Im not a great fan of electric cars. Too heavy, too restrictive, too, worthy. Like low-fat cheese or alcohol-free beer, theyre a nice idea that is fatally flawed in the execution.
Nor am I a huge fan of the executive saloon. Too big, too flash, too symbolic – and purchased too often with the aim of impressing everyone other than the owner.
So my week with the Citroen DS5 Hybrid seemed doomed. That things turned out as they did was the automotive shock of the year for me
The DS5 is probably the most stylish four-seater on sale today. It looks terrific, with those swooping lines that confuse and delight: is it an estate car or a coupe? Chrome trim and some lovely badging confirm that this is an effortlessly cool take on a four-door hatchback.
White might not be the most flattering colour Ive ever seen one in, but all is forgiven when you see that wonderfully complex front end; so many complex shapes and yet none of them jar. Brilliant.
I struggled to get comfortable when I drove the diesel DS5 a few months ago yet had no such problems this time. Im not sure why this should be so you can probably put it down to either my being an idiot or subtle variations in trim level making an enormous difference. Either way, I managed to get the seat adjusted to suit me immediately and didnt experience so much as a twinge all week.
The colour scheme of black and white for the seats shouldnt work but does, reminding me irresistibly of the funky two-tone brogues worn in films like Bugsy Malone. An overhead console with an impossibly confused series of buttons bisects the front sunroof but the effect is delightfully aeronautical rather than annoying.
The best bit, my favourite detail of any car I have driven so far this year, is the compact gear lever. Too many manufacturers fit long, clumsy and overly intrusive levers forgetting that their job these days is not to change cogs and belts but to trigger electronics. The Citroens is tiny and is operated with the fingertips and the slight lift needed to engage reverse never failed to make me smile. Someone on the design team understands that driving the best cars should be a sensual, as well as a sensory, experience.
Which is not something that can be said of the awful DAB radio remote control that has been (literally) stuck onto the centre console. It looks every inch the afterthought that it is and has no place in such a thoughtful interior.
This thing is fast. A more-than-adequate top speed of 131mph might be let down by a relatively tardy 0-62mph time of 8.3 seconds (for which you can blame the cars hefty 1,856kgs) but it feels faster with impressive mid-range punch.
The key to the big Citroens speed isnt just acceleration. Traction is, as you might expect with electricity driving the rear wheels and diesel driving the front, very good but it is the sheer mechanical grip of the thing that impresses. It is almost Evo X quick round the wide open, twisting roads that my part of the world is dotted with. It is utterly confidence inspiring as well, getting on with the job in hand with no fuss and little apparent effort.
Its civilised too, being hushed at anything up to highly illegal speeds, although its less impressive in towns, weirdly. The problem is that electric motor, which is super-quiet and lulls you into a very nice place, is disturbed by the coarseness of the diesel engine at odd times when you want to enjoy the peace and quiet of ZEV mode.
ZEV? Yes, four driving modes are available: ZEV, which provides battery only motive power; Auto, which is just that; Sport, which sharpens things up agreeably when you want to get a move on; and 4WD, which maximises traction. All do what they say on the tin with the exception of ZEV, which wasnt available as often as I would have liked.
The 2.0-litre HDi 160 diesel engine produces 163bhp and 221lb/ft of torque. A 27kW (37bhp) electric motor is fitted on the rear axle and a computer decides which one should do what and when. Stop Start is standard, as youd expect, and Citroen suggests that 74.3mpg should be possible. I didnt get anywhere near that, struggling to hit the mid-40s.
The DS5 Hybrid produces 91g/km of CO2, placing it in VED Band A.
Value for Money
What price technology? Yes, its expensive, starting at 28,100. Throw in a few options and youll reach 32,000 with ease.
But it is gorgeous. If value for money is your only consideration then buy a used Mondeo estate. If it isnt, and you are in the market for a 30k car, then just do it and be in a position to tell your grandkids that you used to own one
The DS5 is a luxurious, high-end piece of engineering that has been beautifully executed. It is civilised where others are coarse; intelligent where others are dim; and beautiful where others are ugly. This is a hybrid car you would choose not for its eco-credentials, but because it is a superior driving experience.
Its rare for me to drive a car that comprehensively demolishes so many of my prejudices in one go. I dont like electric cars but I would usually take one over a hybrid every time, as most are an uncomfortable engineering fudge. I stand by this view but if you are going to do it, the Citroen DS5 Hybrid shows how it should be done.
Its not perfect. The gearbox is clumsy and the diesel engine is unnecessarily intrusive. If Citroen engineered in a proper automatic gearbox and a petrol engine they would have a worthy successor to the original DS and be able to claim to build the finest car on sale today.
Check out our full Citroen DS5 page with further information, expert and user reviews, stats, photos and videos.