DS DS 4 review
The DS 4 is a stylish premium hatchback that will get you noticed more than the ever-popular German alternatives. They offer more space and a sharper drive, however.
What's not so good
DS DS 4: what would you like to read next?
The new DS 4 is a premium hatchback, and choosing one is a bit like when you buy boutique clothing from a cool, offbeat brand instead of going to one of the big chain stores.
You see, while Mercedes, BMW and Audi are considered premium brands, the alternatives to the DS 4 – the A-Class, A3 and 1 Series – aren’t exactly unique or special. In fact, they’re some of the most popular new cars on the market.
If you’re into buying something less obvious, then, the new DS 4 is a really good buy. It does basically everything that those cars do, but wrapped up in a distinctive and elegant body that will certainly be a talking point among your neighbours.
The DS 4 can be had in three distinct flavours: there’s the standard car, which offers a classy look with lashings of chrome and cool light designs, the Premium Line, which ditches chrome for black detailing and sporty Alcantara interior trim, and the Cross, which offers an SUV-like design.
Whichever model you go for, the design is both striking and upmarket. The inside, too, makes a statement with a modern and high-tech feel mixed with traditional levels of craftsmanship and quality-feeling materials. You’ll struggle to find a more special-looking cabin at this price point, particularly as many alternatives demand you tick lots of options boxes to spec them up to the level of the DS 4.
Features found on the DS 4 that are usually the domain of more expensive models include semi-autonomous driving functions, an augmented reality head up display, night vision and DS’s camera-based ‘Active Scan’ suspension that looks at the road surface ahead to decide how each individual wheel should respond to bumps in the road.
There’s also a new infotainment system that, on models above the entry level, uses two control screens, alongside fully digital instruments. The lower screen acts as a control pad for the upper screen, allowing you to select customisable shortcuts for the features you want to access quickly rather than getting lost in various menus to find things. It takes a bit of getting used to, but can be tailored to suit your needs.
One area where the DS 4 doesn’t quite match up to rivals is cabin space. There’s no shortage of room up front, but there’s not a great deal of legroom in the rear for tall adults, and headroom is at a premium due to the sloping roofline. Still, the 430-litre boot (down to 390-litres on the hybrid model) is bigger on paper than most alternatives.
This has to be one of the nicest-looking cabins for the money. DS could show the Germans a thing or two about design.
There’s a decent choice of engines in the DS 4 range at launch. The cheapest is a 130hp 1.2-litre turbo petrol engine – we’ve yet to try it in the DS 4, but it offers decent enough performance in other similarly-sized models. If you want more overtaking punch you can opt for a 180hp or 225hp 1.6-litre petrol, while if you do lots of miles and fuel economy really matters there is a 130hp 1.5-litre diesel engine. It’s worth noting, however, that the DS 4 is inly offered with an automatic gearbox regardless of engine.
However, the DS 4 can also be had in ‘e-Tense’ plug-in hybrid form. This system, which is also found in models from sister brands Peugeot, Citroen and Vauxhall, mates a 1.6-litre petrol engine with an electric motor for a combined 225hp and the ability to drive up to 31 miles on electric power alone. It’s a well-proven choice that offers both strong performance and impressive economy, although keen drivers won’t find it especially thrilling, and you’ll need to plug in regularly to get anywhere near the official economy claims.
The DS 4 prioritises comfort over super sharp handling, which will be a boon if your local roads are a festival of potholes. On the whole the ride does a decent job of smothering the worst lumps and bumps, although we’d avoid the largest wheel option if you want to maximise this as it can thump over the worst potholes.
The DS 4 is refined at speed, too, although the trade off is the handling is safe and predictable rather than fun in any way. There’s some body lean when you push hard, and the steering isn’t hugely confidence inspiring. Certainly a 1 Series or A3 is more of a driver’s car, then.
Overall, the DS 4 is a desirable and likeable premium hatchback that doesn’t try to copy the German establishment, instead treading its own path. DS’s suite of high-end customer services could also put it ahead of alternatives in terms of the overall ownership experience.
The DS 4 has a surprisingly large boot, but that seems to come at the expense of rear passenger space
Passenger: The DS 4 isn’t lacking when it comes to space up-front, despite a fairly cocooning dash layout. Headroom is fine even on models with a panoramic glass roof, and the driving position should suit most shapes and sizes.
Things get less good in the back, however. None of this car’s alternatives are exactly van-like in terms of rear-seat room, but the DS 4 seems to be lacking legroom and headroom even in that company. Small to medium-sized adults won’t have too much of an issue, but six footers will find their knees wedged against the seat in front and their heads brushing the roof.
At least the car’s width means that sitting three adults abreast doesn’t mean too much of a struggle for shoulder room.
There’s fewer complaints about storage, though; the DS 4 has decent sized door bins able to take larger bottles, a compartment in the front of the centre console for phone storage and charging, a central cupholder and a large central storage bin below the armrest.
Even the glovebox is a decent size, although the car we drove is left-hand drive, so it remains to be seen if DS will actually move the fuse box for right-hand drive cars so it’s not in the glovebox as has often been the case with its other models.
The rear also has door bins that – while not quite as roomy as those in the front – can take a chunky bottle. There’s also a couple of cupholders and a phone storage area in the fold-down armrest, although they aren’t covered so when it’s actually used as an armrest your elbows fall in them.
It seems that DS has prioritised boot space over rear seat legroom in the DS 4, as it has a pretty substantial load bay for this type of car.
Its 430-litre capacity is around 50 litres above that of the BMW 1 Series, Audi A3 and Mercedes A-Class, although that figure drops down to 390 litres with the hybrid version which has its battery pack located under the boot floor.
The boot itself is usefully shaped and comes with the usual features such as luggage hooks and a 12-volt socket for charging or powering things. One black mark is that when the rear seats are folded – which can’t be done from in the boot – there is a hump in the floor making it tricky to slide items all the way into the load bay. There’s also a fairly high load lip into the boot itself – that’s the price you often pay for style.
Majors on comfort more than driver appeal, so avoid models with the biggest wheels for the best ride
The DS 4’s engine range offers something for everyone – well, except a really fast hot hatch, and don’t expect one of those any time soon.
Still, the three-strong petrol engine range starts with a 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol unit putting out 130hp. While it will likely offer perfectly acceptable performance and refinement, we doubt that the modest power and need for it to be worked hard is in keeping with the DS 4’s premium aura.
A better bet would be the 180hp or 225hp versions of the 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine. Not only are they likely to be more refined when revved out, it’ll give the kind of effortless performance you’d want from a high-end model. While we’ve not yet tried it in this car, we doubt the 130hp 1.5-litre diesel will do the same.
More curious is the 225hp ‘e-Tense’ plug-in hybrid version. It’ll do 0-62mph in 7.7 seconds while at the same time promising – on paper at least – over 200mpg. When pottering about at low speeds its extremely smooth and quiet as you’d expect, while out of town it does a respectable job of blending both power sources in a mature fashion. Like many plug-in hybrids, though, if you suddenly demand full power there’s a noticeable delay before the engine, electric motor and gearbox have all synchronised.
All versions of the DS 4 come fitted with an eight-speed automatic gearbox. While that suits the car’s relaxed demeanour, it’s a shame that the option of a manual isn’t available anywhere. At least it’s a relatively smooth and unobtrusive gearbox.
The DS 4 is at its best in long-distance driving on the motorway, where its smooth ride and low noise levels are best appreciated.
Around town, it’s generally composed, but the hybrid version we tried on 20in wheels was more unsettled by broken road surfaces than you might hope. It’s certainly less firm than something like an Audi A3 in S-Line trim, but it’s not as isolated as it could be. Happily, lesser trim variants on 19in wheels are more comfortable overall.
We’d like to try more variants, however – we’ve only driven the hybrid versions, and those weren’t fully finished. Variants without the heavier electric motor and battery are likely to offer even more composure over bumps. The hybrid models we tested also had brakes that made it tricky to come to a stop smoothly due to the energy recuperation disrupting the pedal feel, although that’s quite common in hybrids and EVs.
In all models, though, the faster you go the better the DS 4 is at making you feel cocooned in luxury. Aside from a little tyre noise on certain surfaces, it’s very refined, with wind noise never intruding and engines remaining audibly distant.
What it’ll never be – even in the most powerful variants – is fun to drive quickly. Sure, it’s far from wayward, with accurate enough steering, decent grip and not too much body lean, but there’s a remoteness to the controls and a generally aloof feel that shows you DS wasn’t trying to make this a sporty model.
Still, forward visibility is good, the turning circle is reasonable, and there’s an array of parking cameras and systems such as rear-cross traffic alert and self-parking to make urban driving a doddle. The driving position is alright, too, with a tremendously comfortable seat and lots of adjustability.