Life Auto This sporty Citroen belongs on the open road
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This sporty Citroen belongs on the open road

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Expert rating: 80/100

Engine, drivetrain and chassis: 17/20
Price, packaging and practicality: 13/20
Safety and technology: 16/20
Behind the wheel: 16/20
X-factor: 18/20

A showy pick-and-mix of French luxury and innovative practicality, the DS 5 possesses a certain je ne sais quoi that makes it a sure-fire conversation starter.

A sporty drive with some clever automated systems and nifty features, it sits somewhere between a small station wagon and a big hatchback in terms of size.

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As such, it’s the perfect car for baby boomers long past the family road trip but far from past their prime. The DS 5 is priced from $56,990 (plus on-road costs).

The week I drive this quintessentially French car, something terrible happens in Paris.

Call it over-sentimentality, but the horrendous attacks that rattled the world and left Parisians shaken but not broken make driving a vehicle from a French manufacturer seem strangely poignant.

Over the top? Or Parisian luxe? You decide.
Red leather interiors – over the top? Or Parisian luxe? You be the judge.

The French are known for their particular brand of cool that mixes a carefree sense of fun with a refined elegance.

That’s why I’m surprised to find that, upon first glance, the Citroen DS 5 doesn’t seem very French.

The first thing that strikes me about this car is its showy interior – bizarre red leather, basket-weave seats and a dashboard full of shiny silver gadgets and buttons.

The overall effect is one of all-out luxe rather than refinement and subtlety.

This initial assault on the eyes doesn’t feel very Parisian. Then again, sitting in the cushy seats gives me the overwhelming urge to yell “let them eat cake!” out the car window.

The flashiness extends to the exterior too, with some eye-catching wheels, silver accents around the windshield and a fairly elaborate headlight set-up.

The other thing that immediately strikes me is the size. I’m not sure what the technical term is but it’s somewhere between a small station wagon and a big hatchback.

A hatch-wagon, perhaps? A station-back? Je ne sais pas.

There's no shortage of complicated buttons in the front.
There’s no shortage of complicated buttons in the front.

What’s for certain is that it’s nice and roomy, with fold-down seats and a boot space that would be downright impressive on any regular hatchback.

One peeve – the visibility from the driver’s seat takes some serious getting used to.

Split windows with fairly thick reinforcements mean the front corners of the windshield can feel like blind spots.

Once you adjust to this, however, it’s clear concessions have been made for whatever shortcomings there are.

The side mirrors have little lights that turn on when another car is coming up alongside you and the speedometer is so glaringly obvious there’s zero excuse for speeding.

That’s somewhat unfortunate, because the DS 5 performs best at high speeds. It doesn’t make much sense driving around the suburbs thanks to its meaty frame.

But once you hit the open highway it comes alive – smooth and quiet, stable and speedy. In fact, it drives more like a sports car than you’d imagine.

Cruise control is excellent – with a very handy pause function – as is the speed limit function, which keeps you on the straight and narrow if you start having a bit too much fun with the accelerator.

For my week of city driving combined with some freeway driving for a weekend away at the beach, my trip computer clocked the fuel consumption in at 6.7L/100km, which isn’t far off the promised 6.1. Not too shabby.

And I even had the idle-stop function turned off for most of the time because it was killing my pedal-to-the-metal vibe.

The reverse camera is useful but the navigation system is temperamental – it forgot to tell me where to turn off more than once and stubbornly refused to let me enter street numbers for a good 15 minutes.

The DS makes more sense on the open road, instead of in the suburbs.
The DS makes more sense on the open road, rather than in the suburbs.

That said, the directions do appear on the pop-up HUD right in your line of sight, so when it does work it’s a pretty helpful system.

The rest of the dashboard is overwhelming, revealing a particular disregard for minimalism.

Alongside a measly parking brake that will prove a struggle for less nimble fingers, there are almost too many switches to fiddle with.

A lot of these buttons are for the split sunroof – a clever crowd-pleaser for picky backseat drivers who don’t want the sun on their face.

Given the extremely positive reaction the car received from both of my parents, I personally see the target market for the DS 5 as baby boomers ready to ditch the kids and take a walk on the wild side.

It would also be ideal for those craving a luxury car feel that are willing to forego the prestige of the Citroen’s peers.

Unfortunately, the price is seriously steep when placed amongst more popular competitors.

But perhaps you’re paying for X-factor and individuality? Diehard Citroen devotees (I’m told they exist and they’re passionate) might even see it as a bargain.

After a week of driving the DS 5 I realise, contrary to my first appraisal, it’s as quintessentially French as a baguette – practicality and sexiness somehow work together in perfect symmetry.

Like a French ingénue, the eye-catching appearance gets people talking and divides opinion.

And the price, exorbitant for a car of this size, is like a big “up yours” to the status quo – sort of like that iconic post-Paris attacks Charlie Hebdo cover.

“They have weapons. F**k them, we have champagne!”

2015 Citroen DS 5 DSPORT Series II pricing and specifications:
Price: $56,990 (plus on-road costs)
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel
Output: 120kW/340Nm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel: 6.1L/100km (ADR Combined)
CO2: 158g/km (ADR Combined)
Safety Rating: Five-star ANCAP

Also consider:
>> Peugeot 508 Allure HDi (from $48,990 plus ORCs)
>> Skoda Octavia 135TDI (from $41,440 plus ORCs)
>> Volvo V40 D4 Luxury (from $46,490 plus ORCs)

This article was originally published on motoring.com.au. All images via motoring.com.au.

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