Citroen DS5

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Citroen DS5

Road Test

Citroen DS5 driven

Driven October 2011

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In recent decades French big cars have taken a position of crazy passive-aggressive opposition to the dominant German saloons. They oscillate wildly between rubbish impersonation (Peugeot 607) and theatrical contrariness (Renault Avantime). Whatever - they always bombed in the showrooms.

Now it's Citroen's turn again, topping off the successful DS line with this £23k-£33k machine. In line with their historical brand values they've decided to go all sci-fi on us. The DS5 is the sort of spaceship-silhouetted capsule we dreamed of riding in when we saw all those Giugiaro concept wagons of the 1980s.

It's tall, but broad-shouldered and tapers to the back, so it looks far more road-hugging than a crossover or MPV. It has a proper bonnet so it isn't drearily egg-shaped in profile.

It's a sort of high-riding estate really, but a whole load of oddball visual details contrive to put onlookers off the scent. Look at that crazy chromed scythe running back from the headlamps along the wing.

Indoors too, pretty much everything is STYLED, in capital letters. The switches and clocks and furniture are all part of a visual feast. I love it, but I'm not sure why, because usually I like simplicity. Maybe it's the sheer daring of it. Whatever, it's certainly done with conviction and quality.

Part of the reason it's high is so you have the commanding view that crossover buyers love. Partly it's to give it the space of a Mondeo-sized car even though it's about 25cm shorter, so it's comparatively light (80kg less than a Citroen C5) and manageable in a tight spot.

So it's a clever enough idea. And as far as I'm concerned it's attractive - YMMV, of course. But it isn't going to pick up any buyers from German metal if it isn't any good to drive.

We're in the 1.6-litre turbo, which is the most urgent engine available. Doesn't sound much, but it's the excellent little high-tech BMW/PSA engine and it makes 200bhp, so there's enough power. But you can hear that you've got a panting little dog under the bonnet rather than a lazy big one. There's a fair bit of spin-cycle hum. That's OK in a DS3 Racing, but it's not the right atmosphere in what's supposed to be more of a big luxo-cruiser.

By the same token, this version is set up for agility and sportiness. And yes it's got high-geared steering and it jinks through a bend with a flatness and quickness you'd get from other ‘sporty' tallish vehicles - say an Audi Q5. But sorry, this is the wrong approach. You're sitting up in this glassy capsule, remote from the action. It doesn't feel very natural. And the ride's stiff and jiggly.

I also tried the diesel hybrid, which mostly doesn't feel like a hybrid at all. That's good. It's simply a decent fast diesel that happens to get staggering economy, plus urban silence and a bit of snowbound 4WD ability, thanks to its electrically driven rear wheels. But it too has the firm chassis.

There's a softer set-up on the plain diesel versions and that must surely be the way to go. There's a lot to like: a good gearbox, progressive steering, good stability, well-engineered controls. The DS5's design and morphology is a deliberately different approach from a German saloon or estate. So let it drive differently too please - the soft chassis is the right idea.

The DS5 is a lovely place to be, and from which to watch the world pass beneath your windows. It's about travel not tyre-smoke.

After all, anyone who chooses a DS5 over say a 3-series Touring is already being different to the point of bloody-mindedness. History says there won't be many takers, but we'll applaud on the rare occasions we see one.

Paul Horrell

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