Plus ça change

Be­ing dif­fer­ent isn’t al­ways a good thing

The Weekend Australian - Magazine - - LIFE -

Asiren’s go­ing crazy and it can only mean the warp drive is in melt­down… or maybe I’m about to be hit by pho­ton tor­pe­does. But I’m not on Star­ship En­ter­prise and when I checked the 5008 spec sheet, there was no men­tion of anti-mat­ter. Only… the last time I heard a sound this ur­gent, the world was end­ing. Then the show went to an ad break.

It takes a while to re­alise what’s trig­gered Ar­maged­don and when I do, I throw it into the men­tal file marked “Bloody French”. Which, af­ter a week in this SUV-cumpeo­ple-mover, is al­ready filled to over­flow­ing. I hope I’m not be­ing a Fran­co­phobe when I say French cars – that’s Peu­geot, Citroën and Re­nault – seem to go out of their way to be dif­fer­ent just for the sake of it. In most cars you can work out straight away where every­thing is and what it does. In some­thing Gal­lic, you’ll be curs­ing for hours.

In this Peu­geot, for ex­am­ple, the cruise/speed lim­iter con­trols are on a wand at eight o’clock that’s com­pletely ob­scured by the steer­ing wheel. There are half a dozen but­tons and I’m try­ing to sort out what each one does by touch alone. If I were in a Re­nault, the same stalk would con­trol the au­dio sys­tem and be equally con­found­ing. Of course, in a Re­nault the cruise con­trol switch is be­tween the seats.

It’s the same when it comes to de­sign. For ev­ery stun­ning Citroën DS – the fu­tur­is­tic shape that wowed post­war Europe – there are loads that just look weird. Check out a Re­nault Avan­time or Citroën C6. Any won­der they flopped? Some­times you can tell the French have seen a Ger­man idea and wished they’d had it first – such as the Peu­geot RCZ, which looks like a badly drawn Audi TT.

The 5008 falls some­where in the mid­dle, with a roof-to-tail cabin line that sug­gests study of Land Rover’s re­cent oeu­vre. That lends it a hand­some sil­hou­ette, es­pe­cially with tinted side glass. Shame that the front aimes to repli­cate a Gothic cathe­dral. It’s too busy by half.

In­side, the 5008 re­veals its ori­gins as a stretched ver­sion of the smaller 3008, with a largely sim­i­lar cabin. There’s a lot to like about the bold, cock­pit-style merg­ing of cen­tre con­sole and twotiered dash, with its al­can­tara trim

and abun­dant metal­lic high­lights. There are ap­peal­ing rows of tog­gle switches and seat stitch­ing. Classy.

But some­body should have reined in the de­sign­ers be­fore they be­came ob­ses­sive; the gearshifter is a tri­umph of form over func­tion, with an ac­tion even more an­noy­ing than that of BMW’s re­cal­ci­trant units. The wheel is overly elab­o­rate, while vir­tual in­stru­ments pri­ori­tise the­atri­cal graph­ics over leg­i­bil­ity. The con­trol sys­tem is OK, al­though there are quicker, bet­ter ones al­most ev­ery­where else. The dash vents lack throt­tles.

There are im­ped­i­ments to vi­sion, too, with re­flec­tions from the dash-top onto the wind­screen, a wide base to the A-pil­lars (partly thanks to the wing mir­ror mounts) and a rear win­dow set high. For­tu­nately in GT trim there’s a full suite of park­ing aids, in­clud­ing 360-de­gree view.

Fur­ther back is where prac­ti­cal­ity tri­umphs – or rather, nar­rowly wins on points. Three mid-row seats slide, flip and fold in­de­pen­dently while two rear jump-seats lift neatly from the cargo floor. There’s cav­ernous space here, rang­ing from 780 litres to 1940 litres de­pend­ing on the con­fig­u­ra­tion. With all seats low­ered, the area is flat but not con­tigu­ous, with a small gap be­tween the mid­dle seats and the rear floor. The tail­gate opens just high enough.

How­ever, the seat levers feel cheap and don’t op­er­ate eas­ily. Also, there’s ev­i­dence in the lower dash zones that it’s too soon to set aside Peu­geot’s rep­u­ta­tion for lack­lus­tre build qual­ity.

Two en­gines are of­fered: a 121kW 1.6-litre turbo petrol from $45,490 in Al­lure trim with a strong equip­ment list, or $3000 more for GT Line with “sporty” themes and more kit. The test car, with a 133kW 2.0-litre turbo-diesel, tops the line-up at $54,490 and as full GT grade gets 19-inch al­loys, power mas­sage seats, more bright­work and the al­can­tara.

Un­til re­cently, France em­braced diesels as en­thu­si­as­ti­cally as any Euro­pean na­tion but their car­mak­ers have failed to de­velop the en­gines to Ger­man lev­els of re­fine­ment. The 5008 unit is po­tent enough al­though of course it isn’t quick, at 10.2s to 100km/h, and sounds chuggy or coarse if you ex­plore its up­per revs. There are pad­dles to shift if you like.

A stop-start sys­tem helps keep the of­fi­cial fuel fig­ure to a low 4.8 litres per 100km, al­though it tested my tol­er­ance. It sounds like a vac­uum cleaner shut­ting down and then shud­der­ing back into life. Dur­ing slow-speed ma­noeu­vres it drives you nuts. Turning it off re­quires three but­ton-presses.

Peu­geot has kept the 5008 weight to 1.6 tonnes, pretty good for some­thing 4.6m long, and it han­dles fine for a car without dy­namic am­bi­tions. The ride qual­ity can be a bit de­tailed and there’s rum­ble-and-thump from be­low.

Seven-seaters used to be rare beasts, but not any­more. The 5008 has to con­tend with a host of ri­vals around its price, led by the Toy­ota Kluger and Mazda CX-9. In the past, French brands tended to rely on their Euro­pean-ness to give them an edge but if that ever worked, it doesn’t now. As their tiny mar­ket share at­tests.

And what set off that end-of­days alarm? I opened the door with the en­gine run­ning, in gear. Not to be rec­om­mended, I sup­pose, al­though I had my rea­sons and a sin­gle warn­ing gong would have done the trick. But the French have to be dif­fer­ent. Plus ça change…

philip king

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