In-depth reviews

DS 4 E-TENSE review

The DS 4 E-Tense is an unusual take on the premium hatchback formula, but certainly isn’t without merit

Overall rating

3.5 out of 5

Pros

  • Comfortable
  • Luxurious cabin
  • Strong kit list

Cons

  • Rear seat-practicality
  • Light, numb steering
  • Electric version not due until 2024
Car typeElectric rangeFuel economyCO2 emissions
Plug-in hybrid35 miles183.8mpg34g/km

You’d be hard-pushed to compare DS’s new model onslaught with, say, Audi, BMW or Mercedes, but that’s not to say the flashy French brand hasn't been working hard to build up a selection of compelling products for those not taken by the German establishment.

If we ignore the rebadged Citroens sold by DS in the early 2010s, the more recent DS 3 and DS 7 SUVs hold appeal in their own right, while the DS 9 saloon offers a comfort-focused take on the company car formula. Now though, it’s the turn of the DS 4 – a hatch-cum-crossover designed to hit the Mercedes A-Class exactly where it hurts.

The DS 4 is available with a selection of conventional petrol and diesel engines but a pure-electric model isn’t due until 2024. For now, those wanting an electrified DS 4 will need to make do with the E-Tense plug-in hybrid – featuring the familiar petrol-electric powertrain now commonplace across a variety of Peugeot, Citroen and DS models.

It utilises the same 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine as you’d find in the non-plug-in model, mated to an electric motor for a combined power output of 222bhp. Electric range stands at 35 miles in official tests, though during our time with the car we managed around 28-30 miles in mixed driving; ramping up the regenerative braking helps preserve the battery’s charge, especially in town.

Those figures translate to a Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) tax rating of 12% right through to 2025; favourable versus a petrol car, but some way shy of the Mercedes A 250 e (8%) – or indeed any pure-electric model, which will sit in the 2% bracket from 2022. 

Charging is relatively straightforward, though; a 7kW home wallbox will top up the 12.4kWh battery in just two hours, while a three-pin plug performs the same task in around seven hours.

Inside, the designers have toned down the cabin, losing some of the chintzy trim and diamond patterns found on the DS 7 or DS 9. But even before you push the starter button, the DS 4 presents you with an impressive interior that’s laden with some of the finest materials you’ll spot in anything this side of a premium saloon; the leather steering wheel has been stitched by hand, for example.

Every model gets a 10-inch touchscreen and a seven-inch digital driver’s display, with the former featuring new graphics and customisable shortcut buttons. It’s more responsive than previous DS setups, and on higher-spec models works in conjunction with a touchpad on the centre console, which can be used to access regular functions such as navigation, or your favourite radio station. It works well, and in time, using it could become second nature.

Starting with a full battery means the car runs on electric power by default. However, to get the best from the DS 4 you’ll need to shuffle the drive mode to Comfort, which makes maximum use of the standard-fit (for E-Tense models) Active Scan Suspension. The system operates via a camera on the windscreen that surveys the road for potholes or imperfections, prepping each wheel in advance to cushion the ride. It works well, making the DS 4 easily one of the most comfortable cars in this class.

The trade off is a fairly inert driving experience. The steering is light in all driving modes and lacks any kind of feel or feedback. Body control is fine, but the DS 4 can’t match a BMW 1 Series or even an Audi A3 for driver fun. The gearbox shifts pretty sweetly, though, and the hybrid powertrain is hushed until you really floor the accelerator.

Doing so reveals adequate but not spellbinding performance. The 0-62mph sprint is taken care of in 7.7 seconds, but the electric motor does a good job of successfully covering any flat patches that might be left by the turbocharged engine, meaning more often than not it feels quicker than the numbers suggest. The regenerative brakes aren’t particularly strong, but they work effectively, putting charge back into the battery that might otherwise be lost.

When it comes to practicality, boot space is largely on par with rivals – bigger than an Audi A3 TFSIe or a SEAT Leon e-Hybrid, in fact. However, at 390 litres the E-Tense’s load area is 40 litres smaller than the pure petrol model’s – and there is no underfloor storage for keeping the charge cables while they’re not in use. Space in the rear seats is compromised, too; both head and leg room are tight for taller adults.

The DS 4 is on sale now, with the brand playing on the car’s claimed “high-end customer experience” – be that before the point of order, through the sales process, or once the car has been delivered. Prices for the E-Tense start at £34,600 for the Performance Line trim, rising to £40,100 for the flagship Rivoli. On some specs, buyers can opt for the SUV-styled Cross model for an extra £600, though the changes here are completely visual – even the ride height is unchanged.

Performance Line cars get a “more athletic look” and 19-inch wheels, LED lights and a parking camera, plus Alcantara upholstery and that 10-inch touchscreen. Above that sits the Performance Line+, which brings extra infotainment features, a head-up display and various semi-autonomous drive functions.

Trocadero models have a more premium style, with what DS calls ‘Tungsten Diamond cloth’ for the interior. Aside from the visual and trim material upgrades, these cars largely mirror the Performance Line cars for kit. Rivoli models top the range, with all the Performance Line+ features, plus black leather trim and matrix LED lights.

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