Stellantis’s Parisian luxury brand goes hunting for the legacy of an automotive icon

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DS Automobiles has now been a brand in its own right for almost seven years. In its fairly short life, it has experimented with high-end superminis, high-fashion crossover hatchbacks, jacked-up designer shooting brakes and upmarket SUVs. But it has resisted the urge to introduce the kind of model you might have expected its renaissance to open with – until now. 

It’s with all due reverence to Citroën’s iconic DS19 of 1955, then, that the premium French marque whose existence owes so much to that car finally risks another big luxury saloon.

Active LED Vision headlights are standard. With motorised swivelling modules, they have separate dip settings for urban, extra-urban and motorway driving (switching according to your speed), and for bad weather

The DS 9 may have been a long time coming, but it has been a part of its maker’s model strategy since 2015. It is significant not only as a flagship – a symbol of the most advanced technology that DS can muster and the height of desirability that it can reach – but also because it is the first DS model to be produced in China for all global markets. As a top-of-the-range French luxury car built many thousands of miles away in Shenzen, the 9 might just raise an eyebrow or two in France’s protectionist quarters.

After an initial motor show debut that was planned to take place as long ago as April 2019 was delayed by the fallout of the merger of the PSA and FCA groups, and delayed again by the global pandemic, the 9’s arrival in UK showrooms was then beset by semiconductor-related supply problems last year.

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However, having officially gone on sale in the UK in April 2021, this enigmatic and alternative luxury car is now finally appearing on our roads, bringing with it some technologies every bit as eye-catching as its brightwork. Read on to find out what they amount to.

The DS 9 range at a glance

For the moment, the UK model range for the DS 9 comprises two plug-in hybrids and one entry-level petrol. A third PHEV with a larger drive battery, recently announced for other markets, has yet to be confirmed for UK showrooms.

A simple two-tier trim line-up is offered, with upper-level Rivoli Plus models getting leather upholstery, ‘polyambient’ cabin lighting, cabin air filtering, massaging front seats, ‘surround view’ parking cameras and the full suite of DS Drive Assist active driver aids as standard.


2 DS 9 2022 road test review tracking side

Any big saloon with a DS badge carries a heavy weight of expectation when it comes to design. Being a worthy successor to the 1955 DS would mean fusing once-in-a-century boldness with world-class elegance and refinement in every detail of the execution.

It’s debatable whether any era other than the post-war freedom out of which the original DS sprang could have produced a car so original. So is the 9 worthy? Judged by that lofty standard, perhaps not – but we’ll allow it some latitude on that score. With a very conventional saloon silhouette, and adopting powertrains and other technology already used pretty widely within the Stellantis product portfolio, it’s clearly a car with much lower horizons than its famous predecessor.

Flush-fitting door handles are an increasingly prevalent convention in luxury car design. The 9’s dependably appear when you are within two metres of the driver’s door with the key in your pocket. If, for any reason, they don’t, press them in and they’ll pop back out.

Then again, designed as it is to cater as much to China’s appetite for European-style luxury saloons as anything else, you can appreciate why the 9’s ambitions and forms are so conventional.

To give it due credit, this is not just a Peugeot 508 with lashings of additional chrome. DS has adapted and stretched Stellantis’s EMP2 platform to serve on a car that is within 50mm of a BMW 5 Series on overall length and has a wheelbase almost 80mm longer than the 508’s. Rear cabin space is advertised as being “lounge-like” – a claim we’ll scrutinise shortly – and the car gets noise-reducing laminated glazing, and a chassis that DS calls “hard-bonded” for the extra rigidity needed to keep ride noise to a minimum.

Three powertrains are offered: an entry-level 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol with 221bhp, and two fleet-friendly, sub-50g/km, petrol-electric plug-in hybrids. Both electrified options are branded E-Tense; both are primarily powered by the same Puretech four-cylinder petrol engine that the non-hybrid 9 has; and both draw power from the same 11.9kWh lithium ion drive battery, which is carried under the car’s back seats.

The more affordable E-Tense 225 (which we’re testing) is front-wheel drive, develops a total system power output of 224bhp and uses a 107bhp permanent magnet synchronous electric motor sandwiched between the engine and eight-speed automatic gearbox. The more powerful E-Tense 4x4 360 adds a second, rear-mounted electric motor of 113bhp, has four-wheel drive and produces a combined 359bhp and 384lb ft of torque.

For suspension, the 9 rides on MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link axle at the rear, with coil springs and conventional anti-roll bars supporting its weight – although DS’s Active Scan Suspension is as standard on upper-trim-level cars. By combining more conventional adaptive damping technology with a forward-facing camera and a powerful image processor, this system turns what would otherwise be an adaptive suspension system into an active one that can adjust the struts for inputs the car has yet to hit. Our lower-grade test car had it fitted as an option.


15 DS 9 2022 road test review cabin

The stretched proportions of the 9 lead you to expect distinguishing spaciousness inside, but while you find luxury-level room in some respects, there is less of it in others. Space isn’t the first quality that strikes you about this car inwardly.

Rather, it’s material richness. A concerted effort has clearly been made to produce a lavish driving environment – and it has worked. Our Performance Line Plus test car had grey Alcantara panelling on its door cards, fascia, transmission tunnel and seats, which certainly produced a convincing ‘top-level’ sense of luxury (although several testers wondered how well these materials might weather and resist staining). Those wanting an even more special cabin can find an Alcantara headlining, a full-grain nappa leather interior and even heated and massaging rear seats in any one of several optional interior design theme packages.

Digital instruments are standard. They offer some choice in the layout theme, but all display modes are quite stylised, heavily animated and contrived looking

Whether you dress your 9 up to the heavens or take it as it comes, you’ll find quality touches elsewhere to match: thickly lined door pockets in which keys shouldn’t rattle around, and ‘feature’ switchgear that is as enticing to touch as it is to look at. In some places, the aura of quality slips a little: the designer air vents feel flimsy, and the BRM clock looked, to one tester, like something “knocked up in a Key Stage 2 crafting session”. However, against an impressively inviting and expensive-feeling background standard, you can forgive the odd quirk.

The driving position is straight and reasonably low set, in front of all-digital instruments and an infotainment system with some usability foibles. Leg room is in generous supply in both rows. Head room is tighter yet at a reasonably generous standard for larger adults, but elbow and shoulder room are somewhat tighter still. This a saloon in which the driver and front passenger can pretty easily bang elbows – not something you’re at risk of in an Audi A6 or BMW 5 Series. It’s not a car that would comfortably accommodate three passengers across the second row.

Boot space is provided in a cargo bay that’s pretty wide and long. It can be expanded by folding rear seatbacks and has useful drop-down hooks to secure smaller shopping bags. Available loading height is eaten into by an audio system amplifier on the underside of the rear parcel shelf, though, which might stop you from easily carrying bulkier flight cases and storage boxes.

DS 9 infotainment and sat-nav

The DS 9 has a 12.0in touchscreen infotainment system as standard, as well as a networked 3D TomTom navigation system. It’s a good-sized widescreen-oriented system with a useful line of shortcut menu keys underneath it and a small ledge on which to anchor a finger before prodding at the screen. It offers wired mirroring for Apple and Android smartphones as standard.

The factory navigation system is easy enough to programme and follow, and mapping is displayed clearly. However, the screen has to carry the air-con controls so the amount of display that you can devote to navigation mapping is markedly reduced.

The system’s general latency is also noticeable. The capacitive shortcut keys under the screen need deliberate contact to work and, allied to the system’s overriding slowness of response, the number of presses or swipes it takes to achieve a particular end result can seem like an unnecessary distraction while you’re driving.


27 DS 9 2022 road test review engine

In a rapidly developing PHEV saloon niche populated by cars of widely varying power outputs, electric range and claimed fuel economy, the 9 doesn’t stand out on paper. Skip forwards to our top-five class rankings overleaf and you’ll see that you can spend comparable money
on rivals with very nearly twice the power of this car, with four driven wheels, and with more than 50% more electric range. This is, however, a car with an engine that seems well suited to its luxury mission and takes to unhurried progress particularly agreeably for as long as your laid- back mood prevails.

The car’s outright performance is as ordinary in the real world as its vital statistics suggest it will be: but so what, frankly, because this is very much intended as a luxury-first vehicle. On a rainy test day in January, the 9 E-Tense 225 didn’t trouble its electronic traction control at all during flat-out standing starts. It needed 8.6sec to hit 60mph from rest, making it no quicker than a big-selling, four-cylinder diesel executive saloon might have been a decade ago.

It opts for the kind of pliancy that works with the road surface rather than against it, and although it’s unsuited to quick driving, body control is consistent and grip decent

DS would clearly much rather this car impressed with the quietness of its driveline and the smoothness with which its engine starts, stops, engages and generally operates; and in those respects, most of the time, this is a nicely polished prospect. The four-cylinder engine runs in hushed tones at all but high revs and starts smoothly enough to give the car a refined, sophisticated air whether it’s operating in electric mode or not. In wet and blustery test conditions, the 65dBA of cabin noise we recorded in the car compares favourably with 64dBA recorded at the same speed in the Volkswagen Arteon eHybrid in much less adverse conditions.

The more you ask of the 9’s hybrid powertrain, the less slick its performance becomes. Under higher throttle loads, changes of gear from the eight-speed auto come with a bit of a delay and often a little clunkily and with a notable interruption in power delivery.

That the transmission doesn’t offer a locked-out manual mode, often downshifting automatically beyond about 70% throttle even when you’ve selected a higher ratio using the paddles, is frustrating when you want the utmost control.

Conversely, though, the gearbox seems to shift cleverly and manage itself well when the car is running in electric mode. Performance feels mostly linear here, you don’t feel the gearchanges and there is more than enough accessible power to keep the car moving along with the traffic very easily up to 50mph.


30 DS 9 2022 road test review cornering front

It’s hard to mistake this car’s particular character. As a mid-sized saloon that puts cruising comfort first and serves sporting tastes a distant second, the 9 is unlike a great many cars in its class. The classic big French saloon always had similar priorities, and this new one suits that dynamic mould well. The best of its spiritual forebears better managed to blend at least some handling panache and driver appeal with their long-striding suppleness, but DS deserves credit here for decent grip levels and more consistent outright body control than you might expect of the 9.

Compared with the related Peugeot 508, the 9 feels its size. It has a bigger steering wheel with three turns between locks, and lazier chassis response when changing direction as a result of its longer wheelbase. But there’s also a familiar sense of initial freeness on its springs, and
a readiness to use the bump, camber and crown of the road beneath it to its advantage wherever it can, to flow through corners and compressions. That much is quite cleverly, evocatively conjured.

The 9 puts visual appeal ahead of good ergonomics too readily at times. The drive mode selector is on the wrong side of the centre console, and the engine start button is an awkward stretch high on the dash, for no other reason than some designer thinks it looks better there. Annoying.

This freeness doesn’t come at the expense of high-speed stability or outright vertical body control, though, and the 9 doesn’t feel overly spongy or wafty like some modernised, premium-branded Citroën C6. It resists cornering roll and vertical heave well. It blends good ride isolation with an understated but present composure, the former deteriorating well before the latter as speeds rise and the surface deteriorates. And although it never encourages you to higher speeds because of its light, filtered steering and understeer-biased steady-state limit handling, it tolerates carrying them adequately well.

Comfort and isolation

The mechanical refinement and ride isolation of the 9 are both clear selling points. It’s an agreeably quiet car to travel in on most surfaces, rounding the edges off sharper inputs better than you’d imagine it might on standard-fit 19in wheels, and declining to admit much noticeable resonance into the cabin at motorway speeds.

There does seem to be a speed limit to the effectiveness of the DS Active Scan suspension, though. Stick to a more laid-back pace around town and on country roads and the car soaks up lumps and bumps big and small quietly and with little disturbance to your comfort levels. It’s no magic carpet, and most owners probably won’t realise there’s anything ‘active’ going on at each corner at all, but at its best, it’s compliant, quiet and capable of maintaining ride height consistently.

But drive it harder, or else select Sport driving mode, and the damping software’s priorities seem to change, suddenly admitting quite a lot more ‘bump-thump’ ride noise and allowing wheel control to feel more loose with little marginal gain to be appreciated to body control, handling precision or control feedback. The contrast is pronounced enough to be a good advert for a gentler stride.

The driver’s seat is a good size and comfortable, although it could be more widely adjustable. Electrically adjustable lumbar support is included but extendable under-thigh support in the cushion isn’t.

Assisted driving notes

The DS 9’s top-level active driver assistance systems come as part of the DS Drive Assist package, which is standard on Rivoli Plus models but an option on lower-level cars and was missing from the spec of our test car. That adds adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist-style ‘stop and go’ functionality and a lane positioning assistant to a standard equipment list that includes autonomous emergency braking (AEB), blindspot object detection, traffic sign recognition and a more basic lane departure warning.

The AEB system is unintrusive and the lane departure warning system works well enough on the motorway and is easy to deactivate elsewhere thanks to a physical button next to the steering column. Our test car also had an optional night vision camera system that detected pedestrians consistently well after dark, highlighting their location via the digital instrument screen.


1 DS 9 2022 road test review lead

As a sub 50g/km PHEV, the 9 E-Tense 225 is a car that might save its owner something worthwhile on benefit-in-kind tax, but since it’s not the cheapest car of its kind and doesn’t offer as much electric-only range as rivals even on paper, it’s unlikely to be sought out by very many fleet operators. For private buyers, poor forecast residual values are likely to make a bad situation worse as regards value for money on a monthly basis, although perhaps only for those with a keen awareness of what they might be paying elsewhere.

Real-world fuel economy will depend on your charging habits, but the car’s limited electric range isn’t likely to make a huge contribution to it. We tested in various ambient temperatures up to 10deg C and down to just above freezing but never saw more than 18 miles of zero-emissions range promised from the car on a full charge.

Painful reading for prospective owners: 9 expected to shed 20% more value than a Mercedes-Benz C300e over 24 months

In actuality, and on mixed urban and extra-urban routes over a couple of tests, we averaged 20 miles before the battery pack ran out, but that’s still a far cry from the 30-something miles promised, and notably poorer than PHEV rivals. Range-extended touring thereafter can be done at just under 45mpg, which is more typical of the four-cylinder PHEV saloon class.

DC rapid charging while you’re out and about isn’t possible (only a handful of PHEVs offer it) and the car’s 7kW charger will need about 90 minutes to fully charge using an AC supply.


32 DS 9 2022 road test review static

The DS 9 brings welcome variety back to the market for premium saloons. Its major failing may be that it is too studiously attached to the traditional mould of a classic French luxury car, and not innovative enough in either its design or technical specification to do justice to the memory of the original DS. 

That particular albatross needn’t prevent us from recognising how refined and fit for purpose this car is, though. If you appreciate an enriching, genuinely relaxing executive car, it is quite easy to like in spite of its various stylised affectations.

Spec advice? A Rivoli Plus E-Tense 225 with an Opera leather interior (£3000), the Rivoli Lounge Pack (heated and massaging rear seats etc, £2000) and DS Night Vision (£1100 with Rivoli Plus spec) would be expensive all in– but also a very special luxury operator

The plug-in powertrain offers only lukewarm performance and poor electric range, and, quietness aside, it’s not the selling point that some might have hoped for. The interior, meanwhile, falls short of a really spacious limousine feel in notable respects, and the slightly contrived way it is presented frustrates as often as it delights.

Along with the successes, there are plenty of little misses, then, and perhaps the most significant is that this DS simply isn’t a car to point at on the street and say “wow”. As brand builder and icon, it probably should have been.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

DS 9 First drives