Citroen’s design manager, Andy Cowell, introduced the new DS5 at a small reception last night, organised via Twitter and held in the new London offices of the SMMT.
Cowell is a softly spoken Briton who has worked in Paris for 20 years. He’s very clearly proud of the work done on the three-car DS line-up, although he seemed a mite disappointed with the DS4 – it’s evidently not selling as well as hoped. Lined up alongside the striking DS5 and DS3 it looked a bit ordinary.
I asked if it had been hard to inject character into a mid-sized car, compared with smaller or more imperious packages. Cowell, of course, dismissed the very idea. “If anything I think we gave the DS4 too much character,” he said, adding that he loved the design so much he used it as transport for his wedding.
I did try to have a more open mind about the DS4 after he said this, but still wasn’t really sold.
Cowell went on to explain how the design themes had evolved as the overall DS project progressed from DS3 through DS4 to DS5. He noted how the bone lines on the DS5’s surface are the most pronounced yet (a bone line is what designers call a crease in the sheet metal that suggests structure beneath the surface). He also told me about the process of getting to the finished sheet metal, which still involves sculpting full-size clay models.
Designs can progress only so far as digital renditions on a screen, he explained. The next step is to use the digital data to steer a computer-controlled milling machine, which physically carves complex shapes out of blocks of solid clay. Designers then finesse the result by hand if necessary, until they feel the surfaces are perfect. Finally, the model can be wrapped with removable sheets of plastic film to give a preview of the finished painted steel. Cowell said this laborious process allows for subtleties that would be very difficult to achieve using computers alone.
When all this detailed work is complete, the final clay shapes are scanned back into computerised form, going on to make the presses that will stamp sheet metal in a car factory.
Cowell said quite a few full-size previews of the DS5 were made, including motorised models to give a view of how light played across their surfaces on the move.
To my untrained eye the DS5 is certainly the most interesting and intriguing of the three DSs. The large chrome “sabre” that connects the headlights to the quarterlight attracts the eye – no doubt more so if the paint is dark – but immediately beneath it there’s a playful little S-shaped crease in the front wing that is probably my favourite detail. But there are lots of other areas worthy of comment.
I asked Cowell if he had a favourite detail and he proved reluctant to single anything out. He did sing the praises of the rear lights, which were influenced by the tailpipes of jet aircraft. The lamp clusters at the rear are an unusually complex combination of bulging and concave surfaces, and as with many modern cars they serve a secondary purpose by helping to control airflow for reduced drag.
He also said that he thinks the swooping sabre trim piece is the largest single chromed plastic item ever fitted to a production car. At the very least it presented a challenge for Citroen’s parts supplier, which applies the mirror-finish coating by depositing metallic vapour in a vacuum chamber.
Cowell also enthused about the interior details, particularly the centre console and roof switches. They reminded me of the same areas on the Lamborghini Aventador supercar, which is not a bad place to find a comparison.
For GreenMotor.co.uk, I’m obviously most interested in the upcoming Hybrid4 edition of the DS5, which combines a front-drive, 163bhp diesel engine with a 37bhp rear electric motor for a total of 200bhp, four-wheel drive and 99g/km CO2 rating.
Cowell is careful not to criticise the Peugeot 3008, which can be ordered with exactly the same Hybrid4 powertrain, but can’t resist highlighting the differences. “The DS5 is lower and wider than the 3008 so it will use its 200bhp to deliver a more powerful, sporting feel,” he said. He also pointed out that the Citroen was designed with the Hybrid4 underpinnings in mind from the start, suggesting the same was not true for the Peugeot – even though the two share the same basic platform.
The Hybrid4 DS5 will cost from £27,600 when the cars arrive in early April, but if your budget won’t stretch that far the cheapest DS5 will start at £22,500. That buys the base petrol-engined e-HDI Airdream edition that offers 110bhp and just 114g/km of CO2, courtesy of a stop-start system that Citroen says trims emissions by 15%.
Cowell and I discussed the undoubted merits of engines that automatically shut down when the car isn’t going anywhere. One day, we’ll look back at today’s idling engines with the same distaste as we might now reserve for someone puffing on a cigarette in the workplace. “It is like when they stopped smoking in pubs,” Cowell agreed. “You wonder why we all put up with it for so long.”
In a similar vein, Cowell is clearly hoping that when people see the striking DS5, on the street, in the metal, they’ll wonder why they spent so long putting up with less arresting alternatives.