Car reviews - DS - DS5 - DSport BlueHDI
Looks like nothing else on the road inside or out but in a good way, decent on-board tech, effortless and enjoyable long-distance cruising, big boot
Room for improvement
Poor rear legroom, urban ride quality not worthy of the DS name, steering kickback
5 Feb 2016
Price and equipment
WITH the exception of just 30 Anniversary specials, the $56,990 (plus on-roads) DS5 is a one-size-fits-all proposition carrying a long standard equipment list and offered with a handful of options. There is just one drivetrain available, and it’s a diesel automatic because most buyers of the Citroen-branded pre-facelift car opted for the oil-burner.
Included in the price is black leather upholstery with front heating, electric lumbar adjustment and massage functions plus a new 7.0-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation, MirrorLink smartphone integration, DAB+ digital radio, Bluetooth streaming/USB/auxiliary inputs and a reversing camera with proximity diagram for the front and rear parking sensors.
More tech comes in the form of dual-zone climate control, blind spot monitoring, automatic wipers and headlights, a colour head-up display, LED mood lighting, keyless entry and push-button start and a leather-clad multi-function steering wheel has buttons for audio, Bluetooth telephony and the cruise control with speed limiter and memory settings.
A three-part glass roof with with individual electric sun-blinds for driver, front passenger and rear bench includes overhead storage and aircraft-like control panel.
The list goes on with analogue clock, electric handbrake and folding/heated door mirrors. There’s no spare tyre, just a puncture repair kit beneath the boot floor.
External highlights include bi-Xenon headlights with LED daytime running strips and LED scrolling indicators, LED front foglights with cornering function, and 18-inch black alloy rims.
Our test car had the plush and uniquely styled ‘watchstrap’ leather upholstery ($2,700) and Denon premium audio system ($800) plus premium paint ($800). Other options comprise pearlescent paint at $1,000 and 19-inch alloys are $2000.
With the optional and beautifully supple watchstrap leather upholstery in a shade best described as harlot’s lipstick red, the interior of our DS5 certainly had the wow-factor. The jaw continued to drop as our eyes searched upwards to find a ceiling panel full of switches and sunglasses holders that swing down like an airliner’s overhead bins.
A 7.0-inch touchscreen is a decent size by most standards, but being deeply recessed in the DS5’s broad and exquisitely detailed central stack, it looked a little small and old-fashioned. In operation it was anything but, and one of parent company PSA Peugeot Citroen’s better efforts in terms of responsiveness.
Beneath an art deco style analogue clock is the engine start/stop button, which in addition to firing the diesel engine, causes the transparent head-up display projector to gracefully flip upwards. It shows current speed, cruise control setting and upcoming sat-nav instructions with a distance count-down.
Through a large steering wheel, the triple-display digital instrument panel bursts into life, providing all the information a driver could require in easy-to-read, at-a-glance format with the right-hand section adjustable to display three different trip computer readouts, entertainment functions or sat-nav directions.
We loved the dual-zone climate-control with its rotary fan and temperature adjusters – the latter housing digital readouts. However due to the ineffective sun blinds and dark exterior paint of our car it sometimes struggled to pull down the cabin temperature and would require setting to 20 or 21 degrees to achieve what most cars do with a 24-degree setting. PSA’s blind-spot monitoring is one of the market’s best, too.
It’s all great stuff and pretty intuitive, if not as ground-breaking as the original 1955 DS was when launched. But we are happier with using established tech that works rather than glitchy cutting-edge systems.
Apart from a driver’s footrest that seems a bit far forward, we got nice and comfy in the DS5 for some long motorway journeys, with a great driving position and plenty of adjustment for the seats and steering wheel.
Visibility through the massive windscreen is excellent and blind spots are almost eliminated by the large front quarterlight windows. The wagon-style shape and large side windows meant all-round visibility was good, even through the split rear windscreen that was far less obtrusive than similar efforts by Hyundai and Honda.
Storage-wise, the DS5 is a mixed bag with no easily accessible drinks storage and a small glovebox but decent-sized door bins all round, netting map pockets, a tray beside the driver’s knee and a large two-tier cabinet beneath the central armrest with a USB socket and smartphone tray up top and a huge chilled compartment below that we managed to fit a 1.5-litre water bottle into with room to spare.
A retro touch is the presence of cigarette lighter and ashtray, while the best cupholders are in the rear central armrest (which also reveals a ski hatch).
With tall people up front, tall rear passengers suffer and the centre position is really only suitable for temporary use.
The 465-litre boot is broad and deep, but accessed over quite a high lip that has lovely stainless steel scuff plates. Luggage room officially expands to 549L with the seats down (they don’t fold completely flat) but it seemed like more. Regardless, we managed to get the result of some over-indulgent Ikea impulse purchases in there, with the seats up.
Wind noise is conspicuously absent, as is engine noise mostly, but road roar from the big Michelin tyres was a bit on the loud side of audible on concrete surfaces and some coarser-chip bitumen. The latter seemed to be worse at low speeds.
Engine and transmission
We think it’s a risk for DS Automobiles to offer the DS5 as diesel-only but in our opinion the parent company doesn’t really have a petrol engine to do the rest of this 4350mm long, 1540kg shooting brake justice. By the way, it’s shorter than the 4826mm-long original DS.
The 133kW/400Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel is up to the task, but it lacks the muscular wow-factor power delivery of the best German units, such as that fitted to a BMW 320d. As mentioned before, it doesn’t get too loud and is even fairly muted at idle when observed from outside the car.
It’s respectably smooth and refined but is certainly no ball of fire, as illustrated by the official 0-100km/h time of a leisurely 9.2 seconds. This engine is happiest using its mid-range grunt and revving it out only results in up-changes that fall outside its sweet spot.
This is a car that rewards gentle, smooth urban or motorway driving and the otherwise slick Aisin six-speed automatic transmission agrees, with clunky full-bore upchanges and a sometimes hesitant kickdown. That said, its sport mode is pretty intuitive for spirited driving and only for very twisty sections of road did we reach for manual control.
During almost 800 kilometres of mixed driving in mostly 30-degree Queensland heat and humidity with the air-conditioning cranking, we achieved average fuel consumption of 6.9 litres per 100 kilometres. Because the idle-stop system wouldn’t work in these conditions, urban driving would push it up into the high eights and motorways down into the low fives. Even in cooler weather, we struggle to believe the official 4.5L/100km combined figure is achievable.
Ride and handling
While our first impressions of the DS5 were to marvel at its interior, once on the move we quickly noticed the brittle low-speed ride. This is not what we expected from a vehicle bearing the DS moniker, especially after driving the magic-carpet-riding Citroen C4 hatch with which it shares a showroom.
It’s as though the French have tried to out-German the Germans with ride firmness. It does improve at higher speeds, but hitting offset bumps or even approaching speed-bumps at anything other than straight-on sends the body shimmying and the whole car seemingly skipping about on the road. It’s a bit of a mess.
As mentioned earlier, the DS5 is best on the motorway and is a consummate mile-muncher. But even then it can be really upset by ridges or surface changes. The heavy steering becomes a bit of a chore on motorways grooved by countless semi-trailers too.
Worse, once out in the bush on a twisty section of road, the steering kickback on pock-marked bends was often horrendous and sometimes borderline dangerous.
We had to keep a firm grip on the wheel as poor surfaces would have it diving for the straight-ahead (it’s just 2.8 turns lock-to-lock), trying to keep us from steering around the corner. Sweaty palms are not advised, but hard to avoid.
Grip from the Michelin Pilot Sport 3 tyres was predictably commendable and the DS5’s chassis is pretty playful in the right conditions. It’s throttle-adjustable to your heart’s content provided the road is smooth and the steering is behaving itself. We could also carry some admirable speed into sharp corners without provoking terminal understeer.
On a well-maintained road with lots of sweeping bends, the DS5 can be quite fun. Its hydraulic steering is not the most direct or accurate but it is quite talkative. It’s just when it tries to wriggle from your hands like a snake at a petting zoo that things get distressing.
We can understand why it has these vices. During the DS5’s gestation PSA was famously struggling financially and the platform it rides on is pretty dated.
So the development budget probably didn’t stretch to ironing out all chassis foibles.
But to sign it off with that steering kickback is pretty unforgivable. What a shame.
Safety and servicing
Like Citroen, DS offers a six-year/unlimited kilometre warranty on all passenger vehicles, with roadside assistance for the same duration.
But the French luxury brand’s six-year/90,000km capped-price servicing scheme is, shall we say aspirational, with annual/15,000km maintenance intervals ranging from an ambitious $645 to an eyebrow-raising $1725 and averaging just above $974 a visit (prices current at the time of writing).
In August 2013 ANCAP awarded the pre-facelift, Citroen-branded DS5 the maximum five-star safety rating with 35.66 points out of a maximum 37 based on data from Euro NCAP’s test of a left-hand drive model. It scored 14.66 out of 16 in the frontal offset test, with perfect marks of 16 out of 16 in the side impact test and perfect 2 out of 2 in the pole test. Pedestrian protection was judged ‘marginal’ and whiplash protection ‘good’.
Standard safety gear comprises dual frontal, side chest and side curtain airbags, along with seatbelt reminders on all positions, anti-lock brakes, electronic brakeforce distribution and electronic stability control.
There is so much to like about the DS5 that we felt sad to discover its dynamic discrepancies close to the end of our stewardship. We predicted it would not necessarily be the best on the bends but never guessed it would be quite so wayward on poor surfaces.
It is a vehicle with heaps of charisma and one that looks expensive and classy even to people who are not into cars. We were astounded at the level of attention it received from other road users and passers by. People lucky enough to ride with us in the DS5 fell in love with the interior too.
Nothing else on the road is quite like the DS5. But it’s a bit of a rough diamond.
Mercedes-Benz CLA 200d Shooting Brake from $51,900 plus on-road costs
With a big boot and distinctive looks, the CLA Shooting Brake is a strong DS5 rival with arguably more badge cachet. But the interior feels a bit low-rent by comparison, the diesel engine is a bit gruff and the transmission a bit clunky in the city.
Audi A3 2.0TDI Ambition from $43,200 plus on-road costs
Only 40mm shorter than the DS5 so we consider the smooth-as-silk A3 Sportback a competitor, even though it is the flamboyant French car’s conservative antithesis. More than $13,000 less expensive, which provides plenty of change to spend on Audi’s options list and get a similar level of equipment.
Volvo V40 Cross Country D4 Luxury from $47,990 plus on-road costs)
We reckon the DS5’s slightly raised stance qualifies the jacked-up V40 Cross Country as a similarly left-field and achingly latte-class competitor. Believe it or not, this psuedo-wagon is longer than the DS5 too. Like the DS5 it has a lovely if slightly dated interior and a few dynamic quirks. Like the Audi, its lower price compared with the Frenchie provides plenty of room for options.
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