When PSA Groupe (previously known as PSA Peugeot-Citroen) announced in 2014 that it was separating the Citroen and DS brands it would have been easy to greet the news with a cynical – and very French – roll of the eyes.
But rather than a simple rebranding exercise, the carmaker insisted that the Citroen and DS lineups were to take different paths, with Citroen standing for practicality and affordability, and DS to be defined by sophistication, style and luxury.
Fast forward 18 months and the established DS range does indeed look very different from that of its sister brand. In fact, the lineup looks quite different from everything else as well.
I drove the DS 5, a compact executive car occupying the same space as the BMW 3 Series, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and the Audi A4. Unlike the identikit German three-boxes, the DS is a hatchback and the manufacturer is hoping the distinctive styling, premium materials and build quality will tempt buyers looking for something a little different from the norm.
Our test car was finished in a deep ‘ink blue’ colour and chrome detailing provided striking contrast, throwing the folds and creases of the bodywork into sharp relief.
Sitting on 18-inch black alloys, the overall effect is powerful and menacing and – in contrast to its German rivals – not especially sporty. The DS 5’s German contemporaries look like they’d be as at home on a racetrack as they would at the golf club. The French model would be more at home watching the beautiful people walk by outside a pavement cafe.
The interior is even more striking. The materials and build quality feel top notch and the seats are luxurious and comfortable. The metal detailing cladding much of the angular dash and door trims is real aluminium and the switches on the centre console and overhead controls are solid and satisfying.
Unfortunately, the deep bonnet and the sheer size of the dashboard meant I struggled to find a driving position I was altogether happy with.
With a 1,689kg kerb weight, the DS 5 is heavier than any of the German alternatives. While the sensation of being cocooned in high-grade materials adds to the luxury vibe, it does seem to have a negative effect on the driving experience.
The firm suspension isn’t paired with the pin-sharp handling characteristics you would get in a model geared more toward sporting pursuits. Without wanting to sound like un esprit chagrin, the result is an unyielding and borderline unwieldy ride.
There are a variety of drivetrains available, buyers getting the choice between a 1.6 or 2.0-litre diesel, two variations of a 1.6-litre THP petrol unit or a 2.0-litre hybrid diesel option.
Pulling our test car is the 147bhp 2.0-litre Blue HDi. The six-speed manual gearshift – like everything else in this car – feels solid and satisfying.
It’s no road racer, nought to 60 comes in 10.3 seconds, but it feels perfectly adequate on the motorway. Acceleration is smooth and the cabin well insulated from any engine noise.
In terms of running costs, I managed an average approaching 50mpg over the course of a week. Emissions of 105g/km mean VED band C.
Despite the rock-solid ride, I find myself admiring the bravery of the DS 5. If you’re after bullet-proof build quality and top-quality cabin materials, you’re already well-catered for in the £25,000 to £35,000 price bracket. Like the 1960s Citroen DS from which they take their namesake though, the DS lineup offer something genuinely different to the other premium European manufacturers.
Whether this certain je ne sais quoi will tempt buyers away from the established German premium manufacturers remains to be seen.