DS 9 E-Tense review: Quietly different

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(Pocket-lint) – DS Automobiles has launched its third model, the DS 9, this time targeting the very heart of where this prestige brand wants to sit: in the executive saloon segment.

The DS 9 – no joking around, Trekkies – is a car that puts itself in contention with cars like the BMW 5 Series or the Audi A6 – so it’s certainly not lacking in competition. Strangely, however, DS says that it doesn’t really want to compete with these models.

Design and interior

Some of the decision not to compete is based on expectations. The DS 9 isn’t expected to be a volume seller, instead being positioned as an alternative model for those who have had any number of those rival saloons in the past.

“Fancy a change?” That seems to be the segment of the market that DS Automobiles wants to capture. Because, just as with the DS 7 Crossback, the DS 9 is all about offering something a little different.

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This is a big car – and that’s actually a good starting point. You can’t pin ambitions of luxury and comfort on something that’s too small, especially when you need to provide ample boot space and knee room for passengers in the back – which is something that the DS 9 has no problem with.

The car is built upon the EMP2 platform that’s shared across the Stellantis Group, also found sitting under cars like the Citroën C5 Aircross and a number of Peugeot models. It’s designed to be big and the DS 9 is the longest model to date on this platform.

The resulting long and low stance gives some serious elegance to this model, but the most distinctive feature is the “sabre” on the bonnet. Decorated in typical DS style, putting a strip of metal down centre of the bonnet brings some sort of old school charm with it. Could it be a Peugeot 403 in disguise?

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Talking of Peugeot, there’s some similarity to the 508, but with plenty of attention to detail, there’s enough to make the DS 9 stand out.

It’s less aggressive than some of the recent German rivals, too, but still with an expansive grille, it’s the lights that DS will want to draw your attention to. The swivelling headlamps and signature daytime running lights are distinctive and round out a design that’s pretty good-looking overall.

It’s the interior, however, that’s the most distinctive. If you’ve been following the DS story firstly through Citroën models and more recently through its own DS badged models, you’ll recognise the high-quality finish, the use of diamond patterns, the guillochage effect, and details like pearl stitching.

The DS 9, with more interior space, takes it up a notch and the result is rather sumptuous. There’s a hint of Lexus standard about this overall look.

With stretches of the door panels and dashboard draped in exquisitely finished leather, it’s a feast for the eyes, but as with all DS models, it is rather busy, with details just about everywhere that you look – with Performance Line+ and Rivoli+ trim options.

From the dash-mounted clock to the additional leather embossed drive select lever, there’s certainly a feeling that something special is happening here, even if that clock is a little dated looking, but then we’d say the same thing about the hallowed S Class Mercedes clock or classic Lexus clock too.

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There are some things we don’t like: putting the window controls in the centre of the car rather than on the door makes things even busier, while the barrel-style volume control is much less easy to use than a traditional knob you can grab. There are big volume buttons on the steering wheel, however, so it’s not too much of a problem.

The seats are comfortable, offering lots of adjustment, with heating or ventilation both in the front or back, while there’s also a massage function to help you de-stress, or something, after a long day.

A mixed technology package

We haven’t always been taken by DS’s approach to technology though. There’s a pairing of a big central 12-inch display and 12.3-inch digital driver display, very much adopting the graphical interface we’ve seen on other DS models. It’s heavily centred around those triangle designs, and switching styles can lead to a swirling of one into the next, which all feels a little unnecessary and slow.

The driver display doesn’t have the customisation that you’ll find on the Audi A6, for example, and while you can choose a range of different views, we think it’s a little over-styled and that gets in the way of its potential. DS has a new system incoming, but that’s going to debut on the incoming DS 4, which is yet to be seen.

The DS 9’s central display offers all the major functions you’d expect, with support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, although this isn’t wireless. There is a wireless charging pad for your smartphone – and once connected it’s easy to hide your phone away to avoid further busy looks.

While the main touchscreen works well enough, there are buttons across the bottom to give you access to just about everything you might need – climate, music, navigation, phone, and so on – and that makes things easy to get to what you want.

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The whole package can be boosted by a 14-speaker Focal sound system, which will really get your music singing, helped by the fact that this is a pretty quiet car to begin with.

Soft and sedate on the road

Offering a break from stiff and sporty suspension, the DS 9 instead offers a softer ride. That’s welcomed when the German brands seem to be pushing sporting prowess first – although there are many who like to pretend they are driving the Nürburgring. Indeed, the sacrifice is that you won’t want to drive the DS 9 like a racing car – it’s just well setup for that.

The DS 9 is more typically French brand, coping with broken road surfaces or bumpy finishes a lot better – leading to a quieter, more relaxing ride. With sound deadening and 3.96mm glass, it’s a quiet drive, all the better for enjoying that Focal sound system.

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For those wanting even more from the suspension, in the comfort driving mode it will scan the road ahead to make sure it’s ready for whatever is coming, so can keep everything nice and calm inside – if you have DS Active Scan Suspension fitted.

We tested the E-Tense version. This is the plug-in hybrid, with DS offering two powertrains: either a PureTech 225 petrol, or the E-Tense 225 PHEV, adding an 11.9kWh battery, which is good for about 30 miles of range.

That’s par for the course for plug-in hybrids, enough to get you to the school run, the weekly supermarket shop, or perhaps some of your commute – without needing to fire up the 1.6-litre petrol engine.

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The E-Tense model supports up to 7kW charging and with a small battery, that will see it charged in under two hours, while you’ll get both D and B driving modes – the latter putting more focus on the battery, enabling regeneration on lift-off to reduce the amount of wasted energy when you stand on the brakes.

We actually think that driving in B mode makes for a smoother experience, especially when it comes to coasting up to the lights or driving in busy urban conditions. But D mode is better for longer drives when you might want to coast without the braking effect that regeneration brings.

Driving modes include hybrid, which draws from both power sources, or you an choose to drive in electric-only or save the electric capacity for when you might need it – when driving in a low emission zone, for example.

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In a combined cycle you’ll get around 40mpg according to DS’s figures, but getting a useful figure from the car itself is rather difficult, because of the way that the trip information is displayed, showing miles per kWh for the battery and miles per gallon on a chart, which makes little sense.

The engine isn’t noisy, so the quiet experience continues when you put your foot down, but with a 0-62mph time of 8.3 seconds, the DS 9 isn’t really in the race for fastest off the line either. Think about tranquillity, think about comfort – and that’s really where the DS 9 is at its best.

Verdict

DS Automobiles has created a viable alternative to the default options in the executive saloon segment, and rather than wanting to compete, is looking to provide an alternative choice, for something a little different.

There’s plenty of sophistication, it’s quiet and comfortable, with that softer rider making it a relaxing experience. We also think this is the best interior that we’ve seen from DS so far, despite having a few niggles.

The technology interface could certainly be boosted with an update to make it faster and make better use of space, but this is a car that’s still perfectly comfortable and relaxing to drive.

Writing by Chris Hall. Editing by Mike Lowe.





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