The PSA Group wants the DS brand to be a French rival to Audi and BMW. It's going about much of its tasks in the right way, but the basic engineering of the DS 5 remains too compromised for it to be truly competitive. Still, it's improving all the time.
In the Metal:
A French car should be beautiful and a car that references the original 1955 DS saloon should be utterly, hopelessly gorgeous. So the DS 5 must be regarded as a partial success in this regard. It's certainly distinctive, different and striking. From some angles, there is genuine beauty and there is a regard for line and style that would be alien to its more formal German competitors. But truly beautiful? Perhaps parking it next to a 1955 original, on hand to mark both the 60th anniversary of its launch and the separation of DS out into a standalone brand, was putting the DS 5 on a hiding to nothing. The new grille, bold and proud though it is, somehow looks a little blander, a little more wannabe-Germanic than the old Citroen-chevron grille. DS it seems, in wanting to compete with Audi, is also going to pinch many of Ingolstadt's styling cues. Plus ca change...
Inside, there are more mixed signals. The levels of quality are certainly fine, very good indeed in fact. The leather on the exceptionally comfortable seats looks and feels lustrous and expensive and most, if not all, things you look at or touch are of a very high standard. DS is trumpeting its abilities as a brand that understands, and employs, craftsmanship in the old-fashioned sense and that shows through.
The problem is that the shortcomings of the DS 5's cabin have come with the model in its transfer from Citroen to standalone. It's just not spacious enough (space is the ultimate luxury, surely) and there are compromises in terms of oddment storage and such supposedly simple things as cup holders.
It's better, but it's not quite better enough than before. The DS 5, when it was a Citroen, was often loved for its looks, but derided for its dynamics. A ride that was too stiff, too jiggly and too damned noisy was just considered unbecoming of a French luxury car, and rightly so. There have been updates along the way that improved things a little, but DS, launching this updated 5 as its first standalone model, really needed to draw a line under those criticisms and start afresh.
Sadly, it hasn't. Perhaps without redesigning and re-engineering the car from the ground up we could hardly have expected it to be radically different, but the DS 5 remains an occasionally frustrating car to drive. It does ride more gently than it first did - that at least has been accomplished. It lacks the pillow softness of the old Hydragas suspended Citroens, but it now has a mostly acceptable level of comfort.
The problem is two-fold. One, the suspension never feels as tautly controlled as on its German rivals, which these days can deploy a level of suspension refinement and reaction that shames most, if not all, of their competition. Secondly, the reactions of the suspension are made to seem worse by the fact that you constantly hear them. Even mild bumps are reported into the cabin with a creak, thump or groan. It's distracting and, worse, it detracts from the car's overall feeling of quality.
As far as handling goes, the DS 5 is fine and nothing more. It has light steering that discourages any attempt at enthusiastic cornering and a sense of it being hard to judge the car's extremities that makes close-quarter manoeuvres a little fraught.
Where it shines is on the motorway. There, dealing with long-wave undulations rather than short, harsh bumps, the suspension works beautifully and you can relax into those wonderful seats and let the really excellent engine line-up do the hard work.
The 150hp version of the 2.0-litre BlueHDi Diesel engine range is a cracker - smooth and powerful and yet with emissions that would put even the old 115hp 1.6 engine to shame. Fuel economy seems good (this was only a brief test drive) and there's no point in upgrading to the 180hp version - it's noisier and not appreciably faster.
What you get for your Money:
The DS line-up is definitely going to offer more bang for your buck than the German competition - what would be the point, otherwise? Standard spec is higher and there is the undefinable extra of greater exclusivity. Whether the residual values will be able to hold their heads up is quite another matter and may be the thing that saves or sinks DS as a brand.
DS is giving itself 15 years to get on parity with Audi, and two full model regeneration cycles. That seems a sensible time frame, but it is still going to be extraordinarily difficult to turn about the oil tanker of public opinion, which these days says that German cars are luxury cars and everyone else makes everything else. DS is making much of both its separation from the more mass-market Citroen brand and its heritage - both its connection to that world-beating original DS and to other luxury French brands from champagne to haute couture. What we have here though, the DS 5 isn't enough. It has been improved from what it was before and it now makes a better tilt towards the premium car hierarchy. But there's still no truly compelling reason to look past the existing competition and pick a DS. Perhaps one day, there will be. Hopefully, one day there will be. But not yet.