IAIN ROBERTSON 

DS

Were ‘street presence’ the only success parameter required by a carmaker, Iain Robertson is of the belief that French manufacturers would have it sewn-up but, in the real world, no matter how much cash is thrown at it, niche appeal is the constant.

It probably reads as interminably cruel to damn a new model with up-front faint praise but, as a burgeoning major influence, PSA Group ought to be more ‘in touch’ with its new car market than the DS9 suggests it is. Launching a new saloon into a fast-declining market segment is exceptionally wasteful, whether it is electrified, or not. The DS9 is not an SUV. The DS9 is a plug-in hybrid, for the moment. It will sell in moderate numbers in China, where it is produced, because they like boots. Even were its abundant vanity appeal to warrant its use at Gallic red carpet events, President Macron might experience a backlash from the ‘green sliver’ within his own party, were he to use a DS9 as official transport.

DSDipping feverishly into French classical design clichés, it matters not that DS refers to its metal bonnet strip as a ‘Clous de Paris’ sabre, when the hobnailed influence that originated on the cobblestones of Place Vendome is not as obvious as it might be. Yet, the strip is a centralising influence in styling terms, equalled only by the return of the high-level direction indicators set into the rear screen pillars, which were a styling feature of the original DS model in the 1950s, when it was a model and not an entire brand.

The Audi-like front grille suggests that DS is still searching for a comforting niche, even though Citroen suffered from severe burns to its extremities, when it promoted a pretence that it could compete head-on with the Teutonic mainstream. As critical as I am of Renault, at least the alternative French carmaker tries to look and behave French. The grille is flanked by three upright daylight running lamp strips, which connect it (unfortunately) to the perfectly acceptable but very compact DS3, when a classier approach might have been called for. To be fair to the DS9, its slightly cab-forward profile is not dissimilar to the Kia Optima, a most convincingly good-looking midfield contender.

DSAlthough there has been an upwards hike in the quality of DS9’s cabin accoutrements, over lesser DSs, with greater applications of Alcantara (the expensive faux-suede), notably spread across the deep dashboard, headlining and even the door-pulls, the ‘watchstrap’ leather upholstery, which was novel a decade ago, is just another cliché; DS is not moving on. The DS7 introduced us to the diamond-pattern touch-sensitive cockpit switchgear (replicated symbolically in the tail-lamp reflectors) that proves not only complex to remember but is mostly awkward to operate.

Just shy of 5.0m in length, the ‘coup-aloon’ styling is distinctive and restrictive and clearly designed for the 99-percentile French person, whom is likely to find more than adequate space in the comfort-no-object back seats, which are heated, chilled and massage capable. Sadly, no occupant over 1.9m tall will be happy, a factor that will limit DS9’s potential in the chauffeur scene, which the brand aspires to, despite DS9’s 2.9m wheelbase. It makes the VW Phaeton-like ‘individual occupant comfort zones’ somewhat redundant. Yet, I cannot deny that the ‘Art Rubis’ oxblood hide interior, or even the suedette alternative looks and feels really elegant. The dashboard’s central focus is directed at the BRM revolving timepiece, supported by elements of classic watchmaking guillochage.

DSAlthough the engine details are scant at present, the firm’s Chinese funders get a 250bhp hybrid from the outset, while European markets have to tolerate inexplicably a 225bhp alternative. In essence, a PureTech turbo-petrol engine, in combination with an 80kW electric motor and 11.9kWh lithium-ion battery pack provides propulsion, with a pure EV mode range of 25-31 miles. While this will be more than satisfactory for most demands and a 7.4kW on-board charger allows the 90-minutes use of a domestic, or rapidcharger, to restore battery power, regenerative braking and a ‘battery save’ function maximises the DS9’s commuting practicality.

The 250bhp drivetrain is to be joined by a 360bhp (with four-wheel drive) alternative in due course, while a non-hybrid 225bhp version will also be introduced. All of them drive through an 8-speed fully automatic transmission. Electronic management prioritises deployment of electrical power at up to 84mph, before the petrol unit kicks-in. There is no confirmation of performance statistics but you can reckon on a 0-60mph time with the launch models of around 7.7s and a max speed of around 135mph. Fuel economy should be posted at around 80mpg, with CO2 emissions in the region of 50g/km.

DSWhile there is nothing revolutionary in its ADAS armoury, the usual lane discipline, blind spot recognition, fore and aft crash mitigation, distance cruise, autonomous braking and driver attention monitoring are supplemented by an infra-red nocturnal camera. Multiple LED headlamp modules enable a range of automated, conditional illumination possibilities, including an extended main beam. Cabin access can be linked to the user’s mobile-phone, a feature that is not reliant on GSM network coverage, the flush door handles emerging as the user approaches the car.

DS wants its new car to be the benchmark in the class. Although the details are unconfirmed, its Active Scan suspension, linked to a camera, level and drivetrain sensors and an accelerometer is hoped to provide a magic carpet ride redolent of the original DS, which should be interesting on British roads. However, it cannot hope to replicate the unerring smoothness of Citroen’s oleo-pneumatic suspension, especially once the camera lens becomes obscured by road muck.

Conclusion:    Inevitably, prices and other technical details will be released following the DS9’s unveiling at the Geneva Motor Show but, if it follows customary French large car practice, it will become an oddball rarity available at knockdown rates and plummeting residuals.

DS