Car makers don’t often dare to be different, but Citroen has always been the exception. And it has now attempted to create another true original with the DS5.
Unlike the DS3 and DS4 before it, the third model to join the rapidly expanding DS sub-brand has no direct rivals. However, its blend of style, quality and low emissions should make it a top choice for company buyers who want something more distinctive than the current crop of executive saloons.
Video: Watch CarBuyer's video review of the new DS5
Just one look at the DS5’s dramatic exterior is enough to prove this is a car aimed squarely at drivers who like to make a style statement. Details like the chrome bonnet sabres that run all the way up to the door mirrors plus huge air intakes give the Citroen the look of a motor show concept.
Add aggressive flourishes such as the polished exhausts and bonnet creases, and it’s easy to forget that beneath the pretty bodywork of the DS5 sits the same platform as Peugeot’s rather dumpy-looking 3008.
Creating an interior to match the exterior’s visual fireworks can’t have been an easy task for Citroen’s designers, but the DS5’s cabin lives up to the star billing of the bodywork.Everything from the gearlever to the dials and electric window switches looks and feels special. Plus plenty of effort has gone into small details like the solid metal door handles. There’s even switchgear set into the rooflining, just like in an aircraft cockpit.
But once the novelty wears off, the Citroen starts to feel needlessly over-complicated. The three-panel glass roof – complete with individually motorised sun blinds – is an obvious example. It adds complexity, where a simple unobstructed all-glass design would have allowed more light into the cabin.
Instead, the Citroen feels claustrophobic from behind the wheel. The driving position isn’t as good as in the CC or 3 Series, either, as the electrically adjustable seat is set too high. Plus, the sporty roof spoiler cuts right across the rear window, severely limiting the driver’s rear view.
Fortunately, even our mid-range DStyle test car comes with a reversing camera to help with tricky parking manoeuvres. In fact, apart from full leather upholstery (a £1,290 option), the £25,900 DS5 is almost as well equipped as the more expensive VW. Mind you, our test car’s top-level Alezan Club Leather package costs a whopping £2,390.
The other big advantage the DS5 has over its saloon rivals is practicality. While the CC and 3 Series both offer a decent amount of room, the rear seatbases in the Citroen easily flip up, so when the seatbacks are folded you’re left with a completely flat load area and a massive 1,288 litres of luggage space. It’s just a shame the sloping roofline has eaten significantly into rear headroom, which is on par with the VW’s.
So far, then, the DS5 is a real threat to its mainstream rivals, but things begin to unravel once you get moving. While it trailed the VW and BMW against the clock, there’s nothing wrong with the Citroen’s raw performance. Its 2.0-litre HDi diesel offers a decent spread of torque and is noticeably more refined than the 320d’s engine at low speeds.
The car feels every bit as potent on the road, but the rest of the dynamic package really disappoints. The steering gives you little indication of what the front wheels are up to and this lack of feedback robs you of the confidence needed to exploit the grip.
However, the DS5’s biggest flaw is its uncompromising ride – very surprising for a big Citroen. The luxurious interior means you expect a soft suspension set-up, but the car crashes and jitters constantly on anything but the very smoothest road surfaces. This becomes particularly tiring on long motorway and A-road journeys.
Driving enjoyment and comfort are in short supply, then, but the diesel DS5 was at least efficient. It returned 39.4mpg on test – almost matching the BMW – and is a cheaper proposition for company drivers than the CC.
The long equipment list and keen pricing also mean the Citroen looks good value compared to the VW. But will that alone be enough to beat its talented rivals?
Chart position: 2WHY: Are you fed-up with the usual compact executive candidates? The new DS5 could be the perfect solution, as it puts the emphasis firmly on style.