New car review

DS 4 review

What is it? Revamped version of the DS 4 family hatch for Citroen’s new upmarket brand.
Key features: Bespoke DS styling, revised market targeting, off-road styled version.
Our view: DS will not make really significant progress until the arrival of models that are not based around reworked Citroens.
Type of review: First UK drive

In July 2015 The Car Expert reported on the launch of a revised DS 5, the major change being the lack of the Citroen badge anywhere on the car as the French brand rolled out its DS Automobiles line as a standalone upmarket brand, the DS 5 its flagship.

Now the same facelift treatment is being applied to the smaller DS 4, as it will be next year to the brand’s biggest seller, the Mini-rivalling DS 3. Then between 2017 and 2020 all three will be replaced as DS Automobiles rolls out six bespoke models of its own.

For now, however, the brand has to content itself with making the most of its current models, and in the case of the DS 4 that includes taking a new view on just what the car is. When first launched as a Citroën in 2011 the DS 4 was pitched as a high-riding family hatchback with a coupé-like profile, but as DS Automobiles product manager Alastair Fairgrieve freely admits, such a proposition did not exactly make the DS a popular entry on customers’ lists of potential purchases.

So in its new incarnation the DS 4 is being repositioned, and being pushed upmarket, with the expectation that as a premium car it will appeal more widely and be considered an alternative for those who might be considering moving up from a Ford to a BMW, or a VW to an Audi.

Therefore adding a greater sense of quality is a crucial part of the DS 4 recipe, as we’ll see shortly, but there is also a further complication. This is the separate ‘Crossback’ version, designed to appeal to the ever-growing number of buyers whose heads are being turned towards crossovers.

The Crossback is not a crossover, and it certainly does not offer an all-wheel-drive option. But it looks like one, thanks to a 30mm greater ride height, revised suspension settings to suit mild grasscutting, and muscular body additions such as more prominent bumpers, extended wheel-arches and roof rails. DS hopes this will keep buyers interested until the brand’s proper crossover arrives as one of the six new models.

As in the DS 5, a key part of this facelift is adding the DS brand’s bespoke styling to try and put clear water between it and Citroën. So the DS 4 gains the family identifiers of a more vertical, dominant grille with the DS emblem in its centre, the scrolling indicators and most notably the ‘DS wings’, chrome touches filling the gap between grille and headlamps, a look that recalls the original Citroën DS of 1955. However it makes do without the chrome bars running along the bonnet edges from headlamps to windscreen base that are such a notable feature of the DS 5.

Seen from the outside the car certainly looks purposeful enough, particularly in jacked-up Crossback form. Does it look a totally different car to its Citroën inspiration? Your correspondent is not convinced.

Inside is where quite a lot of effort has been expended in moving this car upmarket and initially it impresses. The layout is effectively that of the DS 5, perhaps the most notable aspect the de-cluttered dash, achieved by transferring many functions to a seven-inch touchscreen monitor. Most notable, that is, apart from the top of the three upholstery options, a high-quality semi-aniline finish in a very attractive watch strap look. This really does produce a premium feel, but it is the most expensive option and fitting it does emphasise the less plush finish on some of the other surfaces.

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Where the DS 4 does score over its larger sister is in its infotainment, as it is the first DS model, in fact the first across the Peugeot/Citroën group, to offer compatibility with Apple’s CarPlay system, plugging in one’s smartphone allowing the use of its apps through the car’s touchscreen.

Interior space is adequate for the driver, the huge windscreen sweeping into the roof a nice touch, but rear-seat passengers fare less well, the coupe-like sloping roof resulting in the environment feeling a little too cosy for a five-door hatch in this market.

The DS 4 launches with six engine options – a 1.2 and two 1.6 petrol units, and a 1.6 and pair of 2.0-litre diesels. According to DS management all have been improved, and all meet Euro 6 emissions requirements, and the two lower-powered diesels just slip into free road tax territory at 100g/km.

The Car Expert tried out two diesel options likely to appeal especially to fleet buyers, the 118bhp variant in Crossback form and its larger 150 sister in a mainstream DS 4.

Both are effective units with enough refinement to suit the new market aspirations of the DS, and there is really no reason not to choose the 118bhp version as it will provide all the pace one needs for everyday driving. However the almost two seconds faster 62mph sprint time of the 148bhp version, combined with a negligible penalty in fuel economy, is likely to make it the most popular variant.

On the road, the stiffer suspension of the DS translates to competent handling in bends, with the converse of a ride that is a little less smooth than some of its perceived premium rivals. The Crossback is more refined than its higher stance would suggest, in fact its on-the-road performance almost indistinguishable from its lower-slung sister. A disappointment with both models, however, is the amount of wind noise around the mirrors – that simply doesn’t happen with an Audi or a BMW…

Will it sell? According to Fairgrieve, the car might appeal to those who currently look at the likes of Volvo, above the mainstream and different to the hordes of Audis, BMWs and Mercedes in company car parks. We agree with this, but we also still believe that DS will not make really significant progress until the arrival of models that are not based around reworked Citroens.

DS 4 – key specifications

Models tested: DS 4 Prestige BlueHDi 150 6-speed S&S Manual, DS 4 Crossback BlueHDi 120 6-speed S&S Manual
On Sale: November 2015
Range price:
DS £19,495-£25,495, Crossback £21,745-£26,495
Insurance groups:
Engines: Petrol 1.2, 1.6×2. Diesel 1.6, 2.0×2.
Power (bhp): 129, 162/208. 118, 148/178.
Torque (lb/ft):
170, 177/210. 221, 273/295.
0-62mph (sec): 9.9, 8.7/7.8. 10.9*, 8.8/8.6.
Top speed (mph): 123, 131.146. 120*, 129/127.
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 55.4, 50.4/47.9. 74.3*, 72.4/64.2.
CO2 emissions (g/km):
119, 130/138. 100, 100/115.
Key rivals:
Volvo V40, Mercedes A Class
Test Date: November 2015.
* = with manual gearbox.

Andrew Charman
Andrew Charman
Andrew is a road test editor for The Car Expert. He is a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers, and has been testing and writing about new cars for more than 20 years. Today he is well known to senior personnel at the major car manufacturers and attends many new model launches each year.

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