Citroen DS5 DSport Hybrid4 Review – French Flagship Embodies Originality

Individual looks, beautifully made & designed interior is tranquil, good cruising qualities

Hybrid4 auto ‘box not good, suspension overly harsh at lower speeds

Citroën DS5?

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Arriving on the scene in 2011, the DS5 is Citroen’s flagship model. Citroen’s tout the DS5 as ‘The executive car choice for discerning drivers wanting luxury, style performance and economy.’ With Citroen’s previous generations of cars being both underwhelming and suffering from poor material and build quality issues, can they really make an appealing luxury car? We were sent the range-topping Citroen DS5 DSport Hybrid4 200 Airdream for a week to find out…

Exterior. Butt-ugly or beauty?

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The DS5 is undoubtedly a handsome car. Its sharp, modern styling exudes class from every angle you choose to view it from. The Citroen designers deserve a round of applause for the DS5, for a few reasons. Firstly, the DS5 stands out from the crowd, and you certainly won’t just be another Euro-clone driving about unnoticed. Secondly, the DS5 looks like it has been lovingly and painstakingly created in its design, and not done by some computer coldly calculating its dimensions and lines.

I love, absolutely love, the chrome ‘Sabre’ running from the A-pillar to the front headlight – it is bold, aggressive and as French in design as is possible. The entirety of the DS5 exterior is packed with details, such as the jagged lines jutting out of the bonnet, slashes of rich chrome here and there, beautiful cutouts for the LEDs in the headlights, deep swage lines running down the sides, and much more. While there’s a lot going on though, it is certainly not too much, or overdone.

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The DS5, while elegant and highly chic, has a heavy-set, taut look about it. This is possibly because of the stocky front end, and a roofline that appears low-slung, sloping away towards the rear, while two huge chromed (faux) exhaust tips poke out of the back, looking for all the world like a couple of Lamborghini-inspired exits.

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As long as you spec a decent set of alloy wheels (the 18″ black Canaveral are rather nice), the Citroen DS5 will good in almost any of the (rather limited) colour options. The DS5 is a real head-turner, and it drew admiring looks every time I drove it, and rightly so, for this Citroen is a triumph of current car design, blending sportiness with all the class of a high-end luxury car. In this, Citroen have created a very desirable-looking car, and that alone goes a long way towards attracting buyers.

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Interior. Neat or nothing special?

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Motoring journo’s often refer to a car’s interior as the cabin, and it so happens that this term suits the Citroen DS5 perfectly. The Citroen DS5 DSport is the highest model available, and it’s the one we were sent. To be honest, in any spec the interior looks pretty nice, but in DSport spec with the deep Red ‘Club’ leather seating, it looks utterly stunning.

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The DS5 already looks appealing on the outside, but open the door and you’ll can’t help but be impressed by the opulent-looking cabin. There’s stitched leather panelling on the doors, and the deep leather seats with their ‘watch strap’ pattern just beg to be sat in, so I did. Sliding into the sumptuous leather drivers seat, I switch on the (disappointing) massage feature, immediately noticing the DS5’s interior has a cocooning effect, and you feel enveloped, giving you a sense of comfort and repose. Something you feel only with high quality luxury cars, in fact. Never thought I’d say that about a Citroen.

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In the back, any passengers I had were happy with the rear side seating, which again are deep and comfortable and are reclined at a relaxed angle, and there’s easily enough legroom for taller people. Some are reporting on it being cramped, perhaps because of the low roofline, but I didn’t see any real problem.

Citroen DS5 DSport Hybrid4 review

Boot space isn’t huge, as the rear also contains the electric system, but it’s still adequate enough, and although it has a high loading point, it’s a completely flat section meaning getting stuff back out isn’t a problem. There’s also a neat little hatch in the centre, housing a below-level storage compartment, so it’s fairly practical in that department.

Citroen DS5 DSport Hybrid4 hybrid review interior red black leather seats arm rest vents multi

A main feature the next section my eye was drawn to was the central console, which sits high and wide between the driver and passenger. This is a stunning marvellous design, with chunky shark-fin-like buttons for the windows, and these sit either side of the main scroller wheel and buttons for controlling the media system, satellite navigation and more. In front of that is a tiny shifter for the auto ‘box, and on the Hybrid4 200 Airdream version, there’s an operator dial for selecting the four different running modes, which I’ll talk about later.

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Up from that, and the facia of the centre console also has some classy, expensive-looking features, like the metal dials for the heating controls, chromed-tipped buttons for the air conditioning and heated rear ‘screen, and to add further to this they’re backed by panels of brushed aluminium. The large integrated sat nav, music system screen also looks good quality, providing modern graphics and a easy-to-use layout.

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This is all good, with one glaring exception; the utterly awful plastic section and buttons for the stereo, just underneath the screen. Why, oh why, did someone at Citroen think it was a good idea to do this? It entirely spoils the look of the facia. They look like they’ve been transplanted from an eighties hi-fi, or taken directly out of a Rover SD1 Vitesse – a terrible decision that one, and they’re so ugly that even looking at them for a second induced a splitting headache with double vision.

Thankfully, the drivers console and dials are much better. Three individual screens show information on your power usage for the electric mode,and  there’s no rev counter, but instead a ‘power’ dial, showing you the percentage of power you’re using, the usual speedometer plus another multi-use screen which provides info on where the power is coming or going – i.e. the wheels being driven by the electrics or diesel motors, and if the batteries are being charged or discharged – plus a whole host of other stuff such as fuel economy and sat nav directions.

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Push the starter button and in front of the drivers console, up rises a heads-up display (HUD), which gives you your speed, sat nav instructions and more. Personally, I couldn’t get used to it and felt it was more of a distraction than a help, especially when the dials are already well laid out and easy to read. I’m siding with the fact the Citroen’s HUD is just a little too gimmicky, and if it was an option, I’d not spec it.

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A main feature of the DS5 interior are the three glass panels in the roof, which look magnificent. There’s one each for the driver and passenger, and a large section for the rear passengers. It’s a nice break from the norm of having a single large panoramic roof, and I think this way adds a further degree of class, especially as you can open or shut the blinds to them individually. Further to that are the really very cool roof-mounted controls from the HUD and the roof glass blinds.

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Sitting in the Citroen DS5 DSport Hybrid4 is rather evocative of being sat in a private jet. It is comfortable, luxurious and above all a beautiful design. Hold on though, there’s one more thing – it is well made, solidly bolded together and uses high quality material. I’m sorry, but this is a Citroen we’re talking about still, right? Yep, and up to now I’m liking it… a lot.

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Engine and gearbox

The DS5 is offered with four engines, depending on the spec you go for. There’s a THP 200 petrol in manual, an e-HDI 115 diesel in manual and a HDi 160 diesel in auto or manual, plus the one we were sent – the Hybrid4 200 Airdream automatic, which is a ‘full’ hybrid-diesel.

The Hybrid4 is a 2.0 litre, 4 cylinder turbo-diesel with 163 hp and 221 lb. ft (300Nm) of torque, mated to an electric motor that produces 40 horsepower, making 200 hp combined, and producing emissions as low as 88 g/km (zero UK car tax), and even with the bigger 19″ wheels it’s still only 102 g/km – or a measly £20 per year (Oct. 2013).

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The Hybrid4 system also mens you’re getting selectable four-wheel-drive from the Citroen, as the diesel engine drives the front wheels, and the electric motor the rears. Handy for when the bad weather closes in. A dial in mounted next to the gear shifter gives you four driving  options; Auto clicks you between the diesel and electric driving automatically, Sport adds in extra power by using the electric motor simultaneously, ZEV (meaning Zero Emission Vehicle) allows you to use the electric motor solely up 37 mph and only cutting the engine in when the battery runs low, and then there’s 4WD, which puts power to all four wheels via the diesel and electric motors.

Claimed UK miles-per-gallon figures for the Hybrid4 are; urban: 72.4, extra urban: 76.4, combined: 74.3. The stats are good, and whilst the real-world figures differ, they are still decent, with motorway driving showed almost 48 mpg (50+ if I’d driven slower), and obviously if you’re using the ZEV electric mode around town, with the diesel cutting in once the battery gets low or if you stray above 37 mph, you’re looking at good returns and less re-fuelling than a non-hybrid.

The auto ‘box is a 6-speed with paddle shifters, and it is utterly terrible under anything other than light acceleration. More on that in the next section.

Ready to roll? Let’s drive!

Press the Citroen DS5 Hybrid4’s starter button and you’ll hear… nothing. Always starting in electric mode, there’s a couple of whirrs and ticking noises as the electrics sort themselves out, but apart from that there’s little to be heard, save for a low hum as you drive away. That hum seems to disappear though, and you’re driving in near-silence save for some tyre noise.

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If you’ve not driven a hybrid before, it’s a very eery sensation driving in electric mode, and the look on first-time passengers faces is always one of incredulity as the Citroen glides away from a stop. There’s something very satisfying about driving the DS5 Hybrid4 in ZEV mode, as you know you’re not spending a penny on fuel when moving slowly in congested traffic, or driving through town, and the silence makes the DS5 a relaxing place to be too. The DSport has double-glazed windows, and the sound-deadening is very well done too, keeping both exterior and road noise to a low level.

With the Hybrid4 already looking as good as it does, people do notice the car, and to add to that you can visibly see the puzzlement on their faces as you drift past without a sound. In ZEV mode, Citroen state the DS5 Hybrid4 will do 37 mph maximum, but actually I managed 40 mph a few times. This isn’t a plug-in hybrid, and the charging of the batteries takes places when you either brake, take your foot off the accelerator or by the engine should the charge get too low.

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If you’re decelerating at motorway speeds, this is obviously generating electricity and it slows the car down quickly – almost as if you were lightly pressing the brake pedal. The battery level rises quickly when braking or decelerating at higher speeds, but city use showed slow charging, meaning should you use all the power up, you’ll be struggling to get back onto full electric driving.

I managed 1.3 miles (2.09 km) in ZEV mode, and I think it could have gone further, but it’s dependant on factors like how heavy the traffic is, what the road gradients are like and even how cold the weather is. I had a full battery level showing, and all was well until I drove up a short-but-sharp inclined section of road, where the level dropped to zero within just 50 metres or so.

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In Auto mode (on the dial), anything other than a light pressure to the accelerator will see the diesel engine fire up, and you have to pull away really slowly, and let the speed build to keep it going on electrics. The diesel engine isn’t as quiet as I’d have liked at lower city speeds, but once you’re rolling at 35 mph plus, it not really noticeable, and all that sound-deadening keeps it fairly minimal too.

The HDi 160 turbo-diesel runs well, and I found it to be smooth, accelerating well when you need it. 0 – 60 mph is done in 8.3 seconds – although weirdly it felt slower if I’m honest – and you’ll max out at 131 mph. The 6-speed automatic gearbox is fine around town, or if you slide up to sixty or seventy mph at a slower pace, but should you decide to accelerate hard to get up to speed, the DS5’s gearbox suddenly becomes a ridiculous, hideous, pig of an automatic.

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I shall endeavour to describe how it feels. The road opens up into the national speed limit, and I push the accelerator down. The DS5 accelerates as it should, but then it seems to pull on the reigns, lunge down heavily, take a breath, change up a gear, and surge forward heavily once again, before repeating the process once more. It reminds me absolutely of being on a see-saw. I used the paddle shifters instead to see if that made any difference, but got precisely the same issue. I’ve seen other reviews of the DS5 Hybrid4 give the same feedback.

How Citroen ever thought that it was fine to put this gearbox into their flagship – or any – model, I cannot fathom. It’s just not right, and in all honesty after this I was seriously disappointed with the DS5 Hybrid4, and just when I thought things were all pointing its way too! You have stunning looks, a beautiful and luxurious interior, a decent ride and then this rather glaring mess of a transmission. I’ll be fair – drive it without accelerating hard, and it’s bearable, but if not… you’ve been informed already about that.

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Regarding the ride and drive, with a kerb weight of 1,856 kilograms (4,091 lbs) the Citroen DS5 Hybrid4 is a heavy car for its size, and although the steering is light of course, you definitely get a sense of its poundage. That doesn’t mean it’s wallowy or gets a lean-on in corners too badly as it’s actually quite well-behaved, and it’s good enough all heftiness considered.

In trying to keep the DS5 Hybrid4 conducting itself decently through the corners, they’ve stiffened the suspension perhaps a little too much, as low-speed urban driving showed the Citroen’s ride up as noticeably firm – they simply haven’t given it the luxurious waft-like ride it deserves, and it tends to be too harsh over poor surfaces and speed humps.

I covered a fair amount of miles in the week the DS5 Hybrid4 was with us, and most were from motorway driving. If you’ve got distance to cover in the DS5, you’ll find it a very relaxing place to be, with great cruising prowess. I ended a 7-hour round-trip down the motorway. which involved a many sections of roadworks (of course) and heavy traffic as a result, driving rain and moronic motorists, finally coming to a silent stop outside my house thanks to the electric motor, and I was relatively chilled-out and instead of leaping gladly from the Citroen and rubbing my back dramatically for effect, I sat there for a minute reflecting on how nice a place the cabin is. That’s always a good thing.

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Price

The Citroen DS5 starts at £23,500 for the DS5 e-HDi 115 DSign, running up to around £33,300 for the DS5 Hybrid4 DSport – minus any options. When asked about the price, and before I knew what it was, I guessed at thirty to thirty-five thousand as it physically felt about right. Minus that awful gearbox, the Citroen DS5 DSport feels luxurious and well-built enough to demand the price tag, and I believe it’s fair enough.

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However, I’d save myself around £4,000 by going for either the HDi 160 diesel manual, or the THP 200 petrol manual over the Hybrid4, so there’s still the luxury element there without cracking the £30K mark.

Rivals to the DS5 – adding options to make them similarly spec’d to the DS5 DSport – include cars like the Volkswagen CC GT 2.0 TDI 140PS manual at around £30,000, Audi A4 Saloon SE Technik 2.0 TDIe manual for £29.5K or a Peugeot 3008 HYbrid4 manual for a snip over £31K. But here’s something to chew over – if you spec’d the DS5 DSport Hybrid4 high enough you’ll hit £35,000, and for the same price you could have a Jaguar XF 2.2 litre i4 163 turbo-diesel SE, including a load of options boxes ticked. Tempting.

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The Citroen DS5 DSport Hybrid4 is a luxurious car, showing plenty of panache on the exterior, and an extremely appealing interior design, which finally has a good fit and finish too. There’s a lot going for this Citroen, and it absolutely appeals if you want to be seen in something different that has character and individuality by the bucket load. There are few modern cars that can boast such traits, and for me the exterior and interior beauty, plus the fact this car actually has soul, are it’s main selling factors.

In line with most modern French cars it’s also very safe, using not only plenty of driver aids including EBD (brakeforce distribution), EBA (braking assist), ESP (stability programme) and traction control, but also incorporates a high level of impact safety – more than enough to be awarded a 5-star Euro NCAP rating in fact.

Although the HDi 160 diesel engine is smooth and provides good torque, the Hybrid4 system isn’t as good as it should be, and its automatic gearbox leaves a lot to be desired. Currently, I’d avoid the Hybrid4 – unless that is, you really feel you can put up with the higher price and that terrible gearbox – and go for one of the other engine options with a manual gearbox.

On a final note, I’d rate the DS5 higher with one of the above-mentioned engined; 7.5/10 over the 6.5 I’ve given the Hybrid4.

Do you own a 2013> Citroen DS5 Hybrid4? What are your views on it, and what are the best and worst points? Share your thoughts and leave a comment below!

Exterior  9
Interior  8
Engine  7
Hybrid system  5.5
Gearbox (auto)  4
Price  6
Drive & ride  6.5
Overall Score  6.5 / 10 

  Specs

Model (as tested)  2013 Citroën DS5 DSport Hybrid4 200 Airdream
Spec includes  Cuise control & speed limiter, reverse camera & satellite navigation, electric & heated front seats with massage for driver, heads-up display, dual zone air conditioning, three-part sunroof, daytime running LED lights. See specs for more
Options you should spec  ‘Club’ leather seating (£1,690), Electric comfort pack (£500)
The Competition  Volkswagen CC GT, Audi A4 Saloon Technik, Peugeot 3008 HYbrid4, Jaguar XF Jaguar XF SE
Price  (Oct. 2013) DSport Hybrid4 OTR: £33,360
Engine  2.0 litre, 4-cylinder, turbo-diesel + 40 hp electric motor
Power, Torque, CO2  163 hp and 221 lb. ft (300Nm) of torque, + 40 hp electric motor | CO2: 88 – 102 g/km (auto)
Drive, Gears (as tested)  Traverse front-wheel drive + selectable 4WD | 6-speed automatic
Top Speed, 0 – 60 mph, Euro NCAP  Max speed (ltd): 131 mph | 0 – 62 mph: 8.3 seconds | 5-star Euro NCAP rating
Fuel economy (UK mpg)  Urban: 72.4, Extra urban: 76.4, Combined: 74.3
Weight (kerb)  1,856 kilograms (4,091 lbs)
Websites  Citroen UK, Citroen France, Citroen Worldwide

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Words: Chris Davies | Tested by: Chris Davies | Photography: Chris Davies, Jason FanthorpeMatthew Davies

2 responses to “Citroen DS5 DSport Hybrid4 Review – French Flagship Embodies Originality”

  1. jandnrowe

    I’ve had my nearly new DS5 Hybrid for about a month now. I’d first seen one nearly a year ago and was struck by it’s design. I read reviews and was concerned about the ride often described as harsh. After weeks of research and trying other makes I kept coming back to the DS5 and finally took the plunge having had the car on a 24hr test run so I could take it to work on familiar roads. The road manners are perfectly acceptable on 18″ wheels on my rural / dual carriageway and urban roads. I’ve not experienced the author’s gearbox manners so perhaps that’s been adjusted on later models. It’s got bags of style, is quiet and so comfortable and still a rare beast.
    By the way I’m pleased to see your pictures taken near The Deep – very shark-like in building and car.

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