The skinny: Citroen’s luxury arm, DS Automobiles, is preparing to step out from the shadow of its parent company and become a stand-alone brand in its own right.
To start the transformation, the brand’s flagship saloon, the DS5, has been given a facelift that brings with it the new DS Automobiles ‘wings’ front styling, an adjustment to specification, and a new diesel powertrain.
Getting noticed as an alternative to the mainstream luxury brands will be no easy task, but a history that encompasses the impossibly gorgeous Citroen DS is as good a springboard as you'll find.
Vehicle Style: Medium five-door luxury hatch
Price: $56,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 133kW/400Nm 2.0 4cyl turbo diesel | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 4.4 l/100km | tested: 6.8 l/100km
DS Automobiles isn’t being overly ambitious with its goals for the DS5 in Australia just yet. It understands that it has a long road ahead of it to gain recognition as a genuine luxury competitor to the likes of BMW or Lexus.
A slow roll-out of branding will take place between now and 2018, but the first step in launching the DS Automobiles brand comes with the revised DS5.
Essentially the same car that launched here under the Citroen banner in 2012, but now with a restyled front, featuring what will become the ‘DS wings’ family face.
Equipment has been plumped up, but so has the price by an extra $5000. A new, more powerful 2.0 litre diesel engine becomes the sole powertrain, with the petrol model dropped thanks to slow sales.
As distinctive as you’ll find on the outside, the DS5 commands plenty of attention, and while it is reasonably unique, its five-door philosophy is shared by the likes of Audi’s A5 Sportback as well as the BMW 3 Series GT and 4 Series Gran Coupe.
- Standard equipment: Black leather trim, proximity key and push button start, anti-theft alarm, leather wrapped multi-function steering wheel, cruise control with speed limiter, auto lights and wipers, privacy glass, dual zone climate control, cooled centre console, dual sunglass holders, colour heads up display, LED and Xenon headlights, 18-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch touchscreen, satellite navigation, DAB+ digital radio, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, smartphone mirroring, USB and Aux inputs, eight-speaker audio
- Options fitted: Watch strap Nappa leather seats in deep blue sapphire and black ($2700)
- Cargo volume: 465 litres minimum
Step into the DS5 and the interior offers one of the more unique looks of the segment. It’s handsomely styled, with some clever styling flourishes, like the fighter jet-like roof-mounted toggle switches.
But while the look and feel is modern-chic, the steering wheel looks a little out of date, and offers a minimal range of buttons and controls.
Otherwise it feels properly luxed up. The optional ‘watch strap’ leather seats ($2700) look terrific, particularly in one of the two-tone colour choices, plus the standard driver’s massage function is a great way to relax on the commute home.
The two outboard seating positions are just generous enough, kneeroom is acceptable, but sliding your feet under the front seats can be a problem. The rear window switches are mounted on the back of the centre console - a bit of an ergonomic snafu.
Overhead the fixed glass roof offers three individual blinds, so driver, front passenger and rear-row occupants can each decide how much sun they’d like to catch. The blind system also eats into headroom, and there’s no overhead grab handles.
New features with the update include a 7.0 inch touchscreen which does away with the rotary infotainment controller of the previous DS5 as well as offering DAB+ digital radio.
Forward visibility out of the DS5 is more generous than most too, owing to the slim double A-pillars. Despite the slim rear windscreen, the view out the back is better than expected, but the standard reverse camera still comes in handy.
There are some ergonomics issues - the centrally mounted power-window switches look good, but their placement could be better, the gear selector is set up for left-hand-drive, and like every other French car the glovebox is tiny.
ON THE ROAD
- 133kW/400Nm 2.0 litre four-cylinder turbo diesel
- Six-speed automatic, front wheel drive
- Macpherson strut front suspension, trailing arm rear suspension
- Four-wheel disc brakes, vented front rotors
- Power assisted rack and pinion steering, turning circle: 10.7m
- Towing capacity: 750kg unbraked, 1200kg braked
Nearly 90 percent of pre-update DS5s sold in Australia were diesel powered, leading to the dropping of the 1.6 litre petrol variant here.
Instead, a fresh 2.0 litre diesel engine, tied to a six-speed Aisin automatic transmission becomes the sole powertrain offered, with outputs of 133kW at 3750rpm and 400Nm at 2000rpm.
As a grand tourer, the diesel engine makes perfect sense. Its low down torque is up to the task of moving the DS5 with ease, even with a full compliment of passengers.
Engine and road noise are well managed too, with barely a hint of tyre roar, or diesel clatter evident from inside the cabin.
On most of our drive the transmission behaved impeccably. It’s not a gearbox that you can hurry, but it operates with plenty of poise.
Where you would expect the DS5 to really shine is ride comfort, owing to Citroen’s past success delivering fantastic ride courtesy of hydropneumatic suspension systems.
Sadly, that isn’t the case here. The DS5 runs a conventional steel-spring suspension, with no adaptive ride of any nature and the setup just doesn’t match the car’s plush ambitions.
There’s a stiff-jointed feel to the suspension - it isn’t harsh or rough, but it niggles over less-than-perfect surfaces.
The rear end is prone to stuttery control, while the steering wheel can kickback over mid-corner bumps.
It isn’t the worst riding car in 'motordom' by any means, but it doesn’t feel the way a mature luxury car should. Opt for the optional 19-inch alloys, and the problem becomes even more apparent.
The move to the new BlueHDi 180 diesel engine however brings some impressive driveability changes (which may help you forget the overly firm ride). With an extra 13kW and a big 60Nm more torque, the new engine feels much more lively.
The 9.2 second 0-100km sprint time is a full second quicker than before and official fuel consumption drops by 1.6 litres to 4.5 l/100km. Emissions are rated at 118g/km of CO2, helped by AdBlue urea injection to reduce nitrogen oxides.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 35.66 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Six airbags, ABS brakes with brake assist, traction and stability control, pretensioning front seatbelts, load limiting seatbelts in all outboard positions, front and rear park sensors, reverse camera, blind spot monitoring, and lane departure warning.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
There’s plenty of choice in the medium luxury segment, simple sedans like the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class are obvious contenders, but there’s also the Infiniti Q50 and Lexus IS range to consider.
Five-door opposition comes in the shape of Audi’s A5 Sportback and BMW’s 3 Series GT or maybe the 4 Series Gran Coupe.
There’s also quite a bit of internal opposition, with parent company PSA Peugeot-Citroen offering the similarly sized and priced Citroen C5 and Peugeot 508
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
If you find yourself particularly enamoured of the DS5’s bold looks, then you'll likely forgive the shortcomings of its ride. DS Automobiles’ avant-garde styling certainly adds some variety to the conservative mid-size sector.
Despite the ride-quality foibles, the DS5 offers a smooth strong engine, decent handling, and a very comfortable interior - all good reasons to investigate this smart example of automotive couture.
Tick the box for watch-strap leather and you’ll have an interior finish like no other, daring enough in its execution to match the flashy exterior.
But alas, there’s more style than substance, and for those that value substance over style, the DS5 isn’t the right option.
Keep in mind however that Citroen’s six-year warranty, roadside assistance, and capped price servicing applies to all DS vehicles as well, and suddenly the DS5 seems more sensible after all.