French brand comes into its own with a luxurious take on the premium hatchback

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Sportiness sells. That has long been a given in marketing. It’s why adverts and brochures depict beautiful people engaging in tennis or hiking, not theoretical mathematics. It’s why most BMWs and Mercedes are sold in M Sport or AMG Line trim, why everything has a Sport mode and why the four-spoke steering wheel is a dying breed.

The paradox is that most car buyers have no need for a car that handles in a sporty, dynamic fashion. They have no desire to tackle a challenging B-road with gusto and would be much better served by a car that’s easy to use and quiet and cushions them from the UK’s harsh roads.

For a brand named after the 1955 Citroën, there are very few nods to that car. The bonnet, which is unusually long and flat for a front-wheel-drive car and has a ridge down the middle, is unmistakable, though.

Marketing usually still wins and, as a result, recent history contains very few comfort-oriented car brands and models. DS is here to change that.

Citroën’s luxury offshoot has taken a while since its 2016 launch to establish a clear and consistent product strategy and design language. Its very first car, the DS 3 – née Citroën DS3 – was a sporty, Mini-chasing thing, and the old DS 4 Crossback and DS 5 were weird but not overly wonderful.

If the DS 3 Crossback and DS 7 Crossback signalled DS starting to find its way, the DS 9 put it on the right track. The hope is that with today’s road test subject, the new DS 4, it can iron out some of the issues that plague the saloon but transfer that car’s charm and character into a volume-seller.

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Range at a glance

There are three main trim levels: DS 4, Cross and Performance Line, each with a few sub-levels. Bastille+ is the cheapest but can be combined with only the Puretech 130 engine. Counterintuitively, the pure-petrol 225 is more expensive than the plug-in hybrid E-Tense 225, but that’s simply because it’s available only on the top trim levels.

Puretech 130 Bastille+128bhp£26,860
BlueHDi 130 Performance Line128bhp£30,260
Puretech 180 Performance Line+178bhp £34,660
E-Tense 225 Performance Line224bhp £36,100
Puretech 225 Performance Line+224bhp£36,460


02 DS DS4 E Tense 225 RT 2022 side pan

The DS 4 is clearly intended to stand out with its design and be memorable for it. Where the DS 7 looked a bit too much like an Audi Q5 with fussy detailing, this wants to be its own thing.

It’s a bit taller than most hatchbacks, and that height has been used to give it particularly large wheels. Our test car rode on 19in alloys, but the tyres still had a generous 55-aspect sidewall. Also available are 20in and 21in wheels.

The light signature at the front mimics the script of the ‘E’ in ‘E-Tense’, the name DS uses for electrified cars. All versions have LED headlights, but only higher trims get an upgrade to matrix beams.

Despite only needing to cover a transverse engine and front-wheel drive, the bonnet is long and relatively low. Combined with the tall rear end, that gives the 4 a slight shooting brake-esque silhouette. There’s still plenty of fussy detailing, but the 4 no longer depends on it.

DS offers three styles to pick from. The standard 4 can be considered the luxury option, especially in range-topping Rivoli trim. Performance Line, like our test car, on the outside adds black accents and wheels and covers the interior in Alcantara but offers no additional performance or stiffer suspension. Finally, Cross models add black cladding for a rugged off-road look, as well as the option of Advanced Traction Control with sand, snow and mud modes.

So the 4 is an unusual mix of hatchback and crossover, but under the skin, there are few surprises. It uses the same EMP2 architecture as the Peugeot 308 and Vauxhall Astra, so it’s available with the same selection of three and four-cylinder petrols, a plug-in hybrid and a diesel.

The latest version of the platform has been updated with new components made from composite materials, hot-pressed structural parts and, most significantly, the ability to accommodate a large battery in the floor.

This means that, like the 308 and the Astra but unlike the DS 9, the 4 will gain an electric version. That’s due in 2024 and marks the point at which the brand plans to go electric-only. It also means all versions of the 4 that are being introduced now will be on sale for only about a year and a half.

Despite the claims about lightweight materials, we weighed our plug-in hybrid 4 at a hefty 1706kg, 40kg more than the Mercedes-Benz A250e, which actually has a bigger battery: 15.6kWh plays 12.4kWh.


11 DS DS4 E Tense 225 RT 2022 dashboard

The interior of the DS 4 will be the highlight for many, while others will no doubt be turned off by the gimmicky, even chintzy details.

In recent years, DS has made diamonds its trademark. They’re a motif in the grille and in the rear lights, and they’re all over the interior. The designers are committed to the look, and it does give every DS a recognisable style. And thankfully the eye-catching design hasn’t been penny-pinched to mediocrity: the materials are mostly pleasing to the touch. Yes, you can tell the window switches are plastic, but then this isn’t a £100,000 car. If the Alcantara-heavy style of our Performance Line+ 4 isn’t to your taste, other versions get more leather.

There’s a row of physical buttons for the climate control, but bafflingly none of them changes the temperature or the fan speed. The centre console, on the other hand, is laid out deceptively well: the cubby hides a pair of cupholders, the touchpad is reasonably useful and there’s a convenient place for your phone.

Fans of light-coloured interiors are out of luck, though, because apart from the very dark brown leather available on Rivoli trim, it’s black and grey all the way.

Perhaps it was a result of our test car being an early production example, but while most of the interior felt reassuringly solid, there were one or two quality issues: the driver’s headrest felt very wobbly, there were some loose trim pieces in the footwell and the start/stop button needed quite a firm press to respond.

Every 4 has a 7.0in digital gauge cluster and a 10.0in central touchscreen, and higher trim levels (like our car) also get a head-up display that’s projected neatly onto the windscreen. All can be configured to your own taste; you can cycle through different layouts of the gauge cluster and head-up display using the column stalks.

The 4 has far from the roomiest seats in its class, particularly in the rear. With 660mm of rear leg room, it’s considerably tighter than the Mercedes-Benz A-Class’s 720mm or the Seat Leon’s 700mm, let alone the Cupra Formentor’s 760mm.

It claws back some points with its boot, which at 390-1190 litres (430-1240 for non-hybrids) is much roomier than the A250e’s 310-1120 litres or the Audi A3 PHEV’s 280-1100 litres. That said, it’s unfortunate DS didn’t include convenience features like hooks, dividers or a dedicated place to store the charging cables.

Multimedia system

15 Ds ds4 e tense 225 rt 2022 infotainment 0

Full marks to the DS press office here, because our test car came with a handy quick start guide to explain how you can customise the centre screen, driver display, head-up display and touchpad in the centre console with various widgets.

A good user interface should really be self-explanatory, though. Still, being able to adapt it to your personal preference compensates for some usability issues. One annoyance is that the climate controls aren’t permanently accessible.

You can configure the home screen to display both sat-nav and temperature control, and there is a physical home button, but it’s still awkward. Use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and that will take over the whole screen.

We found the Iris voice assistant (Apple’s Siri might have something to say about that name) better than most; and the configurable shortcuts on the touchpad are handy, but they’re no substitute for some physical buttons, especially as the screen can be slow to respond.


19 DS DS4 E Tense 225 RT 2022 alt tracking

Our car’s Performance Line+ trim level might suggest this is some sort of GTI, but a trim level is all it is. Still, with a total of 224bhp, this E-Tense 225 is the fastest DS 4 on paper. Counterintuitively, it’s even 0.2sec quicker to 62mph than the equally powerful but lighter Puretech 225.

We have the broader power and torque band of the hybrid to thank for that. The 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine produces 178bhp and 221lb ft by itself – it’s exactly the same unit in the Puretech 180 version – and is augmented by a 107bhp, 236lb ft electric motor.

Manual control of the gearbox isn’t essential on a car like this, but when there are shifter paddles, I expect them to work. The DS 4 keeps upshifting on light loads and downshifting at anything over 60% throttle, making the paddles redundant.

Working in tandem, they powered the 4 to 60mph in 7.4sec on a mostly dry surface. As the petrol engine is reasonably powerful by itself, it keeps accelerating quite strongly at higher speeds too, reaching 130mph in 30.8sec.

We also measured the car’s acceleration in EV mode, although the surface was wet by then. Still, a 12.8sec 0-60mph time and an 85mph top speed make it quite usable.

This powertrain has proven to be refined in other cars, and that’s still the case in the 4. At anything short of full power, the 1.6 Puretech gets on with the job smoothly and quietly.

The hand-off between electric and petrol is handled almost perfectly too, and the central screen lets you easily manage whether the powertrain should be in EV mode or hybrid mode and charge the battery or maintain its charge (you can also stipulate how much charge you want to be left over at the end of your journey).

The eight-speed torque-converter automatic gearbox from Aisin works smoothly and quickly enough – as long as you leave it to its own devices, that is. DS gives you shifter paddles, but it’s hard to work out why, because the software ignores your commands more often than it obeys them.

This also made it impossible to record in-gear acceleration times, because the transmission will kick down even when you’re nowhere near the kickdown switch.

A more significant black mark is the brake-pedal response. There’s nothing wrong with the outright braking performance, being nearly identical to that of the Mercedes A250e. The problem is that the pedal feel is very soft and inconsistent. When you brake from 30mph to a stop with constant light pressure, the car will change the amount of retardation midway through. It’s unnerving, unnecessary and not conducive to smooth driving.


20 DS DS4 E Tense 225 RT 2022 front corner

The modern-day DS is a company laser-focused on comfort, and that naturally comes to the detriment of engaging handling. But then not everyone equates driving enjoyment with attacking a twisty B-road; so as long as a car maintains a reasonable level of roadholding and predictability, that’s not necessarily an issue. With that in mind, the DS 4 does all right – just. Our test car was equipped with DS’s Active Scan Suspension, which uses a camera behind the windscreen and sensors in the suspension to prime it for upcoming bumps. As in other DSs, we aren’t convinced it does a great deal.

The system only works in Comfort mode, where the suspension just feels very soft and loosely controlled. There’s a lot of heave over bumps, so much so that some testers preferred the middle Hybrid mode (which confusingly acts as a normal mode for the suspension and the powertrain) for the way it calms down the ride.

DS differentiates itself from the Germans not only stylistically but also dynamically, the 4’s languid handling and benign ride underscoring its comfort over sporting mien.

As the photos show, the 4 doesn’t quite lean over like a Citroën 2CV, but there aren’t many modern cars that achieve bigger angles. In fairness, the car was left in Comfort mode for dramatic effect, but its body control is pretty relaxed even in Sport mode.

At 2.9 turns lock to lock, the 4’s steering is equally leisurely, and comes with the unusual feeling of strong self-centring. The Citroën aficionado might draw parallels with the Diravi system on old hydropneumatic models, but in the 4 it’s nowhere near as extreme as that. Some testers appreciated how the wheel will whizz back to centre out of tight city junctions, others found it distracting on the open road.

There’s very little weight to it in Comfort or Hybrid mode and only a bit more in Sport mode. In any case, road feedback is wholly absent.

The 205-section Michelin e-Primacy tyres generate adequate grip in the wet and the dry, but no more. It all adds up to a car that doesn’t necessarily frustrate if there are some corners to negotiate, but you certainly wouldn’t seek out any challenging roads in your 4.

Comfort and isolation

When a car abandons any pretence of sportiness, comfort and isolation is where it needs to shine. By and large, the DS 4 does.

First things first: the 4, at least in this top spec with the adaptive dampers and multi-link rear suspension, has the most pillowy long-wave ride you will find in any modern hatchback. If that’s what you enjoy, there’s no alternative.

The floaty ride in Comfort mode might be a bit too extreme for some, as a lot of bumps aren’t dealt with in one combined stroke of compression and rebound. Hybrid mode introduces a little more high-frequency patter but feels more composed and as such is a fair compromise.

Potholes and poorly repaired road surfaces are also smoothed out better than most, although perfection remains elusive. We would love to try a car on the adaptive suspension with the 17in wheels of the Bastille+ base model, but that combination isn’t available in the UK.

Our noise meter brought more good news for the 4’s comfort. At a 70mph cruise, we recorded just 64dBA, which is very quiet indeed for a hatchback. The Mercedes A250e was 4dBA louder. It’s the same story at lower speeds, and suspension noise is limited too.

There is one blemish in terms of comfort: there’s surprisingly little driver leg room, pushing the pedals too far into the cabin. The steering column has a reasonable amount of adjustment, but not enough to compensate for this poor design.

For shorter drivers, this will be a non-issue; those with longer legs will need to upgrade to electric seats, as the cushion of the manual seats can’t be tilted, leaving thighs unsupported.

Assisted Driving

22 Ds ds4 e tense 225 rt 2022 assisted driving 0

DS is following the premium car template of making everything non-essential optional here. Higher trim levels like our Performance Line+ test car at least get adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition and an upgraded automatic emergency braking system. However, blindspot warning and automatic lane following are part of the optional Drive Assist pack, which our test car didn’t have.

In practice, the cruise control system is fairly poor. Even the closest following distance setting is rather cautious and therefore frustrating to use in heavier traffic. Overriding it takes a big throttle input, and on releasing the pedal the car will panic and brake, making it pitch on its soft suspension.

On the plus side, the lane-keeping assistance is mostly unintrusive, and it’s easy to turn off anyway. There’s a physical button that takes you to the assisted driving menu, and from there it takes just one button press to turn off any of the systems.


01 DS DS4 E Tense 225 RT 2022 hero track

The DS 4 range, with a total of 10 trim levels and four powertrains, is pretty bewildering, but as a general rule, the lower the spec, the more competitive the price. The Puretech 130 Bastille+ is good value, but the plug-in hybrid is downright expensive.

The E-Tense 225 starts at £36,100 in Performance Line trim but isn’t exactly generously equipped. Start ticking boxes on the options list and it’s possible to add more than £10,000 to that price, whereas a fully loaded Mercedes A250e or Cupra Formentor eHybrid will top out at about £44,000.

Spec advice? Stick to lower-end petrol models for value. If you want the plug-in hybrid, Performance Line is the cheapest trim available. Study the brochure carefully if you want a specific option, because they’re often hidden in a specific trim level or pack.

The news doesn’t get better on finance. The Formentor eHybrid in V1 trim is £50 per month cheaper on a 36-month PCP contract with 10,000 miles per year and a £6100 deposit.

We saw more than 70mpg in normal use with a reasonable amount of plugging in, and at a 70mph cruise with the battery depleted, it will still do 44.7mpg, which is similar to the Leon eHybrid but quite a bit worse than the A250e’s 57.8mpg.

Of the 4’s quoted 33-mile electric range, about 26 remain in the real world. Again, that is on par with the Leon (and the Formentor), but a long way short of the A250e’s 40 real-world miles. That also means the Mercedes enjoys a lower BIK band and is about £60 per month cheaper for 40% taxpayers.


23 DS DS4 E Tense 225 RT 2022 static

It’s good to see a new challenger in the premium hatchback segment that doesn’t come from the usual (German) suspects. It’s even better when that new challenger tries to do something a bit different. The DS 4 abandons any pretence of sportiness and aggressiveness and replaces them with comfort and a particular brand of French luxury.

It pulls off a lot of it, with a relatively smooth ride and an interior that’s quiet and feels upmarket. The plug-in hybrid powertrain is a known quantity and doesn’t disappoint here, although the electric-only range is just starting to lag behind the best.

The 4 doesn’t get a lot of headline stuff wrong, but it’s just let down by a collection of small lapses. A few quality niggles, poor seat ergonomics, dim-witted adaptive cruise control, fussy infotainment and frustrating brakes could turn off some buyers.

The thing that might hold the 4 back most, though, is its price. But that apart, and once it gets the fine detail right, there are fewer and fewer reasons why DS shouldn’t become an established name.

Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester

As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. 

Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.