I hate France. I hate it with a vengeance. Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of landing at Charles De Gaulle Airport will understand what I mean. So when a colleague from “Die Welt” (“The World”, a major German newspaper) returned from his drive of the Citroen DS5 and excitedly exclaimed “This is the best French car in 20 years!”, we haters just laughed. He might as well have returned covered in pustules, exclaiming “This is my best syphilis infection in 20 years!” I also hate hybrids. This too is easily comprehensible by anyone who has a look at the smug ignoramuses driving these ugly gravity lenses. And I hate diesel. It is the fuel of lorries and Satan.
So now I’m looking at a car that is all three of these things: the Citroen DS5 Hybrid4. It’s also a spaceship full of chrome. Elvis would approve, but still buy a Cadillac. It’s quite good-looking in a overdesigned way. You can appreciate it in the same way you’d enjoy a Hollywood set made of papier-mache. Those twin wide tailpipes? You can shake hands through them. The bulging bonnet? Half of it is empty space, interrupted only by a few spindly, rusting metal stripes that hold something in place.
The complex drivetrain has a diesel engine driving the front wheels with up to 120 kW and an electric motor driving the rear wheels part-time with up to 27 kW, but, due to a French penchant for unnecessary complexity, it puts out 20 kW in most situations. The main engineering effort went into the “Auto”-Mode, which is an economy mode that becomes completely overwhelmed if you try to actually *drive* the car: “Eek! Full throttle! What should I do? I’ll change down. No, up! Nnng… or better down again? I think I’ll start the electric motor and go have some coffee…”
Every gear change of the automated manual transmission takes *years*, in which the car slows down. Despite a plethora of windows, you can’t see the road very well. It’s hopeless. It gets better in “Sport”, but the facade crumbles quickly. Regardless of mode, frugal it isn’t: I logged between 24 to 34 mpg in “Auto” – not from the guesswork of a French dashboard computer, but from real measurements over 1500 miles. An old 2003 BMW 320d we had as a company car did nearly 40 mpg on the same routes under the same driver.
At this point we have lost the internet-ADD crowd, and can work with the small, but patient segment that is game for more in-depth analysis. The DS5 can be quite wonderful as soon as you stop trying to go quickly. Sure, the chassis can corner at high speeds, which suits the “never brake” school of economy and range. But just sit back, relax, coast along, caress the throttle, and it becomes a very nice rolling lounge in that funky French. Yes, the hybrid drive costs more money than it can ever save, which even Citroen themselves admit. But you don’t buy it to save money. You buy it because it is a cool technical gimmick to own. You can have permanent 4WD in winter, when you drive up to the chalet with your skis. You can silently return to your garage at night on the electric drive alone. The DS5 is quiet at all speeds, a truly nice place to chat and trundle along the motorway no matter what distance . I sit,, listening to Isabelle Boulay on the car stereo, and began to feel some kind of affinity with the French. If they built this, perhaps they can be, in a very far future, forgiven for also having built CDG.
So, should you consider buying one? No. The boot is ridiculously small for the exterior size and if you fold the rear seats down, the battery still intrudes into the cargo area. It’s useless as a family car. And judging from what a bit of spring rain did to mine, by the time a DS5 has completed its journey over the atlantic, you will have bought 1.8 tons of pure rust. No, you shouldn’t buy one yourself.
But you should try to convince your company to lease you one. As a long distance hauler that belongs to someone else, it is superb. It is also a symbol of what Citroen excels at; being interesting, being playful, being brave, being (yes) French, being everything that something like an Opel isn’t. I cannot in clean conscience recommend buying a DS5 H4 for yourself, but I want to recommend watching Citroen closely, and even giving one a try. They might surprise you. They surprised me.
“Clemens Gleich is German writer and aspires to mad scientist mainly by experimenting on himself. He covers topics from cars and motorcycles to nucular power generators and the nanoscopic silicon baby kittens that die in their billions every time you open up Youporn. You can try a Google translate on www.mojomag.de for further education on this. It’s better for the kittens.”