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Why the new DS 4 isn't premium enough
DS needs to do better than this as a standalone brand, Stephen Dobie reckons
This is the DS 4. It’s at once a facelifted Citroen and, um, not a Citroen at all.
The Citroen and DS brands have now separated, and the split has happened while the first gaggle of DS-prefixed Citroen models are still on sale, receiving their mid-life nips and tucks.
Splitting DS from Citroen is a move designed to nab a slice of the premium profit pie from the seemingly unstoppable German brands. I’m not entirely convinced by such a move - Citroen has a cool and interesting history, and I don’t see the shame in being explicitly attached to it - but it’s happening, and by 2020 we can expect half a dozen all-new ‘DS Automobiles’ models. There will be clever, cossetting suspension, a slant towards autonomous driving and swish design.
This DS 4, though, feels like an awkward stepping stone. It is not an inherently bad car: it looks a bit quirky, it feels well put together, and it drives in a solid way that neither excites nor offends, but which is mostly effort-free and relaxing.
But it’s little different to its Citroen-badged days, and it feels a long way from prestige. The list of bugbears is long, even if they are rather minor in isolation.
Examples? Rear windows which can’t be opened at all, a start-stop system that only works if you sit on the brake pedal rather than use the handbrake, auto windscreen wipers that rarely react in accordance with the weather, and a USB port that’s so obscured from the driver’s vision you’ll need your phone’s torch to find it.
These all qualify as #firstworldproblems, no doubt. And on a smartly priced Citroen they would all simply dissolve into the background. But a premium car surely revolves around a lack of compromise, and the DS 4 hardly feels luxurious when rear passengers can’t acquire their own fresh air, or your head is buried down by the gearstick just so you can plug your phone in to charge.
Once it’s plugged in, it links straight to Carplay. Which is among a number of nice flourishes, including scrolling LED indicators and glass-like dials. But they’re ornate icing on an average cake.
The DS 5, meanwhile, follows the large posh French script closely, with a wonderfully idiosyncratic interior, arresting looks and lots of space. It is wilfully different to an A4 or C-Class, and almost painfully niche because of it. But that all helps create a feeling of prestige, of something special.
The DS 4, though, seems to be a car in no man’s land. For me, it does nothing a DS 3 doesn’t do, offering barely more room in the back while the littler car exhibits notably more flair.
If giving DS Automobiles its own, premium identity is the right move, should it have waited until a range of brand new models, rather than facelifted Citroens, were on offer before scalpelling off the chevrons? My hunch is yes.