What Car? says...
While France is famous for producing some of the world's fanciest food, the perception of its cars has long been more croque monsieur than haute cuisine. But since splitting from Citroën, DS Automobiles has been on a mission to change that with models like this DS 4.
You might remember the DS 4 name from when it was attached to a hatchback that still had a double-chevron badge on its bonnet; frankly, that version was a half-hearted and disappointing thing that couldn’t really hold a candle to the competition.
This latest model, though, has a much stronger identity, with distinctive – almost concept car-like – lines and an interior that makes a real statement (as we'll explain later).
Categorising the latest DS 4 can be difficult because it has its finger in several tartes. We think its most natural rivals are family SUVs such as the Audi Q3 and Volvo XC40, but you might also be considering the sleeker BMW X2 and Cupra Formentor coupé SUVs.
So, is the DS 4 a worthy alternative? Well, in this review we’re going to look at how it stacks up in a range of important areas, including comfort, practicality, economy and safety.
And remember, once you've decided which model is right for you, you can make sure you don't pay over the odds for it by checking out the discounts available through our free New Car Buying service. It's a great place to find the best family SUV deals.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
The DS 4's entry-level 129bhp Puretech 130 petrol engine is fine if you do most of your driving around town. However, it does struggle a bit on faster roads, particularly when you're trying to get up to speed in the first place.
There's also a 129bhp Blue HDi 130 diesel, but it's the 221bhp E-Tense plug-in hybrid (PHEV) model that's the liveliest performer of all. This responds pretty much instantly to accelerator inputs, thanks to the electric boost that it has at its disposal. And while it's ultimately not as fast as the rival Q3 TFSIe, X2 xDrive25e or Formentor eHybrid 245, a 7.7sec 0-62mph time means it still has all the pace you're likely to need.
As a bonus, the E-Tense was able to travel for 24 miles purely on electric power in our hands – about the same distance as the Q3 and Formentor PHEVs.
The DS 4's standard eight-speed automatic gearbox is slick enough on the way up through the gears, but it can be jerky on the way back down, making it difficult to slow down smoothly. It’s at its weakest when you’re in stop-start traffic.
The grabby brakes in the E-Tense don't help matters, while the 1.2 petrol's stop-start system is too abrupt, shunting occupants forward as though the engine has stalled.
More positively, the DS 4's comfort-orientated suspension set-up makes it one of the smoothest riding family SUVs around, enabling it to float over most bumps and potholes. That’s especially true in town; at higher speeds, on uneven roads, the softness can leave you feeling like you're swaying from side to side.
The ride in the Formentor isn’t as cushy, but it does give you a more settled feel at speed. What's more, it's more controlled through bends – there's significant body lean in the DS 4 – and both the Formentor and the Q3 have meatier steering that helps the driver feel more engaged.
You hear a bit of road rumble on motorways in the DS 4, but you're well isolated from wind and engine noise.
The interior layout, fit and finish
The DS 4's interior really puts on a show, and the design generates a greater sense of occasion than you’ll feel when you’re sitting in the Audi Q3 or the BMW X2. It's also very uncluttered, with the few buttons that do exist, such as the window switches on the driver’s door and the physical controls for the air conditioning, blending seamlessly into the design.
Everything in the DS 4 feels solidly put together – in fact, some materials even eclipse those in the Q3, especially the soft-touch dashboard top and the leather that adorns other surfaces you touch a lot, including the steering wheel. It can’t quite match the classiest family SUV out there (the Volvo XC40), but it’s still excellent.
All DS 4s get manually adjustable lumbar support as standard (electric lumbar adjustment isn’t an option), but even with this in the maximum setting, the standard seats aren’t particularly supportive and allow you to sink into the seat base like a cheap sofa. That, combined with the low-set seating position, means it takes quite a bit of fiddling with the seat height and steering wheel to get them in line and feel totally comfortable.
A 7.0in digital instrument cluster is standard on all versions and displays key information clearly and precisely. On all trim levels except entry-level Performance Line, it is supported by a large head-up display that projects your speed onto the windscreen and can be configured to show sat-nav directions as well.
The DS 4’s 10.0in infotainment touchscreen has reasonable clarity, but it takes a while to respond to inputs and the icons are rather small, which makes them tricky to hit on the move. The large number of sub-menus can make it difficult to find the function you want, too.
A second, smaller touchscreen (again, only Performance Line trim misses out on this) just in front of the armrest allows you to shortcut to different applications, but in reality, we found it more distracting than simply using the main screen. It's nowhere near as user-friendly as the iDrive rotary controller you get with most BMWs, including the X2.
A DAB radio, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring, and Bluetooth connectivity are standard across the DS 4 range, but Performance Line models do without built-in sat-nav, and the standard six-speaker audio system isn’t the punchiest around.
You’ll have no issues with forward visibility, due to thin windscreen pillars that make it easy to see out at junctions, and bright LED headlights which are fitted as standard to all versions. Rear visibility isn’t quite as good because of the large rear pillars that restrict the view when you look over your shoulder. Fortunately, all versions get front and rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera to help with manoeuvring in tight spaces.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
There's lots of leg and shoulder room in the front of the DS 4. However, it's best to avoid the optional sunroof if you're tall, because this reduces head room noticeably.
Despite the minimalist dashboard design, you’ll find plenty of storage spaces, including a covered cubby that contains a pair of cupholders, a USB port and a place for your phone. There's also a small recess in front of the armrest for your keys and a deep bin inside the armrest itself. The door pockets aren’t the largest, but you’ll still be able to fit a small drinks bottle in there.
Sadly, rear space isn’t that generous; six-footers will wish they had more knee room. There is a good amount of space under the front seats for their feet, which alleviates the issue a little, but head room is disappointing, especially if the optional sunroof is fitted.
If you’re planning to load longer items into the boot, you can pass them between two rear passengers, thanks to a handy ski hatch. Plus, all versions come with 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, so you can extend the luggage area.
The Audi Q3 and Kia Sportage offer greater versatility, however, thanks to 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats. And both of those rivals give you more boot space than the DS 4’s 430 litres.
As with the Q3 TFSIe and Formentor eHybrid, you’ll lose some luggage space if you opt for the plug-in hybrid DS 4, with capacity dropping to 390 litres. That’s only a little more than you get in a Ford Focus hatchback.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Whether you're buying outright or on PCP finance, the entry-level DS 4 is a bit cheaper than the equivalent Audi Q3 or Cupra Formentor. That said, both of those rivals get built-in sat nav as standard, unlike the DS 4, and both are expected to hold their value better
For drivers with a keen eye on company car tax payments, the E-Tense 225 plug-in hybrid (PHEV) will hold most appeal due to its low official CO2 emissions. Unfortunately, it's official range of 39 miles falls just short of the 40-mile threshold needed to put it in the same tax band as the best rivals.
High-mileage drivers might prefer the Blue HDi 130 diesel, which returns more than 60mpg, although even the non-hybrid petrol engine managed around 45mpg during our testing.
Stick with the cheapest trim – called Performance Line – and the list of standard equipment includes keyless entry and start, automatic wipers, power-folding door mirrors, lane keeping assist and cruise control. We think Performance Line+ is worth the extra, though, because it upgrades the latter to an adaptive cruise control system that keeps you a set distance from the car in front, plus it adds Alcantara interior trim, tinted rear windows and larger (19in) alloy wheels.
Rivoli swaps the Alcantara for leather and brings additional driver aids, including a rear cross traffic alert system. Esprit de Voyage really ups the luxury, with features like heated, ventilated and massaging front seats that are electrically adjustable, as well as a powered tailgate and acoustic side glass. And range-topping Opera cars have all this, plus a 360-degree parking camera, wireless phone charging and Active Scan Suspension, which is said to detect bumps in the road ahead of time. It's just a pity these higher-end trims are so pricey.
DS did not feature in the 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey, but parent company Citroën placed a fairly good 11th out of 32 car makers in the brands section. Every DS 4 comes with a three-year warranty, matching what most rivals offer. And the E-Tense version gets an eight-year or 100,000-mile warranty on its drive battery.
The DS 4 scored four stars for safety when it was tested by Euro NCAP in 2022, but if you add the optional Safety Pack Plus, it gets five NCAP stars. Without the pack, you get automatic emergency braking (AEB) and lane-keeping assistance. With it, you get upgraded AEB that works at up to 85mph, plus the rear cross-traffic alert system that's otherwise reserved for high-end models.
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While it doesn't fit neatly into any one car category, the DS 4's most obvious rivals are prestige family SUVs, such as the Audi Q3 and Volvo XC40.
The original Citroën DS took its name from the French word Déese, which means goddess. However, these days the letters are said to stand for Different Spirit.
DS started out as a badge applied to upmarket Citroëns, but is now a brand in its own right. The independent DS brand was created in 2014, although it had been separated from Citroën in Asia since 2012.
The DS 4 E-Tense plug-in hybrid officially averages up to 232.3mpg. However, the figure you actually get will vary dramatically depending on the types of journey you do and how often you charge the battery.
|RRP price range||£32,580 - £47,065|
|Number of trims (see all)||6|
|Number of engines (see all)||3|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||petrol, diesel, hybrid|
|MPG range across all versions||269.5 - 61.2|
|Available doors options||5|
|Warranty||3 years / 60000 miles|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£1,936 / £2,314|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£3,872 / £4,628|