► 2015 DS4 update splits range in two
► Regular model now a more conventional hatchback
► Can it really rival the German premium brands?
The DS4 has always been the hardest DS to love – but the tail end of 2015 brings a substantial update and change of strategy.
DS4? That’s one of those Citroen’s with an identity crisis, isn’t it?
To be fair to Citroen, it officially launched DS Automobiles as a separate brand last year, the revised DS4 is its third ‘new’ model since then and there’s nary a chevron motif in sight anymore. It knows we aren’t going to disassociate the two marques overnight, but it is at least interesting to see someone other than the Germans and the Japanese attempting to establish a premium brand. The benchmark is largely referred to as Audi.
However, if there is a car with an identity crisis then it’s the DS4. Originally launched in 2010 as a jacked up hatchback based on the C4 platform, the styling was pseudo-SUV with a ‘coupe’ roofline and a pair of what DS is now calling ‘occasional’ rear doors, which became ever so slightly notorious for having windows that don’t open, entirely because of the way they were designed. While reasonably well finished inside, a tumultuous chassis that succeeded in being neither cossetting nor sporty undermined the pretensions of luxury. It was a bit of a shocker, frankly.
So what’s different about the DS4 now?
Beyond the styling makeover that includes the new ‘DS Wings’ front end signature – note the way the chrome of the grille surround extends into the headlights – the DS4 is no longer tasked with trying to be quite so many things at once. The range has been split in two.
The regular DS4 is now more closely aligned with conventional hatchbacks, thanks to suspension settings – and therefore a centre of gravity – lower than the original. It leaves the crossover SUV shenanigans to the companion DS4 Crossback, which rides 30mm higher and has a few bespoke styling touches to toughen it up; we’ll deal with this in a separate review.
Have the changes worked?
Free of having to pretend it’s something it’s not, the DS4 hatchback feels much more at ease with itself on the road. In the higher-spec Prestige models, which feature sports suspension, bigger 340mm front brakes and 18-inch alloys, the ride still verges towards the firm and occasionally discombobulated – this is premium sporty, ja? Sorry, oui? – but it scarpers along rather nicely, with a slightly dreamy, laidback feel to proceedings.
The steering is strangely heavy at low speeds, as if only just power assisted, becoming light and almost disinterested as you go faster. Yet it continues to feed through little nibbles of information about the road surface – some luxury buyers may find this distracting, others endearing. Body roll is present, but well constrained to the point that it offers useful guidance on approaching limits rather than risking your passengers’ constitution, and the transition from one direction to the other is smoothly tempered. It’s not the sharpest tool, but it can cover ground quickly.
In fact, the range-topping BlueHDi 180 turbodiesel does a pretty decent impression of a diesel hot hatch, lunging along on 295lb ft of torque, the standard six-speed automatic usefully smoothing out any lumps in the power delivery (noticeable in some of the lesser diesels) while gamely doing its best to keep up. There are no paddles, but the Sport mode is effective, and the initial softness to the brake pedal practically encourages even the novice to dabble with the left foot.
Does the new DS4 feel properly premium then?
If it was aiming for Audi, this is still a miss. Despite a smattering of delightful details, the interior remains largely black and slightly drab, the vast slab of seal-like rubbery dashboard in front of the passenger being particularly unfortunate. The optional £1500 watchstrap-style semi-aniline leather finish for the seats is said to be amongst the softest in the industry, and indeed it was looking a little baggy on the bolsters of both cars we sampled it in; the Habana and Criollo colour options don’t seem to match anything else in the cabin either. Shame, because otherwise it is stunning.
There’s now a seven-inch touchscreen in all DS4 models, helping to reduce the button count by 12. But the main sequence that remain below the screen feel tacky and naff, while the on-screen interface isn’t as polished as the Germans’ collective offerings. This may be less of an issue for iPhone users, however, as the DS4 becomes the first vehicle in the entire PSA portfolio to feature Apple CarPlay.
You’d hardly describe the engine noise in the cabin as unpleasant, but you can easily tell the difference between a diesel and, say, the thrummy three-cylinder BlueTech 130 petrol. Two-tone paint options give buyers greater personalisation choice (38 combinations in total), but the DS4 lacks high-tech safety items such as autonomous emergency braking. There is an OnStar-style emergency assistance system as standard, though.
The new DS4 is considerably more likable than the old DS4 – which is great news for this burgeoning escape from the norm. It remains a wilfully different choice, rather than a definite rival, but the improved chassis and simplified interior should make it much more pleasant to live with. Even if the rear windows still don’t open.