Anything which broadens the affluent car-buyer's mind has to be a good thing.
It's far too easy to convince yourself that you must have an obvious German car, because only one of those will make you feel good about yourself and others feel good about you. This is a sad straitjacket of brand-blindness, although it suits the purveyors of the German brands very well.
That is not to say that quality isn't important, but there are myriad ways of achieving this. Citroën is pursuing one of them with considerable success, its upmarket DS sub-brand proving popular when applied to the compact DS3 hatchback, and the larger, taller DS4 impressing this writer if not some others.
Most people should associate the DS tag with the most famous and influential Citroën in history, the aerodynamic, oleopneumatic, futuristic machine that stunned the automotive world in 1955 and still turns heads today. And the new DS5 you see here – from around £26,700 – is certainly one dramatic-looking car.
Chromium-plated "sabres" run along the tops of the front wings and into the windscreen pillars. Then there are the aerodynamic scoops in the front valance; the high sides and big-wheeled stance; the truncated tail with its spoiler blade set across a rear window which cuts far into the roof.
Inside, trim materials include various leathers and expensively finished
aluminium, including textured pieces around the door-pulls made by the same Welsh firm that supplies similar parts to Aston Martin. There's a neat clock with real hands, high-quality instrument and screen graphics, and an aircraft-like roof console with controls for the retractable head-up instrument display and the blinds for the three glass roof panels.
Sounds good so far, as does the availability of a hybrid version. But under all this "premiumness" lies a possible snag. The DS3 is derived from the mainstream C3. The DS4 is related to the C4. So you would expect the DS5 to share genes with the likeable C5, and its oleopneumatic suspension. But it doesn't. Instead, the DS5 is based on a stretched version of the base that underpins the C4. Nor is it stretched enough – the big boot eats into rear leg room, and the rear shoulder room is tight for three people.
More of a problem is the simple, cheap, torsion-beam rear suspension more usually found in superminis. The slightly larger C5 and Peugeot 508 acknowledge this with a sophisticated rear suspension system, a version of which is also used in the DS5 Hybrid 4.
So, the more you drive the non-hybrid DS5, the more it comes across as a car of merely skin-deep appeal and with a confused mission. The version most likely to appeal to lovers of driving is the petrol THP 200, with the 200bhp from its fine 1.6-litre engine smooth and quiet and punchy, the six-speed gearchange easy, the brakes reassuring. But the steering, though precise, feels dead, partly because the rear end of the DS5 fails to help point the front end into a corner once you start to turn.
There's a bigger snag. The DS5 comes on fashionably large wheels: 19-inch diameter on the THP 200 and the Hybrid 4 that I drove. They, plus the THP's cheap rear suspension unable to perform that past Peugeot-Citroën feat of combining suppleness over bumps with tautness when cornering, make this Citroën thump and fidget. The hybrid is less abrupt at the back, but just as disturbed at the front.
This is a shame. I really wanted to like this car, but Peugeot-Citroën has denied the DS5 what it was once brilliant at and has recently shown signs of being good at again.
The Hybrid 4 does its electric-only, low-speed driving and 99g/km CO2 score very commendably, and the two diesel DS5s – 163bhp 2.0 and 110bhp 1.6 – will not only sell the most but might also prove less jarring with their smaller wheels. But on the basis of the two DS5s that I have driven so far, Citroën seems to have forgotten how a Citroën should feel. It looks great in the showroom, but ....
Audi A4 2.0 TFSI: from £27,505, 211bhp, 149g/km
Popular, well-made, good-looking. Lively and frugal, comfortable if you avoid the harsh S-line package.
BMW 320i: from £25,785, 170bhp, 148g/km
Low CO2 here, too, in the archetypal compact premium saloon for the keen driver. Not beautiful but a great drive. New model arrives soon.
Lexus iS250: from £26,175, 208bhp, 194g/km
You hardly ever see these handsome, well-finished saloons, but the V6 engine's high CO2 output scuppers its company-car credentials.
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