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There's never been a contender quite like the DS 9. Jonathan Crouch looks at the top E-TENSE 4x4 360 version.
If, back in the Fifties, you had found yourself seeking a luxury car with avant-garde looks and cutting-edge technology, it's likely that an automotive model name plate with two letters would have been on your radar - DS. Back then, that badge designated a classic luxury Citroen. Today, it's a brand in its own right, whose flagship model is this car, the DS 9. And here, we look at the flagship version, the 'E-TENSE 4x4 360'. We think this car offers something deliciously different in the PHEV part of its Teutonically-dominated segment, this model designed to give real credence to the DS brand's aspirations as a proper premium sector name plate. As with all DS 9s, despite all the Parisienne marketing, those aspirations lie mainly in China, where the car is made and where it can sell uninhibited by history and segment expectations. But is it worth consideration here? You'll need the industry's most comprehensive car review, the Car and Driving Road Test, to find out.
Front-driven E-TENSE DS 9 models from the Chinese production line get sent to DS's Formula E base for conversion to '4x4 360'-spec, which means the installation of new axles and the addition of an extra motor on the rear one, creating an All-Wheel Drive powertrain - and a more powerful one. That extra motor, along with an upgrade in tuning for the 1.6-litre engine to 200hp, delivers an output boosted to 355hp. This lowers the rest to 62mph time to just 5.6s en route to a top speed of 155mph, but driving range is unaffected. The 'E-TENSE 4x4 360' also gets a handling upgrade, with uniquely-calibrated springs, dampers and roll bars; a beefier brake set-up with four-piston calipers clamping 380mm ventilated front discs; a track widened by 24mm at the front and 12mm at the rear; grippy Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres; and a lower rise height, dropped by 15mm at the front and 5mm at the rear. Standard is the clever 'DS Active Scan' suspension, which uses a forward-facing camera to prepare the dampers for forthcoming bumps. As with the standard model, you get 'Sport', 'Comfort', 'Hybrid' and 'Electric' drive settings; and an 8-speed paddleshift auto gearbox.
The letters 'DS' came originally from the French word 'deesse' - 'goddess' - a fitting description for the iconic 1955 Citroen model this marque derives itself from. The DS 9 won't be fondly remembered in quite the same way because there's nothing in its design that will stop you in the street or be considered particularly ground-breaking. But it's different, be-jewelled with delicious detailing and undeniably elegant. This 4x4 360 version sets itself apart from front-driven DS 9 PHEVs with bigger 20-inch 'Monaco'-design wheels. Behind the wheel, this DS delivers its boldest flourishes. If you like Teutonic simplicity and clarity of form, look away now. What's served up here is a glorious antidote to all that, a celebration, the designers hope, of everything that's cutting-edge in French fashion. It's hard to know what to look at first. Curiously bevelled 'Guillochage'-patterned buttons parade down either side of the phallically-fashioned gearstick; the centre vents that surround the unconventionally-square starter button have pearled accents; double-stitched Alcantara panels flow from either door across a fascia book-ended at either corner by strangely shaped vertical vents; and an haute couture analogue clock from French chronologist BRM pirouettes out of the top of the dash at start-up. The 12.3-inch Digital Instrument Cluster screen you view through the thick-rimmed wheel is different too, configurable in a number of ways to show the information most useful to you, including a large navigation map. Everything else you'll need to know resides on this 12-inch HD centre touch-sensitive display, which unfortunately has been burdened with all the climate control functions, but compensates with a row of useful lower short-cut buttons and is your access point to the excellent 14-speaker FOCAL Electric Hi-Fi system upgrade. For passenger behind, thanks to the 2.9m wheelbase, there's a reasonable amount of room in the rear to stretch out. Out back, there's a class-leadingly-large 510-litre boot.
If you've plenty to spend on your DS 9, just over £54,000 (around £8,000 more than the normal front-driven 'E-TENSE' plug-in model) gets you this flagship 'E-TENSE 4x4 360' version, which adds an extra rear-mounted electric motor to the same Plug-in powertrain, boosting power and delivering all-wheel drive traction. That price is for base 'Performance Line+' trim. With top-spec 'Rivoli+'-spec, pricing is up at over £57,000 - or maybe just over £60,000 with some key extras fitted. Which really is right up in exalted premium territory. You'd really need to be fully signed-up to this car's Parisienne vibe to pay that. You might find it a bit of a trek to find your nearest DS retailer, depending on where in the country you happen to live. At the time of filming, there were only 28 UK dealerships, though more are planned. At least the marque isn't just inhabiting a differently-carpeted part of a Citroen showroom, as was basically the case when it first started out. And the company is talking about 'class-leading customer service' - though it's not quite up to what you'd get from a comparable Genesis.
All this car's full-Executive segment Plug-in rivals use larger-capacity petrol engines than the 1.6-litre unit featuring in this DS 9. With that in mind, it'd be a disappointment if this car's efficiency figures weren't class-competitive - as, by and large, they are. The key figure with any PHEV is the CO2 reading, because that of course is what your Benefit-in-Kind tax is going to be based upon. The DS 9 E-TENSE 4x4 360 model we're looking at here manages a 41g/km figure, which means a BiK tax rate of 13%. To give you some class perspective here, a Mercedes E300e records a 35g/km reading, a BMW 530e is rated at 31g/km and the Audi A6 50 TFSIe delivers a 27g/km figure. For fuel saving, the all-electric driving range figure is equally important, rated at up to 38 miles for all DS 9 PHEV variants. For class perspective, that's better than an E300e (35 miles), about the same as a 530e and a bit less than an A6 50 TFSIe (43 miles). That Audi, curiously, records exactly the same top combined cycle fuel figure as all DS 9 plug-ins - 256.8mpg; the 530e only just about crests the 200mpg mark, while the E300e is down at 188.3mpg. Not that these three-figure fuel readings mean anything of course - you'll never achieve anything close to them and we can't imagine how the WLTP cycle testers ever did. Real time readings will probably be somewhere close to those of a conventional unelectrified diesel. But the important thing is that the government believes the all-round efficiency stats.
DS firmly tells us that the object here is to produce a potent Grand Tourer rather than a conventional sports saloon, but you can't help feeling that the overall '4x4 360' confection is akin to an opera singer dressed in a pair of springy trainers. This isn't really that kind of car. As you'd discover should you find yourself running late for the conservatoire and attempt to push it along a few twisting secondaries. The car feels long, through that unusual bonnet stripe helps you place it; steering feedback is languid, even in 'Sport'; and the brake pedal feel initial feels a touch marshmallowy, which we'll charitably credit as a tribute to the innovative hydraulic brakes of the original DS. Better to throttle back and enjoy the kind of relaxed conveyance this DS 9 would prefer to be, at which point it genuinely flows along the tarmac in proper Gallic style, taking tarmac tears and undulations in its stride. Lovely.
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