Citroën DS4 Crossback’s good looks are skin deep

I HAVE already, dear reader, used these columns to vent my spleen about the move by Citroën to establish its new brand — DS Automobiles — as a paean to all the travails undergone in recent years by the Citroën brand itself.

Citroën DS4 Crossback’s good looks are skin deep

As an exercise in smoke and mirrors it has not been a bad one, but as an attempt to create something genuinely new, fresh and innovative, it has — with all due respect — thus far been puny and lacking any great depth.

In fairness, dickying up stolid, old and dull Citroëns with fresh badging, minor architecture changes and fresh upholstery is not going to cut it with the buying public in my view. And the sales figures to the end of February here in Ireland would appear to support that contention.

Of the 619 units sold by Citroën, only 19 were DS4s; some 11 DS5s were sold and a whopping total of eight DS3s made it off the forecourt. Those figures do not exactly tell a tale of unbridled success, one can safely assume.

Of course Rome wasn’t built in a day and it will take some time for Citroën not only to build up the DS brand and embed it in the public consciousness, but also to produce the sort of technologically advanced and design-led machines which will ultimately define the marque — and hopefully sell in sufficiently large numbers to make the effort worthwhile.

There are definite signs that the French company can achieve this and if the recent launch of the DS4 Crossback onto the Irish market was an indication where DS is headed, then we got an even better hint at last week’s Geneva Motor Show when it launched a concept design called the DS E-TENSE.

I have to say that the car looks stunning and that were it ever to see production, it would be one of the hottest tickets in town, without doubt. But, even as a simple indication of how ambitious Citroën is for its’ new sub-brand the DS E-TENSE is a compelling piece of kit which suggests that in very short order we will be collectively agog by what the company is doing.

Described as a ‘supercar’ by the manufacturer, which might just be a tad on the hyperbolic side, DS Automobiles nevertheless maintains this electric-powered car’s “luxury craftsmanship and cutting edge technologies will make it noteworthy not just for its striking appearance, but also for its hi-tech capability and exceptional performance”.

Furthermore, the company claims, with some considerable lack of modesty, that the DS E-TENSE “will perfectly encapsulate the brands stylistic and technological vision, and point towards DS’s future with its high-performance electric powertrain”.

With a 100% electric engine which produces some 402 bhp and a visionary design, the car does appear to represent a statement of future intent which the brand will very much need to live up to if it is to capture buyers’ hearts and minds.

Okay, so it would appear we have much to look forward to from the brand as it stretches its legs. But what about right now? Well, the DS4 Crossback is simply another addition to the ever-growing Crossover genre.

It is one of two cars the company has launched to replace the original DS4, one being pretty much a conventional hatch and the other — the one we test this week — being said Crossover.

Easy on the eye, it has to be said this is a good-looking car, much more so than many rivals, and one which is easily differentiated from the pack. Under the skin though, it is all pretty conventional, so don’t allow yourself to be fooled into thinking that just because it looks different, it is any better than any of its competitors.

That might sound a little harsh, but the bottom line here is that DS — nee Citroën — is in the business of shifting metal and if it can come up with a successful way of doing so, it doesn’t really matter how that is achieved. Here they are trying to do this in a purely illusory way, but no more so than many rivals try and do too.

What that means is that for all the spit and polish applied here, the end result is that the Crossback is not much different from many rivals, or indeed its Citroën siblings.

Exterior looks aside, the interior leans heavily on that of the C4 in terms of décor and, space-wise, is no better or worse than many of its segment rivals. That latter point means space is tight in the rear seats for anyone over about 5ft 4in, making this DS more a car for single people or families with small children.

What is also worth noting is that the 120 bhp BlueHDi 1.6 turbodiesel is a decent enough contender by the terms of the class, but nothing too special either. It has a narrow enough performance window and you really do have to keep it spinning in its sweet spot to extract anything resembling decent performance. The reasonable fuel consumption (expect a figure in the 50 mpg region) and emission levels (103g/km) will prove an attraction for some.

Various suspension tweaks have sharpened the ride and handling considerably and that should be no surprise given how much the French value their comfort. This makes the car a whole lot better than anything which came before it.

There is a long list of toys and that will be a selling point. The Crossback specific stuff like the wheel arch protectors, front bumper, mirrors and diamond cut 18in alloys are complemented by a raft of standard kit, including air-con, the DS Connect system, 7in touchscreen with sat nav, auto lights and wipers, rear parking sensors and colour reversing camera. All of which is good.

The catch, though, is that all this costs a hefty amount of gelt. Nearly €34k worth of it, in fact.

This does put the Crossback into the sort stratosphere its makers intended for it, but whether that will persuade punters to jump aboard is open to question.

In the heel of the hunt, however, while this DS may not be the ultimate expression of the stated levels of ambition for the new brand, it is very much a portent of things to come.

It is a big improvement from the starting point from which it emerged and that’s as it should be.

DS has not yet produced a world-beater and the Crossback is certainly not that, but the company is displaying an admirable level of determination to bring a new degree of imagination, sophistication and French je ne sais quoi to the automotive world.

Colley’s Verdict

The Cost: €32,495 - €33,395 as tested.

The Engine: Decent enough turbodiesel but nothing earth-shattering.

The Specification: Really impressive but the space-saver spare tyre is only an optional extra, which is ridiculous.

The Overall Verdict: Good, but not there yet.

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