Pardon The French

Peculiar and of dubious aesthetic merit though its products are, DS Automobiles’ output at least possesses one commendable trait

Citoyen No1, photo (c) autoplus.fr

It’s rather easy to ridicule DS Automobiles. After all, it’s yet another car brand created in vitro, whose main claim to fame is a name that references one of the greatest creations in automotive history, without paying any respects to it whatsoever.

Casting aside this truly overbearing issue though, paying some attention to the brand’s design proves to be rather more worthwhile than a first glance would suggest. Of course, DS’ range of cars has so far mostly set itself apart through a sheer overabundance of stylistic tropes, many of which are rather less than inspiring (shark fin b-pillars, double badges). However, amid all the cacophonous excess, there are some interesting details to be found.

asymmetric-ds-automobiles-x-e-tense-designboom-600
photo (c) designboom.com

Take the DS X E-tense concept car. As its name would suggest, it’s a very convoluted piece of design overall. Not content with just being an inherently exotic barchetta, it also has to boast an open and an enclosed cabin compartment, side-by-side. It’s also asymmetrical, which should ensure appreciation from Chris Bangle’s side at least.

Again, casting aside some of the overbearing silliness, there are some truly intriguing elements included in its design – most of all the light grids, but also one of the more comely takes on the all-conquering ‘matrix’ grille graphic. It’s just a shame that combining all these elements – and a great many more – results in something resembling far less than the sum of its parts.

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On the production car side, the DS 7’s rear lights and the DS 3 Crossback’s interior both feature the lozenge pattern found on X E-Tense, lending either car some details that are far more distinctive than the overall stylistic overkill that puts DS closer to American tailfin era excess than la Déèsse.

With a bit more finessing, and a stronger focus on just a few strong themes, rather than the current scattershot approach, these details could be developed into something appealingly different from the teutonic ‘premium’ norm. Something rather more elegant and playful.

All that being said, DS can, no matter how reluctantly, be thanked for creating cars that exhibit a certain Frenchness – more Jean Paul Gaultier during a particularly wild episode than Christian Dior for certain, but even so, far more French than anything else available in new car dealerships right now.

The name of the automotive Jean Paul Gautier is Thierry Métroz, incidentally.

photo (c) c-forum.forumpro.fr

A veteran of French car design, Métroz spent most of his professional career at Renault, where he was responsible for the exterior designs of cars like the Avantime and Espace IV, among others. For many years, he worked alongside and in competition with Jean-Pierre Ploué there, who, most famously, designed the original Twingo, as well as the Laguna and Argos concept cars. Ploué eventually left Renault for Citroën, before eventually becoming PSA chief designer, where he now acts as Métroz’ boss – the world of car design is small, after all.

Ploué would’ve been the most logical successor to then-Renault chief designer, Patrick le Quément, when the latter retired a decade ago – had Ploué not left for the domestic competitor by that point. Against that backdrop, it’s rather intriguing to imagine Métroz following in the footsteps of le Quément’s, rather than Laurens van den Acker, who came from Mazda and, of course, did get the appointment.

Métroz wasn’t and isn’t a designer associated with restraint, even though his body of work at Renault bore little resemblance to DS’ output – a consequence of car design being a team effort, one can suppose. So would he have employed the ‘more is more’ mantra in charge of Renault design too? Or would the different brief result in a different approach? One can only guess.

At the same time, it can be assumed that Renault design would include some more je ne sais quoi than it does right now. For competently though van den Acker steers this ship, the French flag isn’t flapping that proudly on its mast.

Returning from this alternate universe, it’ll be interesting to see what happens with DS Automobiles’ design over the coming years. It’ll certainly and thankfully remain French – as that’s its only raison d’être – but maybe a bit more Dior and less Gaultier, or a closer look at the aesthetics of Andrée Putman, rather than Louis XIV, might result in a little going a long way.

We’ll see.

 

The author of this piece runs his own motoring website, which you are welcome to visit at 

 www.auto-didakt.com

 

 

 

Author: Christopher Butt

car design enthusiast // the mind behind www.auto-didakt.com // contributor to The Road Rat magazine //

21 thoughts on “Pardon The French”

  1. Good morning, Christopher. I have first to commend you for avoiding the strong temptation merely to shoot a few more fish in the barrel that is DS Automobiles, and instead taking a more constructive approach to unstanding the company’s design ethos, such as it is. I’ve been as guilty as anyone on these pages to succumbing to the urge to get my gun out whenever DS is mentioned, most recently just nine days ago. Since then I’ve been intermittently reflecting on what it is that ails DS.

    Firstly, I think the name, initially so attractive because of its revered status among Citröenistes, is placing a huge burden of expectation on the company that has not yet come anywhere close to being satisfied. Secondly, there is a lack of discipline and focus in DS design. I’m not arguing for a unifying design theme across all models: if DS is intended to be genuinely “different” then there’s no need for it to follow the “same sausage in different lengths” approach used by many other manufacturers. Each model could instead use its own unique design tropes, provided that these are coherent and expertly realised. I think you’ve absolutely got to the heart of this issue in one sentence:

    “With a bit more finessing, and a stronger focus on just a few strong themes, rather than the current scattershot approach, these details could be developed into something appealingly different from the teutonic ‘premium’ norm. Something rather more elegant and playful.”

    There remains the question of whether there really is a place for DS in the automotive firmament, but that cannot be answered until the company produces some models that are truly objects of desire. The DS3 and DS7 Crossbacks, despite some interesting detailing, are nowhere near that goal.

    1. Agreed. One needs to completely disconnect DS Automobiles from La Déèsse for it all to make even the remotest bit of sense.

      I wouldn’t want to be seen dead driving a DS myself either. But like a bad movie that features some flickers of inspiration, there are a few elements – no matter how cack-handedly executed – I find interesting about the brand’s design. It’s just that the people in charge appear as though they couldn’t help themselves and decided to rather than select and edit, they’d just employ too many ideas at once, each and every time, without the time/resources to apply enough care to finessing either the details or the result in its entirety.

    2. Thanks for this article, Christopher! It made me think about what is DS as well. The disconnection to the original DS certainly is a valid point. I could even imagine being seen driving one of them – probably not the current ones, as anyway I’m not an SUV man at all. But I have to say the initial proposals were reasonably desireable for me. The DS3 appeared like a quite competently executed hot hatch for those who like this kind of car, and it also saw the deserved success – before the engine troubles became known.

      The DS5 I considered a very interesting crossover: half way between MPV and saloon, and probably conceived at the last point where you could do this without having to include too much SUV taste. However, I have to come back to the finessing point: the design inside and out provided plenty of nice details (see https://driventowrite.com/2016/06/03/out-of-the-comfort-zone-2012-citroen-ds5-hybrid4-road-test/ ), but there was almost an overload of them, and many were executed half-heartedly. Not to speak of the suspension, which was seemingly released on the road before the work on it had even started.

      Will we ever see an interesting concept like this again, but better done? I slightly doubt it, they’re rather on the way of delivering standard fare and spice it up with chrome and stitches.

    3. That’s an excellent review of the DS5 that had previously escaped my attention, so thanks for flagging it up, Simon. Conceptually, the DS5 was closest in spirit to the original Déèsse, so it’s all the more disappointing that it missed a clear target so comprehensively. Your C6, possibly in a more luxuriously appointed form, would have made a much better DS than anything we’ve seen so far.

    4. Thanks for your kind words, Daniel! Regarding the classic status of the C6, I think we are already there. My guess is that at Citroën’s 100 year celebration at La Ferté-Vidame, there were more C6s than of any other post-2000 Citroën. That’s quite a feat, especially regarding the low production figures, and it shows that the owners are probably the last real Citroën fans and care a lot about their cars, and they see it worthy to be displayed in a row with the Tractions and DSs (the real ones…). My C6 stayed at home, by the way – I went with my brother in his DS.

      A petrol C6 is already highly sought after, given the restrictions for older diesels (e.g. in Germany) and the fact that the 6-cylinder diesel engines have a reputation for complexity and engine failures. I could probably sell my car for nearly the price I paid almost seven years ago, in spite of the car approaching 190,000 kilometres.

    5. The C6 seems to be one of those cars people keep, as there’s no more recent alternative to it.

      Their ‘survival rate’ appears to be exceptionally high – I certainly come across C6s on an astonishingly regular basis, with most of them being in excellent condition. People not only keep, but cherish theirs (unlike the Thesis, unfortunately).

      Intriguingly, the situation seems to be similar with regards to the Jaguar XK (X150). It’s not a rare car, despite its modest sales, and few of the examples I see are of the ‘tatty, kustomised’ variety. As with the C6, there never was a closely similar car one could trade an XK in for, if one wanted to stick with the concept of a (mostly) open-top 2+2 GT.

    6. It’s true, I’ve only seen very few customisations on C6s, and mostly of the rather tasteful kind. Yes, there are a few matte black examples with mean rims as well, but they may have disappeared by now. I’m also trying to conserve the car as long as possible, with regular, but not too extensive usage and consistent servicing. Usually it’s not a very demanding car, but this year it will have been an expensive one with a new timing belt, front brakes and two sets of tyres, coming to a total well over 5000 Swiss Francs.

  2. Someone I know, who operates in the C6 Forum sphere and works for PSA UK, told me that a large DS saloon based on the 508’s platform is due at the end of this year. It’ll be interesting …

    1. I think I have seen some pictures of it on the net. If they are right, it looks very similar to the 508, too similar I’d say. Furthermore, it wasn’t clear if this is a China only model and we will get something different here. Whatever it may be, I’m curious what saloon offerings will come from DS and Citroën in the next years. It’s about time they do something else than SUVs.

    2. The DS8 does not have frameless door glass like a 508. Vive la difference.

    3. Surely that’s just a photoshopped 508? Look at the door mirrors, A-pillars, DLO shape, wheel arch and sill profiles, all identical to the peugeot:

    4. Daniel, my post containing further DS8 images is caught in the spam filter and hopefully will appear shortly.

      Meanwhile I have discovered a partial answer to the mystery of the door frames: the Chinese market extended wheelbase 508 has full door frames (which cover the B-pillar).

    5. Ah, you’ve solved the mystery, gooddog: the DS 8 images posted above are actually photoshopped alterations to the Chinese-market 508L, which has a 55mm longer wheelbase than the European 508, a different DLO profile with a distinctive parallel crease running below it, right back to the rear lights. Here it is:

      Let’s hope the actual DS8 is more, er, distinctive!

  3. It was assumed in the halls of the Technocentre that M. Metroz would assume the mantle of Directeur du Design when M. LeQuement retired.
    More importantly, M. Metroz saw himself as a shoe-in for the job, and considerable surgery was necessary to restore his ego to full health.
    Mssrs Ploué and Metroz were key members of the exterior design team during the period of PLQ’s rise to prominence. Jean- Pierre and Thierry pulled off the most audacious double act when they worked together on Twingo. The resulting confusion as to who made it smile still lives on. Perhaps PLQ provides the answer in his book which I have yet to read.
    That it looks remarkably closely related to the Honda City is interesting, I have a vague recollection of mutterings of it being too closely related at the time..

    1. Didn’t they even dress similarly for a certain period of time?

  4. Christopher, I enjoyed your article covering the C6. I concur with your observations, especially about the interior. Such a shame that certain compromises had to be made, especially with the centre stack of the dashboard. I don’t mind the wood, actually, especially as used in those sliding covers to the door bins, and it’s only the slab around the gear-stick which really looks wrong. When the car works, it’s a wonderfully irreverent flick of the Vs at every other Executive car of the time, or since, floating over undulations, sponging away rough road surfaces (only to jolt over expansion joints and the odd pothole). It’s something one grows to appreciate with age, I think (both mine and the car’s).

    1. Thank you, S.V..

      I got to experience the C6 I took the photos of as a passenger and enjoyed the experience immensely – the comments about certain parts of the interior are of the nit-picking variety. It’s a most pleasant car.

    2. Regarding the wood, I’d like to buy a second set of all the wood parts from a scrap car and paint them in body colour, just to see what that would look like. Probably a bit audacious in my case (darc green over cognac leather), but I’m quite fond of strange colour combinations, especially of the orange/green kind.
      Regarding the age, I bought my C6 at 39, and it’s true, it grew on me since, and I couldn’t probably have appreciated it five or ten years earlier. I think it would have made me look older than I could bear. Now, with some grey hair on the sides, it’s OK.

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