Citroen was once the Boris Johnson of car manufacturers. The idiosyncratic models it churned out in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s operated according their own rules in terms of design, engines and suspension, the vehicular equivalent of the Mayor of London getting stuck on a zipwire during the Olympics and yet still, somehow, coming out as a hero of the Games.
However, somewhere along the line, it turned into John Major, producing cars so dull and bland that you wouldn't notice them if they ran you over at a zebra crossing.
Thank God, then for the DS5 Hybrid4, the most characterful thing I've driven in years. The gear selector offers impenetrable, exotic options like 'ZEV'. The steering wheel is flattened out at the bottom, giving it the shape of a punctured Pirelli. It makes no noise at standstill, which, when combined with the keyless-go system, means you sometimes only realise you have left the engine 'running' when you're halfway down the high street and can't lock the damned thing.
The swish cabin with all its buttons feels like the deck of Star Trek's Enterprise and the car is so refined that even my brother, who has not bought anything except a BMW for a decade and objects to getting into anything as a passenger unless it is a BMW, cooed out loud.
The most innovative thing about this car is that it's a diesel-electric hybrid, when most hybrids have been petrol. A 161 bhp engine drives the front wheels, while a 36 bhp electric motor propels the rear ones. The Citroen emits under 100 g/km of CO2, which makes it exempt from road tax, the London congestion charge, and, for business users, the BIK tax rate is just 10%.
And that is the paradoxical thing about this car. It is in many respects a soulless, uninspiring box-ticking exercise worthy of the Office for Budget Responsibility. The marketing people behind it have clearly tried to get as many things into it as could be desired by the modern company executive: economy; environmental credentials; contemporary flair; impressive fuel economy; a hatchback layout; continental pretensions. It shouldn't work. But, like the Mayor of London, it kind of does.
4 OUT OF 5
SPECIFICATION - CITROEN DS5 HYBRID4 200 AIRDREAM DSPORT
Engine: 1,997cc, 4 cyl, turbodiesel
Power: 200 bhp @ 3,850 rpm
Torque: 369 lb ft @ 1,750 rpm
Transmission: six-speed EGS
Fuel consumption: 72.4 mpg (combined cycle)
CO2 emissions: 102 g/km
0-62 mph: 8.3 seconds
Top speed: 131 mph