+ Unique styling
+ Beautiful and tech-laden interior
+ Comfortable drive
- Some rivals have roomier back seats
- 20-inch wheels are noisy
- Rivals are sportier
Verdict: The DS 4 is the most convincing argument yet to make the switch from a German to French premium hatchback. It’s not a thrilling drive but is very comfortable on the road, and DS has pulled out the stops when it comes to design and tech.
The last DS 4 was a perfect example of why the French brand has failed to make a serious dent in the premium market so far – it had little to recommend it other than the fact it looked different to rivals and you would be unlikely to find many others who own one.
It’s a bit like those people who insist on using a rubbish smartphone because they hate how common the iPhone is. As our gran used to say, it’s a case of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.
This new model, however, has arrived at the fight with a much larger arsenal. And considering its enemies are PCP deal mega sellers like the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, BMW 1 Series and Audi A3, it’s going to need them.
Whether or not it’s to your taste, the DS 4 turns more heads than the anti-flamboyant Germans. The flush door handles and angular creases down the sides, coupled with LED matrix lights that come alive automatically with a welcoming signature as you approach the car, really impress. It’s big too, giving it plenty of presence.
The interior looks even better, taking inspiration from things like high-end watches to create unique seat upholstery patterns and switchgear designs. The fit and finish is superb: try as we might we could find no evidence of cost-cutting with materials, everything is tactile and soft to the touch.
Integrated into the curved dash is a 10-inch infotainment screen that comes as standard on all models and has been designed to work like a smartphone, swiping through menus from left to right using your fingers. It takes a minute or two to get used to, but it’s responsive and intuitive. Many will prefer the familiarity of the rotary dial that comes with BMW’s iDrive but in terms of functionality this new system from DS is right up there with the best.
The back seats are acceptably roomy for the segment, although you get a little more legroom in the Audi A3. The rear bench is more comfortable than that found in the Mercedes-Benz A-Class though. The DS 4’s 390-litre boot makes it a practical hatchback.
Our pick of the engines is the plug-in hybrid E-Tense which offers up to 38 miles of electric range, as well as a nippy 0-62mph time of 7.7-seconds. Of course, that’s the most expensive unit on offer, but you can also choose from three regular petrol engines ranging from 130hp to 225hp and one 130hp diesel, for the high milers out there.
The DS 4 is far from sporty and doesn’t corner with the same athleticism as its German counterparts, but there is a market for those who want their premium hatch to prioritise comfort over excitement, and the DS 4 does just that.
Opting for the 20-inch wheels is the only way to disturb the peace of the refined engines – the PHEV is especially smooth. Higher trim levels come with a road scanning suspension system that adjusts each of the four dampers according to the surface on the road ahead, and we found it to be pretty effective.
We did find the eight-speed automatic gearbox could be slow to change down for overtakes, it isn’t as incisive as BMW or Audi’s auto.
The DS 4 is the most convincing argument yet to make the switch from a German to French premium hatchback. It oozes French class and charm, but there’s a real substance found in the excellent tech and refined road manners.
Part of DS’s mission statement is to wow customers with lavish interiors which buck the premium segment trend of sensible, understated design, and the DS 4 does exactly that. While the look is very minimalist, with fewer obvious buttons and dials than you would find in many rivals, it’s all wrapped in sumptuous soft-touch materials which make the cabin feel more expensive than it should for the price you pay.
Visually it’s fascinating, with unusual angles and textures to the surfaces, as well as innovative features like ‘hidden’ air vents which blend seamlessly into the dash.
Being a DS occasionally there are moments where the phrase ‘style over substance’ jumps to mind. The triangular electric window controls recessed in the door handle are a bit confusing at first, for example. But overall there’s more of a sense of occasion to the DS 4’s cabin than almost any other car in the segment, save perhaps the flashy Mercedes-Benz A-Class.
Build quality is also excellent, the best we’ve ever seen in a DS. It feels as durable and robust as the BMW 1 Series, and significantly better than something like the Volkswagen Golf.
Luckily the DS 4’s cabin isn’t just a pretty face, this model brings through a host of new tech, most significant is the new 10-inch touchscreen infotainment system, called Iris. It works in the same way as a smartphone, moving from screen to screen via finger-swipes, rather than a rotary dial or switches.
Bearing in mind how used we are to the rapid response time of a smartphone the Iris system is impressive, responding to every input immediately. Crucially, there are enough physical shortcut buttons to keep things simple, including a button that takes you back to the home screen and a volume control.
The system is also customisable, so you can make your favourite functions the priority on the home screen. Complimenting that is another seven-inch touch pad next to the drive selector on which you can add six shortcuts of your choice, so you don’t even have to lean forward to use the infotainment screen itself. You can be as detailed as adding individual radio stations which you might like to jump between, or select more general common functions like the climate control dial.
Also new is the head-up display, which is now a large projection on the windscreen rather than a glass panel behind the steering wheel. It too is customisable to show as much or as little as you like, and in various layouts and themes.
You wouldn’t want to ruin that beautiful interior by littering it with keys, parking tickets and empty crisp packets, so it’s a good job there is plenty of storage in the front. There’s a deep cubby in the driver’s armrest which is big enough for a bottle of water and a few other bits.
The door bins are long but on the skinny side, but there’s another storage area in front of the drive selector which easily holds a phone and wallet.
Because the DS 4 is large for a hatchback - it’s both taller and longer than a BMW X2 crossover - headroom in the back seats is generous. It is eaten into by the optional panoramic roof, but even so you would have to be quite tall to find it a problem.
You do get a bit more legroom in the Audi A3, especially in the middle seat of the rear bench. It’s not terrible though, and two average sized adults will be comfortable on a long journey, especially as the back of the middle seat folds down to reveal two cupholders.
The DS 4’s 390-litre boot is 10-litres bigger than that of the BMW 1 Series and convincingly larger than the Mercedes-Benz A-Class and Audi A3. It’s also a sensible shape, so you will be able to use every inch of it when packing for a long journey.
Because DS is part of the Stellantis automotive group – which owns Peugeot, Citroen and Vauxhall, as well as many other brands - the range of engines is as tried and tested as it is extensive.
There’s a flavour for everyone, including one 130hp diesel, three petrol units ranging from 130hp to 225hp, and a range-topping plug-in hybrid (PHEV) good for 225hp.
We have not driven the lower powered petrols or diesel engine yet, but we can attest to the capability of the 225hp petrol and the PHEV, which are both strong units which pull keenly but smoothly. The petrol does 0-62mph in 7.9-seconds, which the PHEV manages 7.7 seconds, both spritely times
As you would expect the PHEV is the more hushed of the two, even when the petrol engine kicks in it isn’t as raucous as many PHEVs can be, and the extra lowdown shove of the electric motor means it is a lovely thing to use around town. DS claims the electric-only range is 38 miles, which we found to be quite accurate on our test drive.
We found the eight-speed automatic gearbox occasionally interrupted the smoothness of the engines by being slow to drop a cog for overtakes or being indecisive at junctions, but not to the point that it was a serious problem.
The best way to describe the way in which the DS 4 behaves on the road is ‘Citroen-like’, and depending on what you want from a hatchback that’s by no means a criticism. What we mean is, the DS 4 offers plenty of comfort and serenity, even if it’s not exactly an exhilarating or sporty performance.
We advise you keep away from the 20-inch wheels which not only ruin the sense of peace in the cabin with significant road rumble, but also crash harder over potholes.
The bigger engines come with a road-scanning system that adjusts each of the four dampers depending on the state of the road surface ahead. We’ve seen these things in cars like the Genesis GV70 and GV80 SUVs, and of course in high-end exotica like the Rolls-Royce Ghost.
As far as we can tell in the DS 4 the system works well, in so much that it absorbs the road’s imperfections nicely. It’s a pillowy ride, and even flicking on Sport Mode does little to negate body roll in corners, but the softness matches the rest of the car’s simplicity and serenity.
The steering isn’t nearly as quick as the BMW 1 Series, nor does it offer much weight, but again this suits the car. It’s gentle and smooth, and rather than pretend to be a do-it-all car the DS 4 has nailed the feeling of effortlessness with its calm road manners.