DS 5

2016 DS 5 Review

Rating: 6.5
$24,330 $28,930 Dealer
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The DS 5 heralds the arrival of a new luxury brand, specialising in French elegance
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The car formerly known as the Citroen DS5 is dead. In its place is the more simply named DS 5, the first product of the separate DS Automobiles brand sold locally.

Make sense? It’s easy. What you’re looking at is the said Citroen DS5 given a typical mid-life update but marketed as the product of an entirely new maker.

You may recall in June last year, PSA — parent of Peugeot and Citroen — created a new brand called DS Automobiles to serve as its luxury arm, to “bring back French elegance” and glove-slap the German premium leaders with chic designer goods on wheels.

DS Automobile, then, is PSA’s Audi, Lexus or Infiniti equivalent, the luxury wing of its mainstream family, to use shared family components but wrapped in nicer materials and sporting extra technologies.

Of course, such a bold plan takes time. The rollout of new DS Automobiles vehicles — six in total, including SUVs, hatches and sedans — will be here by 2020, with the first arriving in 2018, aimed principally at Europe and China.

In Australia, they will be sold through dedicated ‘salons’ — silos within existing Citroen dealers catering to more upmarket tastes.

In the meantime, we get facelifted versions of the familiar Citroen DS3 and DS5, and the returning DS4, models sans their Citroen badges and with some tweaks to keep them fresh. The ‘new’ DS 5 flagship tested here brings a new face, a redesigned cabin and a new diesel engine to the party.

Like when rockstar Prince had his ‘artist formerly know as…' phase, the rejigged DS 5 is the same but different — remiss as we may be to draw parallels between the French and a royal title.

If you’re reading this and have a thing for avante-garde French cars, we’re probably not telling you anything you don’t already know. But then again, if you’re seriously into the DS 5, you’re statistically part of a very niche audience — the average buyer is a 57-year old male, after all is said and done.

And of course, the DS 5 as you see it is not the car to take French luxury mainstream, which naturally DS Automobiles eventually hopes to achieve. Rather, it’s the first foray for the brand — canaries and mineshafts come to mind — into the already jam-packed Australian market.

And frankly, it’s fascinating.

What is the DS 5? Sime Darby, the group that represents and imports all PSA product in Australia, still doesn’t have an answer. It’s priced against a base BMW 3 Series that is occasionally cross-shopped, but in design and execution it’s quite unlike anything else.

If design is the be-all and end-all for you, the DS 5 might then have exactly what you’re after. People will stare at you, trust us. The curvaceous hatchback design still looks suitably edgy, though whether you dig the lashings of chrome and the fussy-ish new nose is a matter of taste.

What we actually need to know is, does this statement car offer a side of substance with its style?

A few things first. This new DS 5 is $5000 more expensive than before, at $56,990 plus on-road costs. That’s BMW 3 Series money, and nudging an Audi S3.

Which is ambitious, despite the long list of standard equipment on offer, including heated leather, sat-nav, dual-zone climate control, blind-spot monitoring, reverse-view camera, LED scrolling indicators like a high-end Audi and a head-up display (HUD).

Of course, this list is nothing remarkable, and is basically matched by many cars tens of thousands of dollars cheaper.

Read the full DS 5 pricing and specifications breakdown here.

Secondly, DS Automobiles claims the DS 5 was designed to offer a roadgoing tune it calls “dynamic hyper-comfort”, which we assume means it wants to hark to the legendarily plush DS-labelled models of bygone decades.

And so it needs to be both suitably luxurious and comfortable to justify the tag, and to live up to its maker’s promises. And here’s where it gets tricky.

Let’s look first at the rejigged cabin, which retains the signature unorthodox fascia design with all manner of angles, plastic/metal/leather surfaces and that analogue ‘timepiece’ — a pretentious way of saying ‘clock’.

To its credit, it’s anything but “cookie cutter”, as a colleague put it, and it’s ergonomically sound to boot — reflecting the designers’ intention to make it like a cockpit — with the exception of the cumbersome steering wheel and distracting windscreen reflections from the HUD projector.

Of course, being French, half-decent cupholders are too much to ask for. Storage is otherwise good, though. That centre console seems to occupy half the innards of transmission tunnel, making it a bit like Mary Poppins’ bag.

The nifty panoramic roof remains a highlight, given its targa design means the passenger can have it covered while the driver lets in glorious sunshine. The roof-mounted buttons for the sliding covers and head-up display adjustment continue the aviation theme with aplomb.

There’s a new touchscreen fitted that facilitates the welcome removal of no fewer than 12 buttons, which is always a positive thing — even if the 7.0-inch unit is not the last word in modernity.

The software, including sat-nav and DAB+, is familiar from new PSA models and the touchscreen works well enough — even if we resent the fact you have to tap your way through menus to turn off the clunky idle-stop system.

Excellent also are the fabulous leather seats — three different types of hide feature in the cabin — which are even better in optional hand-made Watchstrap design. The overall sense of craftsmanship is suitably good, in the way a designer handbag appeals.

It's also actually ok for two adults in the rear as well, with scalloped recesses for taller heads and the obvious aesthetics benefits of that glass roof. This is a comfortable four-person cruiser, with room for a few suitcases in the boot that offers 465 litres of capacity below the parcel shelf.

So, the cabin gets a pass, if not for modernity, then at least for craftwork and design. But what about that “dynamic hyper-comfort”? Well… no. Not really.

To its credit, the DS 5 gets a different suspension tune to the Citroen-badged predecessor, with a focus on improving the all-round independent suspension’s comfort — though not via a signature hydro-pneumatic setup.

The more conventional system (comprising MacPherson struts up front and simple trailing arms at the rear) also includes pre-loaded linear valves to limit sudden changes in damping force and make the damping curve more linear. The compression stroke is also longer/has more travel.

DS will show you a graph if you ask nicely showing the ways the revised model offers better comfort at various frequencies and less vibration than before too. Which all sounds suitably reminiscent of ‘French elegance’.

But then you find that in urban confines and back-country roads through wine country alike that it translates to an overly firm ride that’s too jittery over corrugations, prone to transmit harshness into the cabin on initial travel and brittle over sharp bumps. On 18-inch wheels and 19s alike.

And that’s disappointing, because if ever a luxury car could be forgiven for being long-legged and cushy above all else, it’s this one.

Additionally, this firmness doesn’t translate to overt dynamism in terms of handling which, while decent and free of roll, is only OK. And the overly assisted, numb hydraulic steering transmitted via that oversized steering wheel means you’re unable to explore the dynamic margins anyway.

It’s neither plush nor sporty, which in dynamic terms is a sin. The Peugeot 508 that shares much of the DS 5’s front-drive architecture is superior here. Bring on the application of PSA’s new EMP modular architecture in the next-generation.

It’s not all negative. In typical Citroen/DS fashion, the traditional A-pillar in fact comprises two pillars with a window inset, meaning forward visibly through the corners is the best in the business.

The new Euro 6-compliant AdBlue HDi 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine is commendably refined and offers a suitably lazy tractability alongside outstanding (claimed) fuel economy.

With 133kW at 3750rpm (up 13kW) and 400Nm at 200rpm (up 60Nm), it canes the old engine. It’s smooth, free of clatter and while not the last word in gut-wrenching punch like some German units, is effortless in that typical fashion, abetted by the generally unobtrusive six-speed automatic transmission with torque converter.

It can hustle the 1540kg DS 5 (that’s with liquids but without passengers) from 0-100km/h in 9.2 seconds. Under subdued driving, you’ll get 4.5L/100km efficiency, which is outstanding. We’ll put this to the test when we get one through the garage in a few weeks.

A petrol variant? No, monsieur. Diesel made up 90 per cent of sales on the previous version, so why bother?

As with the Citroen range, the DS 5 gets a significant six-year warranty supported by six years of capped-price servicing and roadside assist, so from an ownership perspective it’s better than you’d think.

But none of that changes the fact that, for all its design nous and exclusivity, this is a car that costs more than $60,000 once on the road. And it doesn’t drive or feel worthy of that tag at times.

The thing is, if you were going to buy a DS 5, you’re statistically a diehard who will read this, shake your head and buy one regardless. And that’s great, because without unusual cars such as this we’d be bereft.

However, DS Automobiles aspires to greater goals than outsider status, and to get there its new fleet hitting the roads over the next few years will need to lift the bar. Fingers crossed.