French brand DS is these days part of the 'premium pool' of Stellantis Group brands, along with Alfa Romeo and Lancia. Which means it must have a proper large sector premium product - and this is it, the DS 9. It's sized in between the mid-sized and large executive saloons you might be thinking of and claims to be a true successor to innovative Gallic luxury saloons of the past. There's proof of proper premium brand status here.
Back in the Sixties, 'DS' stood for executive sector luxury with a then-Citroen-badged model featuring avant garde looks and cutting-edge technology. More than half a century later, there is at last a true successor to that car in this model, the DS 9. DS is, these days, a brand in its own right and its products borrow heavily from technology already used in existing Peugeot and Citroen products, but there's unique innovation too in justification of the historical parallels here. The whole point of forming the DS brand in the first place was to give what used to be called the PSA Group (now Stellantis) the chance to build and sell larger full-executive models that these days, people simply wouldn't choose if they had Peugeot or Citroen badges. This car's importance right now lies not in sales numbers - this model will be a rare sight on our roads - but in the credibility it should give DS as a proper premium brand, rather than a purveyor of tarted-up versions of volume models. So, expectations here are high. Can this car meet them?
Lots about this DS 9 feels quite unique, but that doesn't apply to the powertrain offering, which is lifted straight from the DS 7 Crossback and this car's close cousin, the Peugeot 508. The core range is based around a 1.6-litre PureTech petrol turbo unit developing 225PS. This is offered either in conventional form or in E-TENSE Plug-in guise, in which case it's mated to an 11.9kWh battery feeding a 110PS electric motor. In both cases, a fraction over 8s is needed for the 0-62mph sprint. And, predictably, in both cases, it's necessary to have an auto gearbox, the usual PSA Group EAT8 8-speed transmission. At some point, a 360PS version of the PHEV engine (from the Peugeot 508 'Peugeot Sport Engineered' performance model) will be added to the range in a variant featuring 4WD. The line-up could in future also include an all-electric version too. You'll look in vain for the kind of sophisticated floaty suspension system that characterised classic large DS-badged limos of the '50s and '60s. The PHEV models have a straightforward double wishbone rear suspension set-up and the conventional petrol variant can't even offer that, sticking with a cruder rear torsion beam set-up. You can however, embellish things with 'DS Active Scan Suspension', which uses a camera to predict oncoming bumps and adjust the suspension to smother them.
Though this DS 9 will most directly compete with cars like Audi's A4 and BMW's 3 Series, it's a little larger than saloons of that kind, being 4.93m long and 1.85m wide. It sits on the same stretched version of the EMP2 platform used by the DS 7 Crossback mid-sized SUV - and the Peugeot 508. There's slightly less of a 'Fastback' element to the sweeping silhouette than there is with the 508 - and a great deal more front end presence thanks to a large, diamond mesh chrome-effect grille. This is flanked by chrome headlamp detailing and vertical LED daytime running lights. In a nod to the original Sixties DS, there's also a bit of clever headlamps technology too, in the form of 'DS Active Vision' headlights, which have five separate automatic modes. Another reference to that earlier car comes in the form of unique 'comet-style' indicators at the top of the C-pillars. A chrome strip runs down the centre of the bonnet to the windscreen. Inside, DS hopes to confirm this car's premium status with signature touches like a Nappa leather-stitched dashboard, 'watch strap'-style quilted leather upholstery, leather door handles and an alcantara headliner. The rear seats (like those at the front) can have heating, ventilation and massage functions and the fold-down centre armrest can be used as a control panel and a device charging bay. Plus, with a 2.9m wheelbase, there's plenty of room to stretch out - far more than you'd get in an A4, a C-Class or a 3 Series. Out back, there's a 510-litre boot in the conventionally-engined model; that figure will drop a bit with the PHEV version.
DS hasn't been shy about pricing this car; the asking figures start from just over £40,000 - and you'll be paying from about £45,000 for a well specified or PHEV E-TENSE version. There are two trim levels - 'Performance+' and top 'Rivoli +' (the latter starting from around £45,000); there's a premium of around £5,500 in each case if you want the PHEV powertrain. Unlike its Peugeot 508 cousin, only a single saloon body style is being offered. But you could easily pay that sort of money for an A4, a 3 Series or a C-Class, and they're all smaller. DS points out that the DS 9 isn't much smaller than an A6, a 5 Series or an E-Class, all saloons it easily undercuts on price. There's lots of technology too, provision of which depends a little on the trim level chosen. You'll want to look at the 'Active Scan Suspension' system if you want to get anywhere near to replicating the ride quality of DS model past. There's also 'DS Park Pilot', 'DS Night Vision' and 'DS Active LED Vision' headlamps, though none of this represents particularly fresh technology.
Both of the engines are pretty efficient according to WLTP figures. The 1.6-litre 225PS PureTech petrol unit should give you 40.9mpg on the combined cycle and 155g/km of CO2. For really frugal running cost returns though, you'll need the clever PHEV plug-in variant. This uses an 11.8kWh battery which can be fully charged in under two hours using a standard 7kW Wallbox. Once that's done, an all-electric WLTP-rated driving range of 34 miles is possible. Even better news lies with the low WLTP-rated CO2 readings and combined cycle fuel readings generated by this plug-in model; expect in the region of 33g/km and over 256.8mpg on the combined cycle. DS has sweated the details to get these kinds of returns. The engineers for instance achieved a 10% weight reduction in the weight of the alloy wheels (that's 1.5kg per wheel) with aerodynamic inserts in order to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. Servicing on most DS 9 models is needed every year or every 12,500 miles and the cost of garage visits should be affordable too.
It's easy to be cynical about a car that claims to be unique but borrows so much from volume brand engineering. But then, you could say that to some extent of just about any executive contender these days. The DS 9 does at least clothe its familiar mechanicals with an assured slice of Gallic flair. It won't match its key German rivals in terms of drive dynamics (or predicted residual value) but it offers more cabin space and a far greater sense of uniqueness and luxury. For many, that won't be enough. But for the discerning few prepared to invest in what DS calls 'a Different Spirit', a new form of badge equity, this DS 9, will offer a refreshing change from the executive norm.