March 17, 2016

Francesca Rudkin spends a week in our DS 5

Francesca Rudkin spends a week in our DS 5

A Beginners Diary of Driving a Luxury Car For a Week.


I’m excited. No one has given me a luxury car to drive for a week before, and being an amateur European car specialist (my car CV reads Fiat, Peugeot x 2, and a Skoda – which is pretty much a VW), I’m looking forward to driving my first DS Automobile.

It’s thanks to the fashion documentary series presented by Adrian Hailwood currently screening on Rialto Channel. As a sponsor of the series, Citroën has very kindly offered me a DS 5 to drive a car.

DS Automobile is the up market, prestigious brand of Citroën. If it was a fashion label, DS would be the ‘Kate Sylvester’ label while Citroën would be the quirkier ‘Sylvester’ label.

“So, what are the do’s and don’ts of test driving a car for a week?”, I ask the lovely marketing woman. Apart from having a driver’s license, the only other advice I get is said with humour, “No pets” and “Try and keep kid’s sticky fingers off the leather where possible”.

Oh dear. I’ve got two animals disguised as kids who need to be picked up from school.

As we wade through the sea of Hyundai’s parked in the school car park I point out the car I’m going to drive for the week.

“Sick”, said Oscar (aged 9) clambering in as I yell instructions to “keep your shoes off the leather and touch nothing”.

“I. Love. It.” Shrieked Lola (aged 7, and with a worrying appreciation of luxurious things).

Turns out there’s no better way to learn about a car than with curious kids busting to touch every cool looking button. After we slide the electric blinds back and forward over the glass roofs, a lot, (and discover you can operate the front seat ones individually – and I thought dual AC was cool), tune into an acceptable radio station on the 7 inch touch screen tablet, lower and raise windows, and place the key in its handy storage slot right by the Start button, it was finally time to actually drive the car.

And you know what, something amazing happened. We drove in silence. Now that’s luxury.

We discover how much more enjoyable it is cruising around the city in plush leather seats. The car moves smoothly through gear changes, and braking is firm without sending anyone launching forward. At a relaxed pace this Blue HDi180 horse power 2.0l turbo diesel takes off nicely, first impressions are all good.

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It’s hard to work out what the DS 5 actually is. It’s too big to be a hatchback and too sporty to be a station wagon. It’s high roofed like a compressed SUV, but, thankfully isn’t one. I come to the conclusion DS is doing something that’s always risky in filmmaking – it’s combining genres – and it pulls it off beautifully.

The front of the car is sleek and sexy, but also substantial – there’s nothing girlie about this car – it’s a genderless car build for those who appreciate style and design. I come to the conclusion this is a family vehicle driven by someone who desires individuality and superb quality in a car. I convince myself, this is me.

All this coolness I’m cultivating wears off as I step out of the driver’s seat and knock my sunglasses off the top of my head. Thanks to the high roof, the front seats are elevated, which makes stepping out of the car so much easier than hauling yourself upright, and yet I’m making a habit of banging my head on the way out. Maneuvering the seat with the many options on hand reduces the head knocks – but the sunnies stay off.

No problems, however, in the back. The roof lowers as it slinks back towards the 5th door, and yet it’s deceptive, as the back seats are lower than the front, giving back seat drivers plenty of head and seat roof. It’s an effort for one kid to reach the other. Bless the French.

Another thing strikes me today, and that’s the size of the windows. While you feel like you’re surrounded in glass, the reality is that the split A-pillars at the sides of the front window take a while to get used to, and the rear window is narrow. Presumably as the DS features both front and back parking sensors and videos to assist you, window size isn’t as important. On the positive side, it reduces the amount of glare you get from cars behind at night.

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This morning Oscar and I sit on the house steps admiring and discussing our new car, again. There are lots of nice details on the exterior, from the running lights that flash when you unlock the car, to the large grill and bumper bar that look like they could shift a sheep off the road. If you had to.

Oscar likes the DS logo featured on the car, and suddenly I realise what I feel is missing; the Citroën logo. I know, I shouldn’t get hung up on labels, but Citroën’s double chevron badge stands for innovation, revolutionary engineering, and design. I want people to know I’m driving a Citroën. Well, for a week.

I convince myself that the kind of person who drives a DS 5 would be an early adaptor and a lover of something a bit different. So, time to adapt.

It’s not like I’ve had any problems adjusting to the electronic hand break automatically applied when the engine is switched off and automatically released when you hit the accelerator. OK, so once or twice as I walked away I turned around to make sure the car wasn’t rolling down the hill. By Day 3, I’m just loving a quick getaway.

I’ve also adjusted to the flat bottom steering wheel. I’ve never driven a car with one, but they’ve been around for ages. Racing car drivers use them so they could squeeze their legs into the body of their cars. I can easily place my legs into the DS 5, but I love turning in and out of corners with it. The thought of becoming a taxi service for my children from 3pm onwards each day has just got more interesting.

After school today I collect a couple of extra kids so suggest we throw all the school and swimming bags in the boot.

“Oooh, the boot” my kids enthuse, and I realise that in the excitement of exploring the passenger area of the car, we’ve haven’t checked out the boot yet.

Lola uses the key to open the boot as none of us can work out how to do it otherwise, and we peer in eagerly. It’s big and we’re excited. Oscar tries to climb in.

What has happened to my family? It’s a boot for goodness sake.


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Turns out what’s happened to my family is that ‘DS’ as she’s now named, has sorted out my problem of getting the kids out of the house on time to school. Without being asked I find them patiently waiting outside beside the car this morning, keen to immerse themselves in the deep, leather bound seats their hands are forbidden to touch.

However, we have a complication on the way to school. Somehow I’ve switched DS into ECO mode, and every time the car comes to a stop, the engine shuts off – or as Lola calls it, goes to sleep. This is a common, economic feature in many new cars today, but I find it unnerving. As we sit in Auckland traffic going nowhere, it’s so quiet I’m worried we may also go to sleep.

So, being female, I reach for the car manual in the glove box and I’m delighted to see the Ready to Go DS 5 manual is only 12 pages long. Finally, someone recognises we only want Apple product length instructions to tell us how to do things.

Unfortunately, this old school approach is a touch confusing, so I revert to the touch tablet. I follow my intuition and hit DRIVE/OPTIONS and there it is; a simple tap turns ECO off. That’s why the manual is only 12 pages long.

Encouraged by the ease of use I explore the rest of the tablet that features a Navigator, Internet, Media, Telephone and Settings, as well as Driving settings. Music can be played via Bluetooth, USB, CD and radio of course, assisted by steering wheel controls.

Now I’ve got sounds pumping through the Denon speakers of my choice I decide to head to the supermarket to prolong my drive. I park as far away from other cars as possible, something I use to mock my Dad for doing.

I contemplate the fact that this car is turning me into my father.

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I’ve always had a fondness for Citroën, ever since a friend of my Dad’s came round in the 70s to show us how his car not only went forward and back, but went up and down as well. Well, that was until he accidently put brake fluid (or something else deadly) in the hydraulics.

So. It ‘s not all that surprising to see things in this DS Automotive that, in my limited experience of nice cars, I’ve never seen before. My favourite feature so far is the teleprompter (or a Head-up display in DS terms) that pops up on the dashboard in the driver’s line of vision.

It’s a system that projects information onto a transparent screen, such as your speed, and means you don’t have to take your eyes off the road. Without raising concerns about my driving, I do feel as if I’ve spent more time focusing on what’s happening outside the car than usual.

It might also have something to do with me looking around to see if anyone is checking me and my wheels out.


DS rests today. The kids want to go to the beach and eat a snack on the way, and as I’ve banned eating in DS, we take the Skoda. Everyone complains.


The week is drawing to a close, and I start thinking about my week. At the risk of sounding like my kids, it’s been awesome. There really isn’t another car on the road that looks like the DS 5 – I know, I’ve spent a week staring obsessively at what everyone else is driving. It’s eye catching with it’s swooping roofline and beautiful design, and size wise it’s in a category of it’s own.

The interior is sophisticated with the use of high quality materials and thoughtful touches, such as curved holes in the head rests to place your hands while you back, automatic headlamp dipping and buttons that are as pleasant to look at as they are to use. It’s a car that embraces the idea of form and function. The interior is calming and classy and there’s nothing overbearing about the simple dashboard.

As far as sticking to the road, the mother in me loves the DS 5. Sturdy, steady and solid, we all feel safe and secure. It’s not the lightest of steering, but this is a car that needs to be driven with intention, as all cars should.

As I return to the Skoda Octavia Scout, I regard my car with new respect. “It wouldn’t hurt to vacuum it occasionally”, I mutter to myself.

I then consider putting a post-it on the dashboard to remind me to manually put the handbrake on.

It was good getting to know you DS, Merci.

Disclosure: No sheep were nudged in the making of this diary, and to all my Hyundai driving friends. I love you know matter what you drive.