You can guarantee the people at Citroen will be looking wistfully at the time 59 years ago when the company unveiled the first of its DS models at the Paris Motor Show - and by the end of the day had taken a remarkable 12,000 orders for the car.
|AT A GLANCE|
|Drivetrain: Transverse FWD, four cylinder in-line 16-valve multipoint electronic fuel injected and turbo-charged diesel engine, with six-speed automatic transmission.|
|Outputs: 120 kW at 3750 rpm, 340 Nm at 2000 rpm, 6.1 L/100km, 158 g/km CO2.|
|Chassis: MacPherson strut front suspension with coil springs and hydraulic dampers, trailing arm rear suspension with coil springs and hydraulic dampers. Variable power-assisted steering. 18-inch alloy wheels with 235/45 R18 tyres.|
|Safety: Front, side and curtain airbags. ABS brakes with brake force distribution and brake assist. Stability control, traction control, hill start assist, reversing camera with guides. Five star Ancap safety rating.|
|Dimensions: L 4530mm, W 1871mm, H 1513mm, W/base 2727mm, kerb weight 1615 kg, fuel 60 litres. Luggage 468 litres.|
|Hot: Appealing exterior with lots of Citroen design cues, courageous interior design. Diesel engine fits well with this car. Price has just been reduced.|
|Not: Lack of minor storage an issue for those in the front seats. Ride can get a little confused on lumpy road surfaces.|
|Verdict: For its price, the DS5 is a very good European sedan. And while beauty is obviously in the eye of the beholder, I think this is one of prettiest cars on the market – inside and out.|
It was still considered so almost half a century later when it took third place in an international Car of the Century vote, behind the Model T Ford and the Mini.
Even today the original DS design remains timeless, its flowing lines a tribute to the skills of Italian sculptor and industrial designer Flaminio Bertoni, and the French aeronautical engineer Andre Lefebre, who collaborated for the Citroen project all those years ago.
That first such Citroen was a DS19, and for the next 20 years a wide variety of other models were launched until the DS line was discontinued in 1975. By then 1.4 million Citroen DS had been sold, with experts acknowledging the car as one of the most remarkable and influential designs in motoring history.
Now, almost 60 years later, things aren't quite so buoyant at Citroen. The PSA Group, which manufactures Peugeot and Citroen, is operating at only about 61 per cent of its domestic assembly capacity in France, primarily because the new vehicle market in Europe has been in slow decline. As a result, the organisation is reducing its workforce by 11,000 by the end of next year.
But through all that fog, some very good new Citroens are emerging - and they include a new DS fleet of vehicles that are being marketed alongside the French marque's more mainstream vehicles.
The top model is the DS5, a compact executive hatch launched in Europe in the last month of 2011 and now available in New Zealand in both 1.6-litre turbo-charged petrol and 2.0-litre turbo-diesel forms. The vehicle is part of a DS line that also includes the smaller DS3 and DS4 models, and they are combining forces to account for more than 30 per cent of Citroen sales - which rose a healthy 21 per cent overall in New Zealand last year.
It's a really interesting car. Its exterior design can't be mistaken for anything other than a Citroen, with a bodyshell that to my eyes might draw more inspiration from the Citroen XM of the 1990s, thanks especially to a character line than runs down the vehicle's flanks before flicking up into the C-pillar.
The interior obviously draws inspiration from aviation, particularly two centre consoles - one beside the driver and the other directly above on the ceiling. Not only that, but other features such as a pop-up head-up display are also aircraft-like.
I immediately took a real shine to the design of the DS5. Some of its design elements might not be any more efficient as the same elements on other vehicles, but they have flair and a sense of occasion.
Who else, for instance, would have the courage to instal two chrome "sabres" each side of the bonnet, from headlights to windscreen? On the inside, the toggle switches for the electric windows and sunroof blinds are designed so they are half of the famous Citroen chevron.
The steering wheel is too big, but it's a memorable flat- bottomed design. The electric blinds for the cockpit's glass roof are split into three, so they can be used as desired by those in the front and rear seats.
A pity then that of all Citroens, this model doesn't also feature the marque's famous hydro- pneumatic self-levelling suspension. The only vehicle left in the entire Citroen range that has this suspension is the C5, with the DS5 instead having a conventional suspension comprising MacPherson struts at the front and a trailing arm setup at the rear.
This suspension is quite hard, particularly when matched to 18-inch wheels shod with 45-series tyres. It's certainly not as smooth and flowing as the hydro- pneumatic. But a decent road trip in this car did prove that despite the sometimes jiggly ride over our often awful road surfaces, the DS5's handling feels good and it is easy to get into a flow that combines the vehicle's handling capability with its turbo-charged petrol and diesel engines.
Our road test DS5 was the turbo-diesel. Its price has just been reduced by $3000 to $59,990, which is the same as the asking price for the petrol model.
I know which one I would choose, and it's the diesel. A 2.0-litre unit that offers 120 kilowatts of power and 340 newton metres of torque, it is a familiar engine that many will have already experienced in the likes of the Citroen C5 and DS4, and the Peugeot 308, 3008 and 508.
Despite the fact the turbo-diesel DS5 has a kerb weight 120 kilograms heavier than the petrol version, it is only .1 of a second slower than the 1.6-litre petrol model in getting to 100kmh in 9.8 seconds. Perhaps more importantly, it offers the typical turbo-diesel rolling acceleration surge.
The DS5's interior is comfortable and, as mentioned earlier, obviously aviation- inspired. This causes some minor issues - with perhaps the most significant being the fact that because all the toggle switches for the electric windows and door and window locks are on the centre console, there is little minor storage.
Up above there is the ceiling- mounted centre console which not only houses the toggle switches for the three sunroof blinds, but also contains the controls for the pop-up head-up display.
This display is shown on a plastic square that folds out of the dash area - and the ceiling- mounted switches control whether it is folded out or not, its height, and its brightness. It's an interesting French alternative to all the other HUDs on the market which simply display on the windscreen.
And another quirky aspect of the HUD is that when it is up and in use, it means the driver is reminded not once but three times how fast the vehicle is going - via a normal speedometer, a digital readout just under the speedo, and another readout on the HUD screen. No excuses for not knowing how fast you are going in this car!
While some may think it is drawing a rather long bow to associate the Citroen DS5 with the famous DS series of the 50s, 60s and early 70s, I think there's enough of a connection there - particularly as regards the new model's obvious aviation connection and distinctive body styling.
Overall, the car is lovely and fully deserving of more attention from the market. Hopefully this will happen, now that a revamped Citroen New Zealand is busy growing its dealership network. And that might just help the Citroen marque begin to enjoy better times internationally.
- © Fairfax NZ News