Test Drives

Citroën DS5 1.6 e-HDi review – Cat A catastrophe

SINGAPORE – Here we are in February and as you know (unless you’ve been living in a cave on Mars with your eyes shut and your fingers in your ears), the COE system’s overhaul has kicked in. As of now, if a car has an engine smaller than 1.6 litres but with more power than 130bhp, it has to play with Category B cars.

This reboot has had dealers scratching around to make sure that they still have cars to sell in the Category A market, like the Citroën DS5 you see here. The powerful turbo petrol model is off to Cat B, so in its place is this 1.6-litre turbodiesel. With 115bhp under the bonnet, the DS5 1.6L e-HDi gets to stick around in Cat A.

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know we like the DS5. It looks like nothing else on Earth, mixing a bit of SUV (or Sports Utility Vehicle) stance with a sporty wagon’s profile, and stirring in coupe-like lines to create a head-turning and idiosyncratic whole.

It looks well-made, and has eye-catching details like the chrome blades that extend from the base of the windscreen to the headlamps.

The DS5 is nice inside, too, with a cockpit-style cabin that feels robust enough to have come out of Germany. To go with the refreshingly unusual architecture of the interior, there’s space for five adults, and quirky features like a panoramic roof that has individual sunshades for the front passengers.

Fittingly for Citroën’s flagship, it comes with posh features like satnav, Bluetooth phone connectivity, climate control and even a simple massage function for the driver’s chair. The President of France gets around in a DS5, which says a lot about the car (while telling you that socialists don’t mind a bit of luxury, for all their bluster about income equality).

So far, so promising. Push the button that starts the engine, however, and the story starts to unravel somewhat. At idle, the diesel rattles like someone has placed a few loose bolts inside the valvetrain, and it doesn’t sound much better when revved.

The 1.6 e-HDI is a clean, frugal engine, but its voice is simply too uncultured for a car that is supposed to be Citroën’s best. It’s capable of averaging 4.3L/100km, and is clean enough to snag you a $15,000 CEVS rebate, but I wonder if that will be enough to convince people to put up with an engine that sounds and feels like it came from a piece of farm equipment.

Yet, the DS5 has a larger flaw than even that. The engine is paired with a six-speed, single clutch manual gearbox that’s automated. Its name — Efficient Tronic Gearbox (ETG) — tells you how little regard the French must have for the English language, but the way it operates tells you even more about what they think of people too lazy to change gears themselves.

The ETG feels nothing like a modern auto, and is a clumsy device that takes its sweet time to change gears. This results in the sort of forward motion that would be fine for a kangaroo, but is pretty unseemly in a motorcar.

You can drive around it to some extent by easing your foot slightly off the accelerator, each time you sense the gearbox is about to reach lazily for a higher gear. But in a world of smooth twin-clutch transmissions, why should you have to?

To make things worse, the engine has an extremely narrow power band. Just off idle, there’s nothing. Then the turbo kicks in and you get a nice, fat slug of torque. But then by just 3,600rpm the engine is out of puff.

Pair that with the ETG, and the lurching result is enough to make you wonder if the DS5 wasn’t deliberately tuned to simulate drunkenness, which one can only presume would be considered a good thing in France.

While the drivetrain is disappointing enough on its own, it fosters a knock-on harshness in your overall judgement of the car.

The DS5 handles pretty sharply, for instance, with decently quick steering and a feeling of plantedness around corners. But that only worked well with the eager (and far smoother) turbo petrol drivetrain. In the e-HDI model, there’s no charismatic engine to whisper naughty things in your ear, and so you end up noticing only the harshness of the DS5’s ride.

And then you end up peeking under the rear, where you see a cheap torsion beam set-up that has no place in a car meant to ferry a President around (even a socialist one). And then you grumble at how the cabin’s array of buttons looks nice but doesn’t make much sense. And that’s when you notice there isn’t a place in the centre console for your mobile phone.

Still, this doesn’t make the DS5 a bad car. It simply means that if you’re eyeing one, you should really think carefully about spending the extra moolah on a Category B version, namely the 1.6 THP 155 turbo petrol and its six-speed automatic.

The e-HDI might have been brought in to outfox the new COE system, but choose it over the petrol model and you’ll only be outsmarting yourself.

Citroen DS5 1.6L e-HDi
Engine 1,560cc turbodiesel in-line four
Power 115bhp at 3600rpm
Torque 270Nm at 1750rpm
Gearbox 6-speed automated single-clutch
Top Speed 191km/h
0-100kmh 10.1 seconds
Fuel efficiency 4.3L/100km
CO2 112g/km
Price $159,888 with COE
Availability Now

Also Consider: Toyota Prius, Volkswagen Scirocco 1.4 TSI

For more information flip to the CarBuyer Guide

Engine : , 115hp & 270Nm
Performance : 191kmh, 0-100kmh 10.1 seconds,
4.3L/100km, 112g/km CO2
Price : $159,888 with COE

about the author

Leow Ju-Len
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 23 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.