First Drive: Is the DS 4 the car this French premium brand has been waiting for?

After quite a slow start, DS is hoping the DS 4 is the car to change its fortunes around? Ted Welford finds out if that’s the case.

DS 4
DS 4

What is it?

DS 4
Slim lights feature at the rear

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Despite DS’s best intentions, it’s a brand that has continued to struggle in the UK. Though moving away from the ‘just a posh Citroen’ image, buyers have continued to shy away from its premium models – the 3 Crossback and 7 Crossback, two SUVs that really should have sold well.

Though DS knows it can’t beat the key German brands – Audi, BMW and Mercedes – for sales, it aims to offer something those marques can’t, which is exclusivity. Though its cars have arguably been too exclusive in the past, DS is hoping good fortune awaits with the arrival of its new ‘4’ – a model pitched against the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A-Class. But is it good enough?

What’s new?

DS 4
The DS 4 is the latest addition to the DS line-up

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It’s been more than three years since the first-generation DS 4 was discontinued – a model that really was just a posh Citroen – so the car you see here really is all-new.

Sitting on the same platform as the latest Peugeot 308, it means you can choose it as a plug-in hybrid, alongside petrol and diesel, and it comes wearing the boldest design from the French firm yet – and that says something.

There’s a raft of new technology at play here too, from a new multimedia system that aims to work like a smartphone to a separate lower touchpad that you can use to access features on the main touchscreen, this new DS 4 really is a technology showcase.

What’s under the bonnet?

Huge daytime running lights really give the DS 4 a striking appearance

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Engine choices on the DS 4 include a 128bhp 1.2-litre petrol, 1.6-litre petrol with either 177bhp or 222bhp, and a 128bhp 1.5-litre diesel, but the star of the show is the E-Tense 225 plug-in hybrid we’re trying here.

Combining a turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol with an electric motor and 12.4kWh battery, the setup serves up 222bhp and 360Nm of torque, allowing for a 0-60mph time of 7.5 seconds and a top speed of 145mph.

DS also claims it can do 35 miles on electricity, which could allow for some ultra-low running costs – a claimed 232.3mpg, along with CO2 emissions as low as 27g/km. Using a 7kW wallbox, its battery can also be charged in just under two hours too.

What’s it like to drive?

The hybrid really is the pick of the DS range, with its combination of refinement when running on electricity and decent performance offering the best of both worlds. There’s more than enough punch to it, even once the electric has run out.

Hybrid models also come as standard with ‘DS Active Scan Suspension too’, which uses a camera to monitor the road surface and condition and then adapts the damping on each corner of the car to suit the conditions. It’s exclusive to this segment and largely does an impressive job of ironing out bumps, though the huge alloy wheels fitted as standard don’t massively help it to achieve a pillow-soft ride. Cars without this suspension (which is usually a £1,000 option) are particularly firm.

Though the DS 4 isn’t as sharp or involving to drive as rivals – especially the BMW 1 Series – its laid-back nature and focus on comfort is one that’s just as well appreciated here as outright sportiness.

How does it look?

DS 4
Sharp lines help the DS 4 to stand out

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DS has never been one to be timid with its cars’ designs and the DS 4 is certainly no exception. For some, it might be a bit too ‘out there’, but we reckon it’s a fantastic-looking thing that will be capable of turning heads wherever it goes.

With its imposing – but not over-the-top – grille, pop-out door handles that sit flush with the car’s lines and dramatic LED lighting that stretches across the car, it looks like nothing else in this class, and truly makes its German rivals look bland in comparison.

It’s also worth noting the DS 4 is noticeably larger in size than your typical hatchback, with dimensions closer to that of a mid-size crossover like an Audi Q3, rather than the A3.

What’s it like inside?

DS 4
The DS 4’s interior is superbly finished

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Perhaps the best thing about the DS 4 is its interior, which feels a real notch above everything else we’ve seen from the French firm yet. Audi and Mercedes could learn a lesson from the quality of materials on show in the 4’s cabin, while the overall design is impressively smart. From Alcantara to premium leather to real forged carbon, this feels like the interior of an executive saloon, rather than a family hatchback.

There are some really neat touches dotted around the cabin too, from the hidden air vents that are nestled into the dashboard, to the ‘Smart Touch’ screen that lets you customise shortcut buttons for easier operation on the move, with less distraction. Though certain aspects are a bit fiddly at first, they’re easily adjusted to.

Clever packaging also means the 390-litre boot on this plug-in hybrid (430 litres on petrol and diesel examples) is noticeably larger than PHEV rivals, while rear space is on par with competitors, if not any better.

What’s the spec like?

DS 4
The large widescreen is clear and easy to access

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There are three ‘styles’ to specify the ‘4’ in – standard hatch, the sportier-looking Performance Line we’re trying here and the more rugged-looking Cross version.

Regardless of version, plenty of equipment is included, such as a 10-inch touchscreen, digital dials, LED lights all-round and keyless start. Performance Line models then pack a smart black Alcantara interior, 19-inch black alloy wheels and a reversing camera. A ‘plus’ version then adds upgraded Matrix LED headlights, an extended head-up display and adaptive cruise control.

The downside is that the DS 4’s price is also on par with rivals, though admittedly you get more equipment with the DS. Prices start from £25,350 for a standard petrol model, but if you want the hybrid you’ll need to splash out a steep £36,600, meanwhile a ‘La Premiere’ launch edition costs more than £40,000 – which just begins to look sillily expensive.

Verdict

As they always say, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was a good DS. It seems like a long time that we’ve been waiting for a great model from this French marque, but the DS 4 is just that car.

With its interior that can teach the German marques a thing or two, a bold design and impressive array of technology, the DS 4 is a seriously appealing option, and a strong alternative to the ‘big three’ from Audi, BMW and Mercedes.

While badge-loving buyers will continue to buy with these three firms, if you’re wanting something generally different with no sacrifice on quality, the DS 4 deserves a serious look. You’ll just have to be prepared to pay the same as you would for a model from the German carmakers…

  • Model: DS 4
  • Price: £25,350
  • Model as tested: DS 4 Performance Line+ E-Tense 225
  • Price as tested: £38,100
  • Engine: 1.6-litre petrol-electric hybrid
  • Power: 222bhp
  • Torque: 360Nm
  • Max speed: 145mph
  • 0-60mph: 7.5 seconds
  • MPG: 183.8-232.3mpg
  • Emissions: 27-35g/km

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