Plus ça change
Being different isn’t always a good thing
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…