month/20,000km intervals) to $360.
With its love it or hate it design, the Citroen DS5 is likely to be an emotional purchase for most buyers rather than one based on more object measures.
It falls short in terms of dynamics and practicality, in particular, though offers plenty of standard technology features and an endearing level of individuality and style that’s difficult to find elsewhere in the medium car class.