Citroën DS5 – Aesthetic Genius

If you watched Avatar in its opening weekend before other people could tell you about it, you probably walked out of the cinema a little dumbfounded? It’s because you had just witnessed something never-seen-before; something that was extraordinary film genius.

Every now and then the world experiences these breathtaking moments of brilliance. Think on icons like Usain Bolt & Felix Baumgartner; or on unexplainable phenomenons like Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga. These examples are all people, but they all have the ability to take your breath away and make you feel alive even if just for a few seconds.

The Citroën DS5 is the same. I have never laid eyes on a car that inspired so many thoughts and dare I say it, emotions. From every angle the car is a remarkable prodigy that seems so ahead of its time. It’s a designer’s wet-dream turned into an even better reality. And it’s a real car in production and on sale in South Africa right now.

When the drama settles (it never quite ends) you realise the detail with which this car has come off the production line. Starting from the rear, the twin chrome tailpipe surrounds are like nothing you have ever seen. They’re dramatic and shapely and remind me of those on a Lamborghini Aventador. They sit on either side of a black strip made of a glossy material that is also used on the rear spoiler that juts out the top of the rear. It’s beautiful. The side profile continues the use of chrome detailing just below the doors that is accentuated by the mix of black and chrome 19” alloys. From the A-pillar to the front bumper, pronounced chrome ‘swords’ extend to separate the bonnet from the fender and it is here that I found myself the most gobsmacked. It’s just so different and detailed. 

This car was based on a concept car first shown to the public in 2005 and I must say, the real car is so much better looking than the concept. That doesn't happen often. 

While the exterior is bewildering there’s no letting up when you open the door. If anything, the interior detailing is even more 'awe' some. The leather seats feature a very cool watch-strap design with colour coded stitching to match. They’re supple and as always feature heated, electric, massage function comfort. The facia design and cabin in general was inspired by the aero industry but I get a sneaky suspicion that some plane manufacturers have probably taken a note out of the Citroën book. It’s properly beautiful in here with distinctively crafted buttons and switchgear for the windows and traction control. Look up and there are a few more switches, 3 of which operate the electrically adjustable blinds revealing an awesome glass roof. That’s one blind each for the driver and passenger and one larger one for the rear seat. It’s insanely brilliant.

There are some problems with the DS5: the car I drove was the THP 200 Sport version and it featured the brushed metal ‘grey aluminium’ trim. In all honesty, this was just too much. It was too polished and a little brash in my opinion. A simpler, more plain brushed metal would have been fine, but that is a personal preference and this option is not standard by any means. I would spec my DS5 differently.

There are more problems when you wipe your mouth, realise this is a car and actually drive it. The first issue is that the ride is way too hard. The 19 inch low-profile wheels don’t help and I cannot say the drive is comfortable on anything less than very good roads. If the car was blisteringly quick and handled like a sportscar, then I wouldn’t mind but it doesn’t handle exceptionally at all which brings me to the next problem. The steering is very dead and putting down 147kW of power to the front-driven wheels doesn’t inspire any confidence. The engine is the same high pressure 1,6 turbo unit that is used across the cars in the stable as well as by Mini and Peugeot. So it's a good engine with the typical qualities of a turbo, but it's the way it puts that power down that was disappointing. I didn't enjoy the drive.

Citroën has thrown out the design rulebook and made a car that is like a mobile piece of art. I wouldn’t even call the DS5 beautiful, but rather striking, breathtaking genius. It has 4 doors and a boot which makes it fairly practical should you be looking to buy a stylish, unique looking 'family car'. But they seem to have forgotten to use the same thinking in designing how this mobile flamboyance struts it’s stuff on the road. That's it's only shortfall. 

At just under R400, 000 the big question is, would I buy it or recommend you buy it? At this price range, this is the league of 3 series, C-classes and even VW GTi 35 editions and brand new B-Classes. My answer would be a NO. For me, the genius, exclusive design is amazing but I am most interested in the way a car drives and for this reason, I feel a little let down by this Citroën. The DS5 is not terrible to drive, but it lacks the lustre that is found in every other aspect of the car.

On the design and presence scale though, nothing comes close.

AM -

Nissan Pathfinder 3.0dCi V6 – The Mayor of Tough City

Nissan Pathfinder 4X4
Nissan Pathfinder - Mr Big! 
If I had to judge the cars I drive solely on the basis of how they make me feel, the Nissan Pathfinder would possibly be one of the best. If you’re surprised by that then you haven’t quite got the full picture of this car but in a nutshell, it’s big, chunky and powerful. What more could a man ask for? If Nissan needed a mayor for the folk and workhorses of Tough City, then this would him without a doubt.

Nissan is good at making tough cars of all sizes and in the Pathfinder, the philosophy seems to have been, ‘Size DOES count’. Everything about this car is big. The boxy design may come across as quite unimaginative but this design has made way for vast amounts of space in the cabin. The Pathfinder is a proper 7-seater if you need a tough people-mover. For the utilitarian in you, the cabin is practical enough for you to fold down all the seats transforming your car into a full on man-cave.

The bigness continues as you settle in to the driver’s seat. The entire facia that houses all the switchgear and multimedia screen is very big and extends well into the breathing space of the passenger side. I would generally think this would be a problem but the system is quite well arranged and as much as it may look over engineered at first, it’s fairly easy to operate and feels solid and chunky to the touch. The interface of this multimedia system is fully loaded with everything from touchscreen functionality, Bluetooth phone preparation, iPod connectivity via Bluetooth or Auxiliary inputs and even a Music Box storage system. This system allows for CD’s or even USB files to be transferred to the Music Box, and then played at a later stage without having to change CD’s all the time. The leather seats are also heated and electrically adjustable with 2 memory settings. To make parking this big guy easier, there is a fantastic reversing camera fitted to the rear tailgate.

On the safety front, this SUV has the full complement of front, curtain and side airbags. Dynamically, the ABS and EBD are standard as is Nissan’s Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) and their Active Brake Limited Slip system (ABLS). Make no mistake; this car is a full house supersize package deal.

In keeping with the theme of toughness, the powertrain on this Nissan Pathfinder doesn't disappoint. This latest updated SUV features Nissan’s newest Diesel engine which is a 170kW mill. The 550Nm of torque is delivered from low down in the rev range(1,750rpm) which makes this machine the ideal tool for trekking over some tough terrain. As we like to do, we laid down some tough 4X4 obstacles for the Pathfinder on a wet and cold Saturday morning in the heart of Krugersdorp. The playing field was littered with Toyota Land Cruisers; Isuzu KB’s; Jeep Wranglers and yes, some Toyota Hilux and Fortuners were also in the mix. Everybody got a turn to show their muscle and thankfully, the Pathfinder didn't let us down. It wasn't the best in terms of approach and departure angles and we did have a few knocks on the undercarriage where the Fortuners and Wranglers didn’t have an issue. But other than that, the torque delivery in Lo range made the climbs very easy. Switching between 2WD, 4HI or 4LO was as easy as turning the chunky switch just above the gear lever. This switch also has an auto button that reads the terrain for you, and then changes the drivetrain accordingly to deal with it.

Rough terrain made easy
I love this car! I love the high driving position and the solid, robust design of everything. I love that it is fully loaded with high-end features and spec but still appears and feels tough and rugged. I love this diesel engine especially off-road and I love the man-cave space that this car offers for any lifestyle. Okay fine, on tar, the drive is not as refined as in some SUV’s I’ve driven and as heavy things go, it understeers very quickly. Okay fine, it's probably not the newest of cars on the road and the new one is already out and about in the USA. So what? This car makes me feel bigger than I am, like a mayor in a pretend-city of other wannabe tough people.

Some have raised eyebrows about the R681, 150 price tag and in some respects I understand. But the true competitor of this car is not the Toyota Fortuner but rather some higher end SUV players like the Jeep Grand Cherokee. So yes, it may seem quite expensive at first, but that’s a tough argument when you get into it. Literally.

- AM