France’s answer to the BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A remains an unusual choice, but it may be the brand’s best car yet.
In the past, DS cars have been deliberately eccentric in design and execution, which makes them interesting but often annoying. However, the DS4 seems to have found the balance between avant-garde and friendliness that is needed if it comes to challenging the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Mercedes A-Class.
Visually, it still has a unique design language that makes extensive use of the diamond shape and angular lines to stunning effect. Sharp creases and slim lights help emphasize the car’s proportions and give it a low, wide, confident appearance that puts it somewhere between a hatchback and a crossover, and hides a surprisingly roomy cabin and luggage compartment.
Interior design is where the DS’ focus on being a premium brand is most apparent. Aside from a couple of elements it shares with the likes of Peugeot and Citroen, the cabin is clearly a step above the mainstream. There are plenty of nice, soft-touch materials, including Alcantara on the dashboard and doors, as well as metallic or metallic finishes on the switchgear. Care and attention to detail has been paid and there is a pleasing flow to the interior lines that run from door to door, wrapping around key dashboard elements such as the digital instruments and 10-inch touchscreen.
On the center console is a weird little second touchscreen that acts as a shortcut pad to that home screen. It allows you to save up to six frequently used functions – from favorite phone contacts to navigation destinations or climate controls – and then move them to the home screen to activate them. It falls neatly in hand while driving so you don’t reach for the home screen but hint at a poorly thought-out home screen system.
The DS4 comes with a choice of a 128-hp diesel engine, three petrol engines of 128-hp, 178-hp or 222-hp, or a plug-in hybrid. This PHEV delivers 222 horsepower, the usual ridiculous claims of 235 mpg and an EV-only range of 38.5 miles. Sadly, in our time, after multiple full charges, we’ve never seen more than 22 miles of specified range and mid-40s economy thanks to a combination of plenty of highway and highway driving.
Performance is strong thanks to the combined system’s 222 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque, with 62 mph hitting in less than eight seconds. The power is delivered smoothly and quietly but the control doesn’t match its straight-line pace, even in the nominal Sport Performance line spec. Like all DS models, it’s more about comfort and that shows in the soft ride—dominated by the cam-controlled active scan predictive suspension—and steering that’s light but lacks feel or feedback. Some times in our time, the rear and front ends didn’t feel fully connected and there was no dynamism or performance to speak of. On the plus side, previous DS models combined poor handling with a bad ride, but this new DS rides well and handles better than its predecessors.
The DS4 starts at around £28,000 but once you select the hybrid, things escalate quickly and our test car tops out at £41,050 before options. Performance Line+ models get a host of visual upgrades including 19-inch gloss black alloy wheels and exterior trim as well as an intriguing Alcantra combination and shorts on the sport seats. There’s also plenty of equipment and tech, including adaptive matrix headlights, an extended smart head-up display, and the usual suite of driver-assist tech. Oddly enough, £40,000 still doesn’t get you heated seats or a powered tailgate, and if you want unique night vision, it’ll set you back £1,500.
It’s fair to say that the DS’ success thus far has been limited partly by badge smugness and partly by some disappointing cars. The new DS 4 provides hope, however, that things are picking up. It looks great inside and out and offers a comfortable and refined driving experience with a decent drivetrain. However, competitors from BMW, Audi and Mercedes all offer the same, coupled with the undoubted appeal of the badge, which means the DS is still a very left-handed option.
DS 4 Performance Line + E-Tense
price: £41,050 (£41,945 as tested) engine: 1.6 L, four-cylinder, turbo, petrol with 80 kW electric motor; Energy: 222 hp Torque: 266 ft lbs.; Connecting: Eight speed automatic maximum speed: 145 mph 0-62 mph: 7.7 seconds Economie: 176.5 – 235 mpg CO2 emissions: 27-35 g / km; EV Range: 34.8 – 38.5 miles