Lavish rival to Germany’s compact elite could be a game-changer for its maker
The DS marque’s expansion in the UK has so far been more leisurely than relentless, mostly because the cars offered haven’t been in the main premium user-chooser battlegrounds. But the arrival of the new DS 4, a genuine rival for both the Audi A3 and BMW X2, puts Stellantis’s ‘savoir faire’ marque on course to double the size of its UK foothold and eclipse brands like Jaguar and Lexus for outright sales volume.For a brand whose annual sales will run to 4000-odd units after deliveries begin at the turn of the year, the 4 comes with a plethora of models – trim levels (in ascending order) with exotic names such as Bastille, Trocadero, Rivoli and the range-topping La Première. All are surprisingly well equipped, featuring things like standard automatic transmissions, flush door handles and LED matrix headlights.There are also three body looks – a chrome-heavy standard offering just called DS, a DS Performance Line with sporty black wheels (and the shiny body bits in black) and a DS Cross, which has the same suspension and ride height as the others but the prominent skidplates and roof bars of a crossover to take the fight to the likes of the BMW X2. DS is determined to cover every base.There are also five powertrains (three petrol, one diesel and one petrol plug-in hybrid) distributed across the model line-up and even those that don’t plug in are electrified in the sense that they use integrated starter-generators to augment their off-the-mark efficiency.It’s all a bit bewildering at first, especially if you’re not holding a brochure, but potential 4 customers (who can order cars now and get them from January) can be pretty sure there’s a model that targets them directly. We tested two versions, the Puretech 130 and the E-Tense 225 PHEV, majoring on the second not least because DS’s people say it will be the popular one in the UK.DS 4 interiors are elaborate, with unique switchgear in knurled bright metal attractively arrayed across a dashboard that cleverly disguises its air vents. There’s lots of emphasis on screens – a large central unit that can handle swipe gestures, a smaller screen below it that can provide a variety of configurable shortcuts, a comprehensive display ahead of the steering wheel plus one of the best head-up displays we’ve encountered – but it’s intuitive and clear.The overall effect is of cut-above luxury, yet even the priciest 4, the La Première E-Tense 225, costs a reasonable-sounding £43,695. The entry-level Bastille seems very affordable at £25,350, given the imposing figure it cuts on a suburban driveway. It’s evident that DS sees this first true mainstream model as its way of establishing a foothold in prime markets (such as the UK’s) rather than of earning early profits – although UK managing director Jules Tilstone assures us that the marque is already returning positive earnings to the Stellantis core.Our main test car was a Rivoli E-Tense 225, which, like the rest of them, is based on a developed version of Stellantis’s latest (lighter and stiffer) medium-to-large EMP2 platform. Surprisingly, this one has a torsion-beam semi-independent rear suspension rather than the fully independent multi-link set-up of more expensive DS models. Still, our car was nicely made, with fine panel fit and impressive trim details, including hand-finishing of its stitched leather seats and steering wheel. The designers’ desire is that this cabin should offer comfort, convenience and decor beyond the mainstream, and they’ve achieved it.On the road, the 4 is a quiet and refined proposition. The electric propulsion appears to last the promised 30 miles, if you drive normally. The engine stays acceptably quiet when it intervenes, either because the battery range is exhausted or because you’ve selected the Sport drive mode, although there are some vibrations through the pedals that we could have done without. The car will cover 0-62mph in under eight seconds, can hit 145mph on an autobahn and always feels potent, not least because the electric motor part of its powertrain adds to its alertness. Passing torque is plentiful. In fact, the only PHEV drawback we could find was aslightly uncertain brake feel (the familiar PHEV problem of combining regenerative and friction braking) but it was a foible, not a problem.The ride quality is fundamentally soft and quiet, although there’s a predictable hint of rear axle wind-up over really complicated bump combinations such as railway crossings. The steering is fairly light but firms up in Sport, which thus became our setting of choice on test. We tried cars on both 19in and optional 20in wheels and preferred the former, because there was notably less bump-thump yet no reduction in visual impact.In sum, the 4 feels like the launch with which this young brand gets serious. The car does have a unique persona, looking and feeling like nothing else from its family stable. And it doesn’t look German. Given the depth of its equipment, it also seems good value. Most importantly for a marque that wants to establish itself on style, it is impressive and good-looking inside and out.DS’s people want to sell their car as a refreshing change from the sameagain Germans. Potential buyers who try one will see their point.