DS 9 saloon review
"The DS 9 is a comfortable executive saloon with a plug-in powertrain, but it’s more expensive on finance than the class leaders"
- Plug-in powertrain
- Appealing features
- Mediocre driving experience
- Premium price tag
- Tight rear headroom
It might seem like a brave move, but DS thinks now is the right time to launch a large executive saloon to sit at the top of its range of cars and SUVs. It's a market dominated by players like Audi, BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes, but in more recent years the likes of Lexus and even Tesla have proved new entrants can win small but steady sales with persistence.
DS is hoping the DS 9 E-Tense plug-in hybrid (PHEV) will appeal to company-car drivers, with an EV driving range of just over 30 miles keeping emissions neatly in check, while also reducing monthly bills for business users. With a 1.6-litre petrol engine, electric motor and battery, the mid-range 225 model can officially return over 180mpg and emit a tad more than 30g/km of CO2 if the battery is topped up from the mains regularly. Longer drives away from a socket will see fuel economy start to tumble.
A more powerful 355bhp plug-in hybrid now sits above it, with four-wheel drive instead of front-wheel drive. This engine can also return around 29 miles on a full charge, and its huge power increase is only traded off by a slight rise in CO2 emissions to around 40g/km.
The DS 9 is certainly striking-looking, outside and in, with quite a few novel features to help it stand out. There are flush door handles, LED headlights that do a dance as you turn the car on and rear indicators mounted high up, paying homage to the DS of the 1950s. The rear lights also have an intricate 'scaled' look to try to ensure you don't mistake the DS 9 for a more mundane model.
However, there are definitely some styling similarities between the DS 9 and the cheaper Peugeot 508, itself a very eye-catching car. The two share platform parts, but it also looks like there are shared body panels too; the bonnet and door mirrors look to be carried over, and even the side profile is strikingly familiar.
Its interior is quirky, like the 508’s, but it feels slightly more luxurious, with excellent materials, sumptuous leather or Alcantara seats and even an analogue clock mounted above the dash. It's a bit of a mixed bag though, because some of the controls take time to get used to, and the 12-inch infotainment set-up isn't the best in the business. Comfort is excellent, both thanks to technology which automatically adjusts the suspension for the road ahead, and decent refinement; especially when driving with just the electric motors.
The DS 9 isn't likely to leap ahead of the BMW 5 Series or Mercedes E-Class anytime soon, but it does offer an intriguing alternative for anyone looking for an alternative to mainstream models. Its quirks give it an undeniable character, the E-Tense plug-in model should be very affordable to run and DS's concierge service will add extra appeal for some buyers.
MPG, running costs & CO2
A petrol DS 9 and two versions of petrol-electric plug-in hybrid (PHEV) are offered, and it's the latter two that are expected to appeal to the business drivers who make up the majority of executive car owners.
That's not just because the 40.4mpg fuel-efficiency of the PureTech 225 is mediocre, but mainly due to its 155g/km CO2 emissions. These figures might make sense for private buyers, but put the car in one of the highest brackets for Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) company-car tax. The petrol version is also slightly more expensive to tax, sitting in the standard VED band, while the PHEV is liable for the discounted annual rate.
Thanks to the addition of an electric motor and 11.9kWh battery, the DS 9 E-Tense 225 is able to drive for up to 29 miles without using its petrol engine, at speeds of up to 83mph. This has a transformative effect on its official efficiency figures, boosting them to 188.3mpg, while cutting CO2 emissions to 34g/km. This brings it into contention with the BMW 530e and Mercedes E 300 e PHEVs, which have a 12kWh and 13.5kWh battery respectively, and all three qualify for an attractive BiK band.
In E-Tense 4x4 360 specification, an extra motor is added to drive the front wheels. The additional power does not affect the pure-electric range, which still stands at 29 miles, but it does impact efficiency slightly. According to DS, the flagship model can return up to 156.9mpg, emitting 41g/km of CO2.
The DS 9 has a 7kW on-board charger and a lead to connect the car to a home wallbox charger, capable of a top-up in under two hours. On our test we found you'll need to charge up frequently, as we were getting just 15-17 miles of range - some way short of the claimed figure.
Another reason the DS 9 will appeal more to company-car drivers is that private buyers will face huge monthly costs on a PCP finance deal. A plug-in hybrid in Rivoli+ specification costs over £850 per month for three years after a £5,000 deposit; a BMW 5 Series plug-in hybrid costs around £150 less per month. It’s because the DS 9 is forecast to retain much less of its initial value than the BMW. The Peugeot 508 E-Tense is significantly cheaper than both of them, albeit with a large deposit contribution from Peugeot at the time of writing.
Engines, drive & performance
So far, we've tested the DS 9 E-Tense 225, which gets its power from a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine, boosted by a 109bhp electric motor. This gives it a combined 222bhp, sent to the front wheels. Every DS 9 is fitted with an eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard. Acceleration from 0-62mph takes 8.3 seconds, which doesn’t feel very quick compared to the BMW or Mercedes. The 1.6-litre engine can also feel a bit strained and get rather loud and coarse sounding when you ask it to power onto a motorway or overtake a slower vehicle.
The car always starts in its electric driving mode, but can be switched to Hybrid or E-Tense Sport. Hybrid juggles power between electric and petrol depending on how the car is driven, while E-Tense Sport offers maximum power and adjusts the throttle, gearbox, steering and suspension for maximum response.
Its steering is responsive and it's backed up by a chassis with decent composure and good grip, so it does feel secure on the road. The BMW 5 Series is comfortably ahead for keen drivers, but for cruising in comfort and tackling long trips, the DS 9 is equally as capable. We found that it didn’t tackle some low-speed potholes and bumps with the same composure as the 5 Series, though.
A more powerful E-Tense 4x4 360 plug-in hybrid is also available. It uses the same 1.6-litre petrol engine as the 225 spec car, but gains an extra electric motor in the gearbox that drives the front wheels, boosting power to 355bhp. Performance looks strong on paper with 0-62mph being dispatched in just 5.6 seconds, and on the road it certainly feels rapid off-the-line with help from the instant torque from the electric motor. To cope with the increased power, DS has fitted upgraded brakes, wider axles and a slightly lower ride height with a unique setup for the suspension. It’s surprisingly precise to drive, with accurate steering and strong levels of grip making it feel secure when cornering. However, it never feels that engaging to drive, with PHEV rivals like the BMW 530e being far better and more involving to drive.
In spite of its sporting prowess, the 4x4 360 variant is still mostly refined to drive. On smooth French roads, we found that the ride quality suffers slightly due to the 20-inch alloys, although overall refinement is still excellent with standard fit acoustic glass making it very hushed on the move.
The petrol-only PureTech also gets 222bhp from a more highly tuned version of the 1.6-litre turbo engine, and gets from 0-62mph in 8.1 seconds thanks to its lower weight.
Interior & comfort
The DS 9 is fitted with a system called DS Active Scan, which uses a camera to monitor the road surface just ahead of the car as you drive, adjusting the suspension in 150 milliseconds if an imperfection is detected. On the whole it works well, and the DS 9 is a comfortable car, but it can still get caught out by large bumps and lots of frequent ripples in the tarmac.
DS has worked hard to make the interior feel upmarket, and the theatre begins as you get in, thanks to those flush door handles. The Opera option pack (£3,000) features Rubis red 'watch strap' leather seats and trim, which are rather lovely. The DS 9 isn't one of the most intuitive cars to just hop into, though; it took us a long time just to find the mirror adjuster behind the steering wheel. When you’re hunting for it, you might come across some cheap-feeling materials that have been pinched from Citroen’s parts bin, which does taint the luxury ambience.
The 12-inch infotainment screen is familiar with other cars in the Stellantis stable, and while it looks pretty good, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay maps don't utilise all of the display. We also wish the climate control was controlled using a knob rather than prodding the laggy touchscreen. The quality of materials is mostly excellent, though, with lots of attractive finishes and even a stylish BRM clock mounted atop the fascia.
Just two trims are offered, with the Performance Line+ version getting Alcantara upholstery, 19-inch alloy wheels, LED lights and two 12-inch displays. Rivoli+ costs around £3,000 extra and adds massaging leather seats, semi-autonomous driver assistance aids and a 360-degree camera view.
Practicality & boot space
The DS 9's high comfort levels can also be experienced in the back seats, thanks to plentiful legroom. Headroom isn't quite as generous, but anyone under six foot is well catered for. The Opera pack adds a glass roof to help flood the interior with natural light, and there's also a large central armrest, cupholders and storage. The climate control can also be separately adjusted from the back seats in top versions.
Another feather in the DS 9's cap is the generous 510-litre boot, which is larger than what the BMW 530e and Mercedes E 300 e can offer. It's also well proportioned, with no awkward steps or intrusions from the battery pack, as well as a handy underfloor storage area to put the charging cable. Note that the boot shrinks slightly in the plug-in hybrids if you order ventilated rear seats, the Focal stereo system or an electric bootlid.
Reliability & safety
While it may be a new model, the DS 9 shares its underpinnings and powertrain with some other models, such as the DS 7 Crossback and Peugeot 508, which aren't models we've heard any reliability horror stories about. If there are any issues, we'd expect them to be electrical gremlins, as there's no denying the DS 9 is quite a complex car.
If any problems come up, DS does at least promise a hands-on ownership experience, thanks to its 'Only You' customer service. This ensures DS 9 owners have a direct contact to help with servicing and roadside assistance, and can even qualify the owner for exclusive events.
The DS 9 hasn't been crash-tested by Euro NCAP yet, but the closely-related DS 7 Crossback was awarded five stars in 2017. The testing procedure has been made even tougher since then, but we'll still be surprised if the DS 9 achieves less than a top result. Along with a host of airbags, the DS 9 features active safety kit including DS Drive Assist, which can help drive the car at up to 111mph on the motorway, laws permitting. DS Night Vision can help spot pedestrians, cyclists and animals up to 100m ahead of the car in poor visibility.