The DS5 is Citroën’s most innovative car since the 1970s. It’s a beautiful, five-seat family car that looks like the lovechild of an MPV and an estate, and it bloods Peugeot-Citroën’s unique diesel/hybrid powertrain. The result should be a hatchback with a decent turn of pace, extraordinarily low fuel consumption, CO2 emissions and running costs, and a desirability unmatched in a Citroën since the SM and GS glory days. Read on for CAR’s verdict on the DS5, which goes on UK sale in March 2012, with prices starting around £23,000.
How does the DS5 fit into Citroën’s range?
Good point, let’s start with the basics. The DS5 is the third model in Citroën’s new DS range, which takes a platform underpinning a humble Citroën and grafts on a distinctive new bodyshell to attract a different type of customer. In 2010, the Citroën C3 supermini spawned the sportier DS3 hot hatch, while in 2011, the C4 sired the jacked up but unremarkable DS4. Next up is the DS5, rolling on an upgraded version of the C4 hatchback’s PF2 platform.
The DS5 is significantly shorter than the C5, almost as wide and just 52mm taller, which translates into a stout, wedgy two-box car with beautiful proportions. Most people have forgotten, but the DS5’s general design theme was first shown as the C-Sportlounge concept car in 2005. Two years later, when Citroën bosses green-lit the upmarket DS range, they blew the dust off the dormant C-Sportlounge concept and began its journey to production.
Many of the DS5’s most eye-catching details survived that journey: the chrome blade running from B-pillar to headlamp; the coupe-like glasshouse and stepped window line; the boomerang rear lamps and quadrilateral tailpipes. See the DS5 on the move and you’ll be captivated – as CAR’s writers were upon seeing the cars used as shuttles at 2011’s Frankfurt motor show.
Is the new Citroen DS5 like a choc ice: just as good underneath the shell?
It sure is. The driving position offers the best of both worlds: it’s raised up to deliver a SUV-like view of the road, but the enveloping dash and towering centre console fool you into thinking you’re sat low in a sports car. Citroën is no longer a dirty word when it comes to materials and build quality, and the leather seats on the top spec D Sport Hybrid4 (around £33k) are divinely luxurious, and feature interlocking leather inserts like a watch strap’s. Look overhead and you’ll find a first class execution of airline-style overhead features: there are cubbyholes, switches and twin sunblinds.
For a six-footer, rear legroom is fine though headroom is only adequate, but that’s the price worth paying for the sloping roofline. The Hybrid4’s battery pack eats into boot space, reducing it from a regular-engined DS5’s 468 litres to 325, but you can fold the seats to stow mountain bikes or somesuch. Annoyingly there’s no external boot release (aside from a key fob button), though insiders promise a quick fix is on the way.
Talk us through this DS5's Hybrid4 diesel/electric hybrid…
Peugeot-Citroën’s Hybrid4 system features two distinct power sources: a 2.0-litre diesel engine sending 163bhp and 221lb ft to the front wheels via a six-speed automated manual, and an electric motor mounted on the back axle and mustering up to 37bhp and 148lb ft. This means the DS5 has four-wheel drive capability, though there’s no mechanical link between the two axles, with by-wire electronic impulses orchestrating their inputs.
Press the start button and the experience is just like in a Toyota hybrid: silent, because the Hybrid4 can run solely on electric power. If the batteries are fully charged, the DS5 can cover up to 2.5 miles at 37mph. Chances are that the DS5 will default from this ZEV mode to ‘auto’ mode much sooner, with the diesel engine chattering into action. This distinctive combustion gurgle replaces the wailing CVT cacophony of Toyota’s hybrids, and makes for a less intrusive soundtrack. The integration of the two power sources is smooth, with the DS5 automatically switching back to EV power if the urban pace drops sufficiently.
A rotary dial enables you to select the two other drive modes: 4WD for negotiating a slippery surface like wet grass, and sport mode to optimise power delivery for sportier driving, delivering the system’s maximum power (some 200bhp and 332lb ft). The DS5’s performance looks pretty useful on paper: 0 to 62mph takes 8.6secs. But the Hybrid4 never feels that sprightly on the road, and its acceleration at 80mph on the motorway is pretty sluggish: the electric motor is decoupled above 74mph to prevent high-speed mechanical losses.
Where the DS5 really scores is in its fuel consumption. With stop/start and the electric motor taking the strain off the diesel engine, a Hybrid4 on 17-inch rims delivers an outstanding 74mpg and 99g/km on the combined cycle. That means it’s exempt from road tax and London congestion charge, while company car tax equates to just 13% of the vehicle’s list price. Expect to see an abundance of DS5 Hybrid4’s smoking around the capital – with puny wheels lost in those gaping wheelarches, as the greater rolling resistance of 18- and 19-inch rims downgrades economy to 68mpg and CO2 to 107g/km.
What’s the rest of the driving experience like?
A mixed bag. CAR has long grumbled about Citroën’s inability to set up a chassis to steer sweetly and consistently, and the DS5 is only marginally better than usual. Put on a quarter turn of lock at urban speeds and the rack feels disconcertingly light and vague, while at motorway speeds the heavier steering becomes as stodgy as a Christmas pudding. At times it’s hard to confidently judge the grip level and position of the front wheels, and chuck the nose into a corner and the DS5 feels heavy and laboured.
A case of CAR treating a luxobarge like a hot hatch? Hardly: officials say the DS range is engineered to be more sporty than its Citroën counterparts, with different models getting individual spring and damper settings depending on powertrain and even trim level. Indeed the Hybrid4 ditches the torsion beam rear suspension deployed by the regular petrol and diesel DS5s for a multi-link rear axle, primarily to package the electric motor. The Hybrid4 on 235/40 R19s feels firmly sprung, crashing through potholes at urban speeds and occasionally bucking during hard cornering. It’s calmer at motorway speeds, though coarse surfaces will transmit noticeable road noise. Rival firms – Ford and VW spring to mind – can make a C-segment hatch steer sweetly and ride more dynamically with superior refinement.
The brakes are decent though, responding firmly and progressively whereas a Toyota hybrid’s stoppers tend to snatch during the initial electronic braking/energy recovery process before the friction brakes kick in. The six-speed automated manual can fluff its lines by changing up or down at an inconvenient moment (like dropping abruptly to first when you’re coasting smoothly to take a roundabout in second). Manual paddleshifts eliminate some of this aggravation, though the paddles feel about as robust as the prize in a cheap Christmas cracker, they’re not wheel-mounted so you can find yourself groping at thin air, and get too close to the redline and the computer can infuriatingly change up for you.
If you’re thinking that the DS5 sounds like a triumph of style over substance, you’re probably right. Citroën’s latest hatchback looks absolutely stunning and has an equally beautiful cabin, while its concept feels fresh, just like the Mercedes-Benz CLS and BMW X6 did when they first appeared. These credentials alone will have some aesthetes signing the paperwork. Similarly the DS5 will appeal to tech junkies wishing to sample the smooth and unique diesel/electric drivetrain, or to company car drivers attracted by its sensational economy figures.
However, one important customer group – you, the passionate drivers who inhabit a website like CAR’s – will most likely find it underwhelming to drive. That’s a crying shame. But it doesn’t have to be like that, Citroën. Continually improve this car, as Jaguar did with the S-type or Aston has done with the DB9 – and hopefully you’ll deliver a DS5 which is a triumph of style and substance. Because that car would be as sensational as the DS5’s kindred spirit and 2011’s darling of the motoring press, the Range Rover Evoque.