Monday, 6 February 2012

DS: Vive Le Difference

A trip down to central London last week to the UK unveiling of the new Citroen DS5 marked my first PR event as a young motoring hack. Here are some impressions of a new experience, a decent learning curve, and an enjoyable evening.

Star of the show was the brand new DS5. Imposing, sleek, and unashamedly French, it cuts a dash stationary in a showroom, even presented in inoffensive grey. It'll look like nothing else on the road - I was expecting a raised car like the DS4, but far from being a coupé on stilts, the roof of the DS5 sweeps downhill in a rake not dissimilar to the gorgeous original DS hidden away in the corner of the room. Think BMW 3 Series Touring footprint, but Mercedes CLS height. 

Project design leader Andy Cowell flew in from Paris especially for the event at the SMMT's swanky new headquarters in Westminster: here's a couple of clips of the man himself explaining the inspiration and premise behind the DS line in general, and the DS5 in particular:

One of the interesting points hidden away between the PR speak was the admittance that after the roaring success of the 'anti-retro', Mini bating DS3, the DS4 is something of an unknown quantity. In the DS range, it's the car that bears closest resemblance to its cooking C# sister - the front looks lifted straight from a C4, and while the raised stance, more rakish silhouette and very attractive wheels to raise the profile, it's still an odd niche. A slightly confused product then, with easily the least impressive interior of the three DS's we've seen.

On the subject of interiors, I quizzed Mr Cowell about the DS5's striking cockpit similarities to the Audi R8. Granted, the Teutonic sports car doesn't feature tan leather 'watch strap' seats, or roof mounted 'shark's teeth' switches for an aviation theme, but the driver orientated sweep dash, heavily binnacled instruments, raised centre console and gear lever, and flat-bottomed steering wheel all scream R8 to me.

Mr Cowell outright denied any Germanic influences, and said that while Citroen was aspiring to a premium marketplace, the DS5's cabin is all Citroen design language. I remain unconvinced. Having said that, it is a remarkable place to sit. Well made, with theatre and attention to detail, it's certainly one of the stand out interiors available at the £25k price point.

The evening was a credit to Citroen's UK PR arm. Well organised, full of friendly people, some rather delicious refreshments, and informal enough to be a comfortable and fun experience. I'm grateful to those responsible for my invite.

Final thoughts? The DS5 is wonderfully bold; they'll sell like the proverbial warm confectionery in France. Over here, the UK buyer has stayed away from large Citroens recently, but a premium DS spin-off could be the catalyst the DS5 requires to become a hit - it's certainly fashion conscious enough. If the innovative hybrid powertrain can grab Londoners wanting to sidestep congestion charge and look fabulous, that'll be half the battle won - some sensible diesel motors could make for an enticing prospect for fleet sales too. Mr Cowell himself stated: "this is a rep's market - and what rep wouldn't want to be seen in one of those?"

The DS4 is a perplexing conundrum. With Renault recently culling four under-performing models, including the rather fresh Wind roadster, it'll be interesting to see what befalls the DS4 (and C4, for that matter). 

Meanwhile, my favourite of the new DS's remains the DS3 - I'd love to run one for a day, a week, a year. I think it (still) looks cracking, and has the best supermini interior on sale. Any time you want a willing road test volunteer, Citroen UK, I'm in.

Oh, and the original DS? Probably the most beautiful automobile ever created. I've always been an advocate of the Ferrari 288 GTO as the finest looking thing on four wheels, but spending some time in the presence of a DS, even ignoring the engineering innovations it begat to the car world, shows how stunning an achievement it really was.

Check out the Car Throttle review of the evening by following this handy link to my colleague Adnan's article. His pictures are far less low-rent than mine.

Thanks to all at Citroen, especially Katie Read and Andy Cowell. A job very well done.

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