The last French car I owned was a Renault 16TS – a late ‘60s, 5-door, front-wheel-drive hatchback. Man I loved that car. Fun to drive, lounge chairs for seats, a full-length Webasto sunroof, fantastic ride and an engine that sounded like a twin-cam Fiat 1600 when you revved it out. It had its quirks, like a wheelbase that was 3 inches different from one side to the other. But it was French, so you allowed for things like that. Like so many cars I’ve owned, I’ve always regretted selling it.

Fast forward, well too many years, and here I am looking at the DS4 Crossback – a 5-door, front-wheel-drive, French hatchback. Would it be quirky, yet fun to drive? I was desperately hoping the DS4 would impress me.

With expectations set on High, it was time for some déjà vu.

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First Impressions

At last! A press car that isn’t grey. The DS4 sure doesn’t look run of the mill (read Japanese/Korean), and in ‘Tormaline Red’, our review car looks great. Those tiny little LED headlights look very cool. Apparently those directional headlights are ‘designed to resemble stones’. I’m not sure I want stones for headlights, but they are a talking point. Add to the headlights some sequential indicators below them, and you get something a bit special.

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I honestly thought this was a 3-door car from the photos – that’s a very swept-up rear door. With 18” gloss back rims on Michelin 225/45 tyres and matching black mirrors, and you get a racy little French hatchback. Side on, it stands out from the crowd and that’s why you buy a French car, isn’t it?

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The rear design too is something else. Nice semi-concealed exhaust tips and a perfectly-sized roof spoiler make this car attractive from the rear.

The interior looks inviting. The seats catch your eye first – they look like they have great side support and look like they ooze comfort. Opening the rear door (watch your head!) shows a quite luxurious rear seating area, although the legroom looks decidedly on the low side.

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There’s just one model in the DS4 ‘range’ available – the Crossback. No other engine or transmission options are available. RRP is $54,990.

The DS4 includes an average of 29% recycled and natural materials, which is a nice touch.

The Inside

The seats on my old Renault were a highlight. After 30 years, would the seats in another French car be as good? Yes, they are. They look great with that perforated leather, and the fronts have 3-stage heating, electrically adjustable lumbar support and also a massage seating. Did I use the massager? You bet your sore back I did. They make a huge difference to a long drive.

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Interestingly, the seats themselves don’t have any electric adjustment. Still the comfort is there, and the side support when cornering quickly is fantastic. DS calls them ‘body hugging seats’ and they really are.

Sitting in the driver’s seat, the ‘Premium’ Nappa steering wheel has nice feel – both to the touch, and feedback while you are driving. In fact everything for the driver in this car is almost spot on (note, almost). It feels like a driver’s car, and the passengers are just along for the ride.

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Talking about the steering wheel – there is a button on the end of the headlight stalk, and I have no idea what it does. There’s nothing on the stalk to say what it does, and the press car had no manual. The steering wheel itself is flat bottomed with a piece of aluminium at the flat part, and looks good. There’s alloy pedals as well.

I’m going to keep on about the steering wheel….DS have gone with the thumbwheel type of arrangement for track up/down and cruise control/speed limiter on/off, similar to GM’s system. It’s not the easiest to use. The thumbwheel is too small and fiddly. Changing tracks should be a mindless keep-your-eyes-on-the-road affair, but you really have to concentrate with the DS’s wheel as a slightly harder push will have you skipping too many tracks. It isn’t easy to use, and it should be. Other manufacturers do better with plain old buttons, and I hope DS does this too in future. It does have a nice chunky volume up/down button at least, and that makes up for the thumbwheel (almost).

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Again from the driver’s seat, is that panoramic front windscreen. It’s like being on a motorbike in some ways, and getting into a ‘normal’ car after the DS4 felt like I was sitting in a cave. I loved the sun visors too – they slide up and down the windscreen, as well flicking up and down. Quite cool.

Still in the driver’s seat: the speedo is hard to read. It’s a perimeter type of speedo, where the ‘needle’ goes around the outside of the speedo dial, with the numbers on the edge. You can’t read it quickly, end of story. I stuck to reading the digital speed readout in the driver’s information display, and that was fine – until you use the SatNav, then – even though there’s enough room for the digital speedo – it disappears until you switch SatNav off.

You can change the colours of the dials – both the inside and outside colour. I ended up staying with a blue hue for both, and it looked cool. Didn’t make them easier to read, but fun to play with.

I found it weird that at near on 55 grand, the DS doesn’t have keyless start. It’s a good ‘ole ignition switch, which had me swearing one night as I fumbled with the key in the dark, trying to get it in the hole. In the end I resorted to using my phone’s light, as I just couldn’t get it in there. There’s keyless entry, but it’s a button on the remote – no ‘touch’ entry on the DS4.

There’s no paddle shifters either, and I did find myself looking for them with my fingers quite a bit. Since the DS4 really feels like a driver’s car, it seems strange it doesn’t have any. It would be great to have them to use that engine braking with a flick of a finger.

Like the seats, the audio system on the DS4 is another highlight. It’s a Denon hifi system with spatialised sound, and sounds brilliant. After a Subaru Levorg with sound quality bordering on terrible, the DS was excellent. There’s a CD player as well, more bonus points. One problem with the audio system is that when you go to start the car, it forgets you had it connected to Bluetooth before, and reverts to the radio, Every Single Time. The thing is, the radio comes on pretty loud, so you immediately have to turn it down, and then change the source back to your phone. I see Rob had the same problem with the DS3 when he tested it. Not the end of the world, but a bit frustrating.

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Looking down at the centre console, you know you are in a European car when you see an ashtray. Like a Fiat, it’s its own little tumbler, so you can just chuck it in the glovebox if you don’t want it taking up space. Well, you could try chucking it in the glovebox. It does fit, but would leave space for some gloves only. Let’s just say the glovebox is not on the generous side.

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The DS comes with an electric park brake with auto off, and works perfectly. I still long for Honda’s Brake Hold system to be on all cars. One day…

There’s SatNav as standard, and if you have an iPhone you can use Apple Car Play to get some more functionality.

When you jump in the back seat, there’s a few things you notice. Firstly the rear door – there’s a massive sticky-outy bit that, if you aren’t careful, will smack you in the head. Secondly, you notice the rear legroom, or lack of it. There’s not a lot of legroom back there. The third thing, and this most weird of all, is that the rear windows are fixed. Yes, fixed! There’s no button and no crank handle back there, you have to rely on the AC to cool things down. A negative point for the DS here, as there’s no AC vents back there. My passengers felt hot after only 15 minutes on a Spring day, and it felt old school to have to redirect the front vents to the rear to try and get them some cool air. Why no opening windows DS, why?

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The AC itself has a ‘REST’ system, which keeps the AC on for a few minutes after engine off, very handy. There’s a 7” touchscreen with normal functionality in the centre of the dash, and it works really well. In a few minutes, you realise how to use the functions without any stress.

The DS is also fitted with front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, emergency brake assist, and hill start assist.

The Drive

The Crossback is fitted with the same 2.0 Blue HDi engine as the Peugeot 308 GT, with 133kw of power at 3750rpm, and a decent [email protected] Another highlight: what a fantastic engine. Sure it has some diesel rumble at lower speeds, but it’s never bad or really noisy. On the open road there’s no difference in noise from a petrol car.

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Well, no difference in noise, but a big difference in performance. This is a car that showcases just how important torque is. Going up hills just doesn’t mean anything, the DS fair flies up anything, even the steeper Wellington streets I had tried it on. Loaded up? Who cares. With just 1400kg to carry around, the DS4 is a joy to drive.

Thankfully, the Crossback comes with a nice, normal, 6-speed auto. This car does not need a CVT. The auto performed flawlessly. Sure an 8-speed would be nice, but I never really felt like it needed more than six gears.

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The DS engineer have decided that the car will run in Eco mode by default, so if you don’t want it on, you have to hold down a button. No biggie. I did try turning it off a number of times, but performance didn’t seem to get much better, and all I did notice was that the auto-stop engine function stopped working.

Using Sport mode for the transmission gave me longer holds going up, and quicker downshifts. It held the gears better downhill too, but really it wasn’t worth it as it didn’t make the most of all that torque. I tried switching between Normal and Sport modes, and decided Normal was as good as anything to drive.

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Driving the DS4 at night is a revelation. Those directional headlights are REALLY directional. Utterly brilliant, they give you superb lighting around bends. Makes me wish all cars had this feature. Add to the directional headlights some cornering lights – and these will come on with the indicators, but also come on if you turn the steering wheel enough. Nice.

On the open road, wind noise well controlled – not top of the class, but still very good. The ride is pretty darn good too. Nicely compliant, and even though body roll is reasonable, the ride is still above average, bordering on excellent. If you get a bit more body roll than you want, a prod of the gas pedal brings it back in line.  In fact the DS4 comes across as one of those ‘chuckable’ cars that you can really throw about – it’s very forgiving, even when you jam the brakes on mid-corner. It makes the car a fun drive.

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After 500km of a 50/50 mix of open road and city driving with the DS4, I managed 6.9l/100km for fuel economy. The claimed combined rating is 4.4, which is very good – but a long way off what I achieved.

The Competition

New Zealand has an abundance of cars for sale, particularly in this segment. The DS4 has a lot of tasty competition to compete with.

Brand / ModelEnginePower

(Kw/Nm)

Claimed Fuel L/100km0-100km/h, secondsPrice Highest to Lowest
Mercedes Benz B200D Sports Tourer2.1 litre 4-cylinder turbo diesel100/3004.28.9$64,990
BMW 218d Active Tourer2.0 litre 4-cylinder turbo diesel110/3304.38.9$60,990
Audi TDI Sportback 5dr S-Tronic2.0 litre 4-cylinder turbo diesel110/3404.48.4$56,990
DS4 Crossback2.0 litre 4-cylinder turbo diesel133/4004.48.6$54,990
Peugeot 308 GT2.0 litre 4-cylinder turbo diesel133/4004.08.4$49,990
Skoda Octavia TDI Style Wagon2.0 litre 4-cylinder turbo diesel110/3404.48.6$44,990
Volkswagen Golf TDI Highline Hatchback2.0 litre 4-cylinder turbo diesel110/3204.48.6$42,990
Ford Focus Trend Hatchback2.0 litre 4-cylinder turbo diesel110/3704.4n/a$38,340

The pros and cons

ProsCons
  • Ride/handling compromise
  • Engine/torque
  • Seats
  • Audio system
  • Brakes
  • Overall noise control
  • Headlights
  • Not best value for money
  • Rear legroom
  • Rear doors
  • No opening rear windows

What We Think

On the whole, I loved the DS4. It’s one of those cars you know you could use as a daily driver, and yet still enjoy the drive daily.

Does it have its quirks? Totally. The rear door design and the lack of wind-down rear windows to name two. Some of the ergonomics are decidedly French – it reminded me in lots of ways of a Citroen BX16, with its slightly funky controls (remember that rocker switch for the indicators on the BX?).

The exterior design of the car is a little different, but good. The engine and transmission are a great match, and the available torque makes any sort of driving that much easier. Ride and handling are terrific, and the audio system is excellent. It’s no Golf GTI but if you enjoy driving, it’s one of those cars that will put a smile on your face.

Value for money? Not really, but is that why you’d look at the DS4 in the first place?

Rating – Chevron rating out 4.0 of 5

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Vehicle TypeSmall 5-door hatchback
Starting Price$54,990 + on road costs
Tested Price$54,990
Engine2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo diesel
Transmission6-speed automatic with Sport and Snow modes
0 – 100 kph8.6 seconds
Kerb Weight1420kg
Length x Width x Heightn/a
Cargo Capacityn/a
Fuel Tankn/a
ANCAP Safety Ratings5 stars
Warranty3 year 60,000 KM warranty includes 3 years Roadside Assistance and 3 years servicing

 

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