Citroën DS5 DSport Hybrid 4 200 Airdream

Citroën surprises with a car worthy of Côte d'Azur glitz

Price: £32,200
Engine capacity: 2.0-litre diesel (163hp) plus a 148lb ft electric motor (37hp)
Top speed (mph): 131
0-62 mph (seconds): 8.3
Fuel economy (mpg): 68.9
CO2 emissions (g/km): 107

The original Citroën DS was created by an Italian designer and a French aeronautical engineer, and back in the mid-1950s looked like a luxurious arrival from the future. More recently though, Citroëns have been rather dull.

The new DS line – which builds on the basic Citroën shell and offers something a little more refined and stylish – is the French firm's latest attempt to change all that and the DS5 is its all-singing, all-dancing, top-of-the-range executive flagship.

Starting at £23,000, but rising to £30k plus if you go mad with the optional extras and go for the powerful but economical diesel-hybrid version I've tested, the DS5 is going up against the big boys – the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 – in the lucrative company car market. It will be a tough nut to crack for the gallic challenger, but the DS5 Hybrid has a few things in its favour. Firstly the looks. The DS5 looks just fabulous, especially in the rich pearlescent white my test model came. Its styling is genuinely head-turning with a bodyshell that incorporates a swish chrome blade running from the B-pillar to the headlamps, a shiny glass spoiler, boomerang rear lights and sporty quadrilateral exhaust pipes. It really wouldn't look out of place on the Cote D'Azur as a statement of stealth wealth with a fashionable French gent at the wheel.

Design fluff aside, fleet managers are more likely to opt for the Hybrid 4 version for its low emissions and tax breaks, though. My test model was running on 18-inch alloys, but fit the standard 17-inch alloys and the DS5 Hybrid (a rear mounted electric motor kicks in at slow speed and recharges directly from the diesel engine) hits the magic number or of 99 g/km, which means no vehicle excise duty or congestion charge for the private buyer and fantastic benefit in kind tax benefits for the company car driver.

The hybrid engine layout isn't the smoothest I've driven and it doesn't give the best performance or economy out of town (its gear shifts under full power are rather jerky), but treat it carefully and drive as if you're wafting across France rather than bruising around Magny-Cours and it will deliver respectable-enough fuel consumption on the open road and silent emission-free motoring in town. Flick the gear selector to sport, though, and the diesel and electric engines combine to give you 200bhp and buckets of acceleration. Sadly its handling and ride don't match this power. The driving position is very comfortable and the cabin as luxurious as a BMW, but the automatic gearbox – with auto, sport, full electric and four-wheel settings – is a little ponderous and the ride fidgety.

Historically, luxury French cars have performed badly in Britain – Citroën only managed to sell four, yes just four, of its C6 luxury saloons here last year – but the DS5 is an attractive proposition and has a ace up its sleeve... the French.

Yes, it will be attractive to company car buyers, but it will also appeal to the army of French tax-dodgers reportedly heading to London to swerve their new President's 75 per cent tax rate.

So expect to see lots of lost French drivers cruising silently through Paris-on-Thames in the weeks ahead. They'll have directions to the nearest bank in one hand and a suitcase stuffed with euros in the other.

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