DS DS 9 review
The DS 9 is a large and stylish premium saloon that aims to offer something a little different to the norm.
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The DS 9 is a new flagship large saloon that aims to bring a bit of Parisian style to a sector largely dominated by the Germans.
In the recent past French luxury cars were about as popular with buyers as resort package holidays during lockdown. That’s mainly because Audi, Mercedes and BMW have established themselves so firmly as the default choice for premium saloons. But if you’re looking for something different from the norm, the DS 9 is definitely worth a look.
It’s priced and sized to compete with – yep, you guessed it – the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class. However, it’s more realistic to think of it as an alternative to other, more left-field posh saloons such as the Lexus ES and Jaguar XF.
One key reason you might buy the DS 9 over these models is the design. Although it’s nowhere near as jaw-droppingly different as the classic DS saloon from the 1950s, with its lashings of chrome, swanky-looking lights and air of Gallic charm the DS 9 would likely turn far more heads in your office car park than the ten-a-penny Germans.
It’s much the same story inside. Sure, the design looks a lot like that of the DS7 Crossback SUV, but that’s no bad thing, while quality seems to have stepped up a notch – particularly if you splash out for the optional ‘Opera’ extended leather pack. That brings elegant ruby red leather that is splashed all over the cabin so pretty much every surface you touch feels plush. Even the roof mounted grab handles are stitched.
Every DS 9 comes generously equipped as standard. There’s only two trim levels, with entry Performance Line+ offering a sportier look and Rivoli bringing more kit and elegance. All versions get a rather over-styled 12.3in digital instrument display and 12in high-def touchscreen in the centre of the dash, although this isn’t the most intuitive or tech-laden system around.
This is not a sports car by any means, so you're best off with the hybrid which suits the DS 9's plush, relaxed road manners
Still, the DS 9 offers good amounts of space. The front seats are, in the classic French way, soft and comfortable, while there’s loads of adjustment in the standard electric seats and plenty of leg and headroom. In the back, too, the DS 9’s long wheelbase means even the seriously lanky will find plenty of legroom, while headroom is decent enough. The third seat is okay for adults on short journeys, but if you’d rather make the back more befitting of executive class travel you can spec a posh divider for the outer seats and even massaging rear seats. The boot is a good size, too.
Engine options for the DS 9 are quite limited at launch with the choice of a 225hp 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine, or a detuned version of the same engine mated to an electric motor to make it a plug-in hybrid, again with 225hp. There will also be an all-wheel drive ‘E-Tense’ hybrid with a much healthier 360hp available later in 2021.
Although stumping up an extra £6000 to get the 225hp hybrid over the similarly powered petrol isn’t ideal, it’s definitely better suited to the DS 9’s relaxed driving experience compared to the petrol, which can sound quite thrashy when pushed. The hybrid promises up to 34 miles in electric mode on a single charge, too, allowing you to waft around in complete silence or wake the petrol engine for some overtaking punch.
Whatever engine you go for, though, it’s clear that sportiness is very much not the DS 9’s bag. The handling is nothing to write home about, the steering is remote and it doesn’t reward fast driving in any way. You’d be much better off with a BMW 5 Series if you want to hoon about the place.
However, it excels at cruising, which will likely be more important to you if you’re looking for an executive car anyway. The DS 9 has special camera- aided suspension that reads the road ahead in order to smother potholes to the best of its ability, and for the most part it works, offering a ride that – while not perfect – isolates the worst Britain’s roads can throw at it and glides pretty serenely at motorway speeds.
It might be difficult to recommend the DS 9 from a purely rational point of view when it’s priced to compete with the German alternatives, yet is unlikely to hold as much of its value after three years if past French executive efforts are anything to go by. However, the DS 9 counters with its generous kit tally, with stuff made standard that you’d have to pay thousands for in other cars.
The DS 9 isn’t quite as palatial as some rivals, but it’s plenty roomy enough for two adults to ride in comfort in the back.
The DS 9 shares a fair bit with the Peugeot 508 under the skin, but the wheelbase (the space between the front and rear wheels) has been extended by a full 83mm.
While that makes it significantly roomier in the rear than the Peugeot, the Mercedes E-Class, BMW 5 Series and Audi A6 all offer longer wheelbases still. However, in isolation the DS 9 is extremely comfortable for four adults, or five at a push.
There’s loads of space to get comfortable up front, with plenty of adjustability in the driving position. Similarly in the back, two six footers will find enough head and legroom to lounge happily for a few hours without grumbles. the DS9 is not remarkable in this respect, but it’s good enough.
The DS 9 is all about comfort and refinement – it doesn’t aim to please the keen driver in any real way. A BMW 5 Series is a better all-rounder as a result, but don’t discount the big DS.
The DS 9 launches with two engine options initially and, unusually for a large saloon of this type, none of them are diesel.
The 225hp petrol engine sounds like it should give ample performance given the car’s fairly modest 1540kg kerbweight, and although we’ve yet to try the DS 9 with this engine previous experience says it’s reasonably punchy. The engine is, however, quite noisy when stretched, so if you’re the kind of driver that regularly makes use of the full rev range it’s not ideal.
The best fit for the DS 9 is the plug-in hybrid ‘E-Tense 225’ version. It uses the same 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine as the 225 petrol, but the engine itself is detuned and then mated to a 112hp electric motor for the same (combined) output of 225hp as the standard petrol car.
Flat-out, both the normal petrol and plug-in hybrid models will knock on the door of 150mph and offer similar acceleration. But the hybrid is more serene thanks to its useful electric power and range (DS claims up to 34 miles on the battery alone is possible) which means the engine takes less of the burden when getting up to speed and switches off altogether when you’re more gentle on the throttle.
As is the case with all plug-in hybrids DS’s claimed fuel economy of over 250mpg needs to be take with a pinch (or a fistful) of salt. You’ll only get near that figure by keeping the battery topped up on every journey. For reference, expect more like 45mpg-50mpg from the hybrid once the battery is totally depleted, although it always keeps a little juice in reserve from the regenerative braking.
Expect a healthy jump in performance for the eventual 360hp, four-wheel drive hybrid flagship model. Powered by the same system as the hot Peugeot 508 PSE, it should blend hot hatch-rivalling pace with fuel-sipping virtue.
DS does things a little differently to the norm; that’s why you’ll find no mention of ‘sportiness’ in the DS 9’s marketing bumf.
Instead, this large saloon offers refined and cosseting transport for driver and passenger alike. Whereas alternatives like the BMW 5 Series encourage you to take the twisty route home, the DS 9 is quite the opposite: You’ll look for excuses to take long motorway journeys just to bathe in its sense of calm and smoothness.
Ride comfort is very good on the whole, with the DS 9 ironing out the roughest stretches of British tarmac and only very occasionally tripping up over the largest potholes. It’s especially good in Comfort mode which activates the car’s clever Active Scan Suspension. Here, a camera on the front of the car scans the road ahead and constantly adjusts the adaptive dampers to suit what’s coming up: handily, it’s standard on all but the very cheapest DS 9, where it’s a £1,000 option.
The downside of this comfort focus, however, is that’s it’s pretty far from being engaging or fun when you’re in the moon for a hoon. The body doesn’t lean excessively and the steering is accurate enough, but when you drive fast there’s a real sense that the car isn’t set up for this sort of thing.