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2012-05-11 06:48

Les Stephenson

The arrival of Citroen’s DS range in South Africa, topped (at least for now) by the launch this week of four versions – two-litre diesel and 1.6 petrol and turbopetrol - of the flagship DS5, is a sort of ‘homecoming’ for the brand.

Their history, in France and here in SA, goes back for the best part of six decades.

Citroen and the 'DS' of the DS3, DS4 and now DS5 are not new partners in the French automotive family. The original DS Pallas of 1955 (see gallery images) was a car of a design so radical that jaws dropped across Europe as the wide-nosed, narrow-tailed limousine spread through the post-war countries of the Continent.


DS is said to be a contraction of the French word for goddess – déesse – and indeed nearly 60 years ago the car introduced a special life-saving magic. Front disc brakes.

History (and the Internet) tell us that Flaminio Bertoni, an Italian-born industrial engineer, was behind the visionary design of the original Citroen DS (and, as it happens, the 2CV) whose sleek and aerodynamic shell and then-futuristic features sold 1.5-million units between 1955 and 1975.

The modern one is the work of Citroën’s design chief Jean-Pierre Ploué and first appeared as the C-Sport Lounge concept car at the 2005 Frankfurt auto show. Today’s production DS5 is remarkably similar...

That first DS of '55 got more than 700 orders within 15 minutes of its release and “interested” potential buyers totalled an incredible 12 000 by the end of that first day. So great was demand that production spread to Britain, the then Yugoslavia, Australia – and right here in South Africa.

You could say the DS has truly “come home”.


Citroen SA’s modern MD, Didier Gerard, said in a media statement: "Citroens are innovative, stylish cars and the re-introduction of the DS nomenclature symbolises the brand’s ability to continuously push back the limits of the automotive experience.

"DS Line cars feature an inspired and unique styling, with strong, bold and creative convictions. Recently we have used the DS magic in the small and medium categories – now, with the DS5, we move up to the large premium segment.”

Monsieur Bertoni, brilliant though he was (he died in 1964), could never have foreseen the levels of performance and technology in the DS of the next millennium.

The DS5 range consists of three engine variants – two petrol and a Euro V-compliant diesel. The THP 155 turbopetrol (115kW/240Nm) and HDi 160 diesel (120kW /340Nm) are mated to a six-speed auto/manual sequential transmission, the high-output THP 200 (147kW/275Nm) drives a six-speed manual gearbox.

There are two Style variants (THP 155 auto and THP 200 manual) and two Sport derivatives (THP 200 manual and HDi 160 auto).

Standard across the range are “intelligent” traction control, key-fob access, hill-start anti-lock brakes, push-button start/stop, Bluetooth cellphone link and multiple audio connections for various devices; a colour head-up display on a retractable transparent plastic blade on top of the fascia and a reverse parking camera are standard on the Sport derivatives.

Optional on all models are a second-generation lane departure warning system (the driver’s seat vibrates right on your coccyx) and automatic headlights high beam.

The four-door DS5 is 4.5m long (25cm less than a Citroën C5 sedan), 1.85m wide and 1.5m high with 468 litres of boot space, seats up and to the parcel shelf; the (power front) seats are sumptuous, headroom generous but rear legroom a tad wanting.

The nose identifies the DS5 as one of the growing (yes, more to come) family with its large air intake, wide chromed grille bearing the Citroen chevron and standard LED lights. Also chromed is a thin reflective beading linking each front light cluster to the extremities of the windscreen.


The rear has bold twin exhausts and a very shallow letter-box slot of a rear screen and it all rides on finned, diamond-effect, 18” (235/45 tyres) or 19” option rims with lower-profile 235/40 rubber. Six LED lights tell other drivers what’s up ahead.

Those big wheels and their rubber-band tyres might be the main cause of the car’s rather hard and sometimes jolting ride – something criticised by many of the motoring writers at the launch but perhaps a price owners will be happy to pay in return for the excellent high-speed road-holding of the DS5.

It corners almost flat and exhilaratingly under the control of the high-geared feel of the steering.

The cabin and the fascia design are as radical as the shell. The driver’s office is based on the design of an aircraft cockpit: toggle switches by the dozen ahead, alongside and even over the driver’s head (the last for the interior lights and the three (two fixed, one power-operated) glass roofs.

After two days and several hundred kilometres with the cars I hadn’t mastered them all before returning the keys to Citroen at Port Elizabeth airport. I also hadn't got tired of staring at the car... it's kind of magnetic on the eye.


All interior lighting uses diodes; the ambient lighting, Citroen says, “creates a display of intermittent reds and whites around the driver - red for the audio system and navigation zones and the door releases, white for the console and aircon controls".

A Club Pack adds watchstrap-patterned heavy-leather upholstery and a superior sound system along with the already-mentioned, lane-departure warning and auto high beam.

Citroen has said it sees the DS5 as a challenger for the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class. Certainly the DS5 has the startlingly good looks that one UK reviewer described as "making Porsche owners drool"; the petrol model I drove has the power, tractability and smoothness of the German cars, but it falls short, I feel, on rear legroom. And then there's the DS5's, er, rugged ride (wonder if Citroen will re-spec to smooth things out?).

I reckon the DS has it on head-turning points (who spins around to look twice at 3 or C when every uppity young insurance salesman/woman has one?) but in Good Ol' SA tradition dies hard. But me? My hand's up for the Citroen - just for a change.

And don't be put off by the petrol models' 1.6 engine size: both can top 200km/h, the more powerful turbopetrol version is rated at 235km/h. And, unlike the shrinking tanks of other modern cars, filling DS5 requires at least 60 litres (and yeah, we know, that's about R700 worth).

For full specifications, go to the Citroen SA DS5 home page.

What others say about the Citroen DS:
London Daily Telegraph.
UK What Car?
Auto Express.

THP 155 Automatic Style - R344 900
THP 200 Manual Style - R374 900
THP 200 Manual Sport - R395 900
HDi 160 Sport - R399 900

Club Pack option on the Sport model (includes Club Leather upholstery, audio system, lane departure warning, auto high beam headlights - R14 000.

All DS5 models are covered by a three-year or 100 000km warranty and a five-year or 100 000km service plan. The warranty coverage can be extended at extra cost to five years/100 000km; buyers selecting the FreeDrive option get the five-year/100 000km warranty and a five-year/100 000km maintenance plan. Another option adds 19” alloy rims.

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