► DS 9 hybrid driven in the UK
► Plush cabin and loads of tech
► Refinement is the top priority
The DS 9 is a big hybrid saloon that will account for a tiny 0.02% of UK new car sales. That's because it wears the unfamiliar badge of French premium brand DS Automobiles, and must compete in the executive four-door market with King Kong and Godzilla, aka the BMW 5-series and Mercedes E-Class.
But DS reckons its recipe of idiosyncratic design, more generous equipment levels than rivals' and obsessive delivery of comfort and tranquility should carve out a micro-niche. Read on to find out whether the DS 9 deserves to.
More detail please: engines, prices, range
The 9 will only be available as a 4.9m-long saloon: unlike its BMW and Audi rivals there won't be a five-door estate. No diesel engines either: the base powerplant is a 222bhp turbocharged four-cylinder petrol, complemented by two plug-in hybrids, with 222bhp or 355bhp and all-wheel drive.
The range structure is nice and simple too: Performance Line+ costs from £40,615, and its sporty features number alcantara-trimmed seats, aluminium pedals and a matt black front grille.
The alternative is Rivoli+ (from £44,715), which majors on luxury and technology. It includes leather seats with a massage and cooling function, manoeuvring camera with a 360˚ field of vision and Level 2 driver assistance to stop, start and keep you in lane in highway traffic.
Let's get driving
DS expects the 222bhp plug-in hybrid to be its best-seller: business users will dominate the customer base, partly lured by the low-emissions hybrid's reduced company car tax. That's the car we're driving in Rivoli+ spec. I'd be tempted to upgrade it to Opera trim (for £3000), which brings burgundy or black leather upholstery, with chunky interconnecting blocks resembling the links on a watch strap. A lovely touch.
The hybrid – or E-Tense in DS marketing speak – has an 11.9kWh lithium-ion battery, which can supply up to 34 miles of zero-emissions driving in Electric mode. Petrol power, e-motor power or a combination of both is sent strictly to the front wheels via the eight-speed automatic transmission.
The 9 pulls away in hushed electric-only mode, with 17 miles of EV range displayed on the digital driver's instrument panel. The speedo reads blue if you're running on e-power, white when the combustion engine is engaged.
How comfortable is the DS 9?
First task is to assess the 9's ride quality by sticking it in Comfort mode. Aside from the 222bhp petrol Performance Line+, all cars get DS Active Scan Suspension. A camera looks out over that gauche bonnet-mounted sabre, scanning the road so the AI brain can instantly stiffen or slacken the damping force to optimise occupant comfort.
And the 9 genuinely flows down the A329 towards Thame, taking bumps and potholes in its stride. But the silky comfort doesn't come at the expense of body control: the ride is not unsettlingly floaty.
Aural refinement is impressive too: the 19-inch Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres don't really generate much noise until we hit motorway speeds. It helps that the 9 largely runs on electric power: it propels us for just over half of our 42-mile journey.
How much kick from that petrol-electric combo?
When the 180hp 1.6-litre engine chimes in, the noise is so distant it feels mounted in the Rudolph-position-in-Santa's-sleigh powertrain. Even when you stomp the throttle, the mix of whistly turbo and bovine engine groan is well muted.
That produces a decent surge of midrange acceleration, for the odd overtaking burst or launching into motorway traffic. For the record, the acceleration race takes 8.3sec from standstill to 62mph.
The brake pedal's initial bite feels a little marshmallowy, but that can be said of many French cars from the Stellantis group. They can be snatchy in traffic queues, which leads to some noticeable pitching of this softly suspended car.
For a long, heavy, front-wheel-drive car, the DS 9 hauls itself competently through corners, with progressive bodyroll and sufficient front-end grip. The steering is nicely linear and pleasantly weighted, but communicates as eagerly as a teenage boy nursing his first hangover.
What kind of fuel economy did you get?
During an Oxfordshire tour stringing together myriad new-build construction sites, the mix of A-road, towns and 10 miles of motorway returned 70.5mpg. Ratified carbon dioxide emissions are 33g/km.
Thank the electric assistance for that. You can run on e-power alone at motorway speeds given sufficient battery charge, and there's an E-Save mode which will hold 12 miles, six miles or all your e-power, should you need to bank it for zero emissions areas. Charging the battery pack on a 7kW wallbox takes just under two hours, or almost five hours from a domestic plug.
And what's the cabin like?
It's the design inside and out that will make or break the DS 9. The exterior is classical three-box saloon, though the wavy grille, waterfall DRLs and rear 'cornet' spotlamps – a nod to the legendary 1955 DS 19 – are typical 21st century DS details. To these eyes the Peugeot 508, also based on this EMP2 chassis, looks more modern and cool.
The cockpit is a similar mix of comely and chintzy. The recurring BRM clock remains a crime against taste, and the 'pearl' vent accents and chrome strips across the dash trigger bling overload for me. The touchbar beneath the 12-inch touchscreen seems a touch tardy to respond – we don't mind waiting, but a little haptic feedback to acknowledge a request wouldn't go amiss.
But the seats are deliciously comfortable, the leather steering wheel silken to the touch, the textured 'guillochage' switches distinctive. The air-conditioning is unusually puny: you need three-quarters setting to generate a worthwhile puff of air, which unleashes a fan cacophony that undermines the 9's civility.
Step into the rear and things are uniformly blissful. There's heaps of kneeroom and lovely seats which can heat, massage and cool (if you tick that Opera upgrade). Iconoclastic chauffeur companies take note. The boot – long, wide and not very tall – has the feel of a double coffin: it stows 510 litres of stuff.
DS 9: verdict
The 9 saloon is the best DS yet. It delivers on comfort, refinement and fuel economy, and undercuts BMW's 530e by about £6000 while offering more standard equipment. It'll likely cost you more per month on a monthly rental, though, hampered by DS's nascent brand image yielding lower residual values – and the great British public's herd immunity to big French cars.
But, but... If you're a fully paid-up member of the awkward squad, like standing beside your car explaining DS to strangers (I had to do it), are French or just plain fall in love with the design, this endearing limo is the Chrysler 300C for our times, Parisian-style.