Vive la Difference

The DS5 is distinctive and makes for a good cruiser, yet there remain some niggles which undermine its push to be the executive segment market leader

Review by Marc Stickley

DS are the relatively new luxury brand from France, looking to make a dent on the established Executive players (Audi, VW and BMW) – and probably a chunk from Ford with their Vignale sub-brand while they’re at it. I reviewed the DS3 (cute, stylish and fun to drive – remember this?) and liked it a lot. I also drove the DS4 Crossback and while certainly unique, it didn’t feel quite as special as its baby brother. Before the imminent arrival of the DS7 crossover, the DS5 tops the DS range as flagship – but does it scale up the practical features of the DS4 and the elegance and style of the DS3, to match the expectations demanded of a luxury hatchback or saloon? I jumped in a Performance Line model to find out.

First impressions are good. Outside, the DS5 looks the part – almost riffs off a grand coupe – with elegant jewel effect LED headlights and my favourite aesthetic feature on cars right now, pulsing LED indicators. The lights look special, but also provide great visibility and can be set to turn with the wheel, a la original DS from the 1950s to 1970s. These little things alone won’t win over the buying public, but there’s more – a strong drivetrain – my car featured a 180bhp diesel coupled to a 6 speed auto. You can certainly push on, with some fun to be had in the bends and more grip than you initially expect. There’s a good torque band (or at least the auto gears keep you there) and coupled to the power on tap, it’s hushed in the cruise. And it does make a very good cruiser – the DS5 was comfortable on smooth roads or at pace when damping imperfections. I could see this effortlessly crossing the country on the motorway, or perhaps a few A road diversions for fun. However, at lower speeds, the ride could get crashy – perhaps the big wheels on the Performance Line (19″ carbon effect glossy numbers – striking) and low slung appearance count against it here?

So, you can push on and you can cruise comfortably. It is generally a comfortable car as well – the leather is nice, with distinctive sports seats in the Performance Line. An added bonus is the massage function and heated drivers seat – a joy in traffic jams. Some of the other cabin trim materials are more questionable, with some dubious “soft touch” plastics.  More annoying during those comfortable cruises was the paucity of equipment – the infotainment fitted was pretty basic, with connectivity to my smartphone that barely functioned (including the Mirror Link function). There were no cup holders that worked – in the door they were too low to hold anything other than a coke can (so no travel mug or water bottles) and there are none in the central tunnel. When I did get the DS5 to connect to my phone, there was then nowhere to put it – no cubby in the dash, which left dropping it in a door bin (a sure fire way to forget to take it with me) or chucking it on the passenger seat. I also couldn’t find how to connect a charger/USB cable…

Between the front seats, there is a bat-cave sized storage bin as a massive central feature which makes space a bit tighter than you expect for the driver and passenger. Speaking of tight… that elegant exterior design turns quirky inside, leading to two “A” pillars in your front quarter vision line, which limit visibility, at times making junctions and sharp bends an interesting challenge. There is also a horizontally split rear window with a miniscule wiper, hampering rear visibility – like peering through a letter box.

The DS5 had a triple panoramic roof, giving the effect of separate panels for both front occupants and a large one for the rear. My kids though it was great, but up front it felt vaguely reminiscent of my days in a turret with hatches… there is also a continuation of the controls between the two front panoramic panels. Supposedly aviation inspired, it just removed headroom. However, the triple sunroof made the cabin feel light, despite the high waist line and slim side glass area. There is plenty of room in the back and in the boot.

So for me, in the DS5 there are more of the DS4 Crossback’s near misses than the DS3’s style, fun and panache. For me it’s a nearly car, not a luxury leader. DS are close – there are features on the DS5 that will add to a car to enhance the luxury elements – strong performance, comfortable cruising and technology features like directional LED headlamps and plush seats with massage – but if you’re looking for a French trend setter, hold on for the DS7 which looks to have more of the good bits and a few new ones. That said, starting at £28,460 for the 120bhp HDi manual Elegance, or £31,640 for the Performance Line with a 165bhp petrol auto, they’re good value. My car came in at £34,370 with its 180bhp and you could spend more with Elegance trim or some select options. It looks distinctive, not a clone of others in the segment, which for some will be reason enough to own one. For me though, there were just a few too many niggles and not enough style. But, vive la difference as they say. Nearly, but not quite.

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