Crossovers will drive Peugeot's renaissance

We go to France and see its culture and cars first-hand
by Botchi Santos | Mar 20, 2017

France has perhaps one of the most misunderstood people and culture in the world. The Americans want to supersize everything, the British like being cool and quirky, the Japanese mean to make everything precise and efficient, the Germans strive to make the most well-engineered of contraptions, and the Italians endeavor to capture beauty and drama in everything they do. The French are more difficult to understand—notably for us Filipinos, it seems.

Peugeot CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato tries to explain it over lunch on a Seine river cruise one delightful afternoon: “The French want to do beautiful things in an efficient and inexpensive way.”

These people have a strong sense of Gallic pride. They value, treasure, and truly love their way of life. And they value all things French, above all.

You can see it in their food (raw seafood, wine, and lots of cheese for many Parisians), their style (forget tacky LV and Hermes; think sharply cut, form-fitting suits and smart-looking shoes), and the way they drive: fast and aggressive yet with so much nonchalant ease, you’d think they were the most happy-go-lucky drivers in the world.

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The French also value work-life balance. This means no work-related calls or e-mails after 5pm and on weekends. Which gives them time to enjoy the finer things in life. This is a culture and attitude that many of us would like to see in our own home countries.

Embracing passion, style, and an odd sense of efficiency, while looking to the future and caring for the next generation—and doing all this without alienating a strong sense of history and culture. This is something few nations are good at, but in this, France leads the way.

Peugeot’s 3008, 5008, and Expert Tepee are perfect examples of being French. The quirky 3008 isn’t exactly a proper sport-ute. The 5008 is an MPV, arguably a French invention, combining the best attributes of a true people-carrier with the ease of ingress and egress afforded by a typical midsize sedan. These are very popular in European and South American markets, but China, Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East all demand something else. That something else is a crossover. So, at last year’s Paris Motor Show, three new Peugeot models broke cover and took the world stage by storm: the new 3008, 5008, and Traveller.

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The first two are built on the same platform as well as utilize the same small-displacement three- and four-cylinder engines that drive the front wheels via a six-speed automatic. There are plans for hybrid versions in the near future, with electric motors driving the rear wheels to give the 3008 and the 5008 more traction off the beaten path. But on the surface, these twin SUVs finally look like that: SUVs—albeit crossovers with a unibody construction—boasting decent ground clearance and flood-fording ability.

In China, a special 4008 crossover will be made available. It’s essentially a long-wheelbase 3008 that slots in between the 3008 and the 5008 in size, price and specifications. With the 2008 released in 2016 as part of the lineup, Peugeot has plans to produce a massive 500,000 SUV units for 2017.

Meanwhile, the Traveller MPV is a versatile people-carrier available in three wheelbases and lengths (5.6m, 5.9m and 6.2m), as well as in a variety of seating configurations. It also shares the bulk of its powertrain components with the 3008 and the 5008.

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Aside from launching these new cars, Peugeot has massive ambitions to move upmarket. The French brand plans to improve build quality, standard equipment, and reliability to a far higher level. Its Allure, GT, GT-Line and GTi variants now account for 44% of total volume sold versus fleet and base variants, and the carmaker wants the figure to go higher in the near future. Case in point: The i-Cockpit now comes with expanded functionality, utilizing a large 12in display as the primary instrument cluster. It’s much like Audi’s and Volkswagen’s systems.

Peugeot has also finally partnered with a French audio specialist, Focal, to provide high-fidelity sound systems in its top-of-the-line GT and GTi variants. There’s an 8in touchscreen, too, for the multimedia setup. TomTom is the chosen partner for navigation. What’s more, in-car entertainment supports both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for smartphone mirroring.

SUV sales are booming, not just in Southeast Asia but also everywhere else in the world. In Europe alone, the compact-crossover segment has grown by 21% from 2015 to 2016. It’s set to get even bigger in the coming years, and Peugeot wants to be at the forefront. Hence, it has lined up the 2008, the 3008, the 4008 and the 5008 for distribution in various markets across the globe.

It is the 3008 that is expected to be the volume seller worldwide. Utilizing the Peugeot-Citroen Group’s EMP2 (or Efficient Modular Platform, second generation), the 3008 is 1.62m high and 4.45m long, and has a cargo capacity of 591L with all the seats up. Despite being designed more for the urban jungle, it has a decent 20-degree angle of attack, a 29-degree approach angle, and a 220mm ground clearance.

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I ask about the angle of attack and how it seems low relative to the departure angle, and Frank Michel, project director for the 3008, says it’s primarily to comply with pedestrian crash-impact regulations, which necessitate a longer hood and a shorter front overhang to lessen injury in the event of a frontal collision. The EMP2 platform is also 100kg to 150kg lighter than its predecessor, thus helping improve performance and fuel efficiency. Both the 3008 and the 5008 have passed the latest Euro NCAP test with a five-star rating.

On the open road, the 3008 is gutsy, aggressive and wonderful as crossovers go. On broken pavement, dirt roads, gravel, and some grass, Peugeot’s rally heritage shines. The rear end is lively in a playful way, but grip is impressive. Making quick, minute corrections delivers instant response and results, and through it all the 3008 is magically unfazed. It’s far better and more polished. The electronic aids perform so well but in such an unobtrusive way, you’d think you were the star of the show, the next driving god. Watch out, Sebastien Loeb! The steering is light but surprisingly decent in feel, and the revised i-Cockpit design now has a more ideal shoulder-to-steering-wheel alignment without blocking the primary instrument cluster.

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The brakes are also amazing. On the lightly, muddy dirt path that forms part of our test-drive route, I overcook the 3008 by careening into corners. The ABS and stability control save me from humiliating myself. The pulsing sensation that the ABS triggers through the brake pedal is very light and refined, unlike in other cars where feedback can be more shocking, prompting the uninitiated to actually lift from braking and get into a painful prang as a result.

Peugeot has a winner here. The 3008 appears to have the impeccable build quality of a Toyota RAV4, the nifty features and ease of use of a Honda CR-V, and the rallying pedigree and performance ethos of a Subaru Forester, all in a unique, stylish package with the panache of the French. We can expect more great things from Peugeot. The brand has realigned itself with the demands of a global marketplace, but without forgetting to inject its DNA into its offerings to create cars that are absolutely beautiful yet inexpensively efficient.

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PHOTO: Sonia Maccari, Gianni Rab Mazzota
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