Peugeot to vive la difference Down Under

Peter Atkinson
Peugeot hopes to capture Australian hearts with its quirky, stylish new SUV 5008 model

There's different. And there are different kinds of different.

If you believe the Aldi ads, there's now even something called Good Different.

Then there are French cars, which are entirely different and always have been - mostly in a good way.

Not surprisingly, the country that invented the term avant-garde (it means experimental or radical) continues to live and breathe the mantra, particularly through its large and influential car making industry.

Peugeot, one of the largest and oldest brands on the planet, makes a virtue of its highly individual, lateral-thinking approach, as further demonstrated by the latest piece of Gallic wizardry to grace our driveway - Peugeot's new 5008 mid-sized SUV.

It delivers that delightful French quirkiness in big, interesting ways and is part of a fresh model assault by Peugeot, part of the giant PSA conglomerate, following a recent overhaul of its Australian distribution arrangements.

It arrives hot on the heels of the similar but smaller 3008 compact SUV - voted European Car of the Year in 2017 - and between the pair they hint that Peugeot, well-known and at times well loved in Australia, might be set to return here as a substantial player.

In previous iterations, the 5008 badge signalled a strictly urban-focused, seven-seat people mover - probably not the most exciting formula. Yet in reimagining the 5008, Peugeot went so far as to completely rethink the car's place in the market - morphing the car into an SUV and challenging some of Australia's top-selling models in the process.

Yet with its Tardis-like ability to swallow up people and their belongings in its cleverly designed interior, the 5008 instantly becomes one of the more versatile SUVs of its size - and one of the few with seven-seat convenience. That will help it stand out in a category where competition includes five-seat options like the Mazda CX-5 and VW Tiguan.

Even though it rides on the same platform as Peugeot's 308 small hatchback, the 5008 delivers remarkable space relative to its compact exterior dimensions.

A clever system allowing the middle-row seats to be tumbled forward, or even removed from the vehicle altogether, frees up more than 2000 litres of storage space behind the front seats when required. In people-carrying mode it offers sufficient space and comfort for seven people.

We tested the Peugeot's seven-seat capacity by loading two adult couples into the rear rows of the car and two more couples in the front and centre. While the third row is best suited to children or very small adults, the squeeze can be mitigated by sliding the middle row seats forward - a straightforward procedure.

Still, in a crowded SUV market where being different has never been more difficult - or more important - the Peugeot certainly achieves that.

Everything about the Peugeot screams individuality - from its slightly unusual exterior design that's more Honda Odyssey than pure SUV - to a classy and captivating interior that owes much to that famous French flair.

Its exterior design is by far the most conservative thing about this machine - that rather boxy body shape disguises what an innovative, interesting thing lies within.

The 5008's cockpit is a work of art, including a sweeping section of suede leather that arches across the dash and door fascias. Exactly how it would fare under the grubby touch of the young families that typically drive this style of vehicle is yet to be tested. But it looks great.

That French influence is seen in the beautiful switchgear of the 5008 - brushed alloy piano-style buttons that marry with the bright centre screen to adjust everything from navigation settings to climate control and audio preferences.

Another dial in the centre console operates the 5008's "Grip Control" system - ostensibly promising all manner of off-road settings, except for one thing: The 5008 drives through the front wheels only - an all-wheel-drive version is yet to reach Australian shores.

But it's with Peugeot's unique "I Cockpit" cabin setup where the French have really tried to reinvent the wheel - literally. The steering wheel is much smaller, and sits a bit lower than in conventional cars - the instruments are placed higher on the dash, meaning that they are viewed over the top of the steering wheel, rather than through it.

It works particularly well, even if it takes a bit of getting used to - and the small, very sporty-feeling wheel is an added bonus.

Those virtual instruments on the driver's video display can be configured in several different ways, with themes chosen via buttons on the steering wheel, including one that mimics a conventional speedometer and tachometer setup.

But Peugeot being Peugeot, nothing is entirely conventional - on the tacho the needle moves anti-clockwise while the speedo reads in the opposite direction, meaning the two needles converge as you speed up - an odd sensation when you first notice it.

The 5008 is offered in three trim levels - Allure (from $42,990), GT Line (from $46,990) and the GT tested here - with a choice of 1.-6-litre turbocharged petrol in the lower specs or a 2-litre turbo diesel, available only in the GT. They are coupled to a competent six-speed auto with paddle shifters.

We drove the 5008 in its optimal GT form - meaning a bit more style and a higher level of specification for its $52,990 price tag. That's a decent ask for a car that sits in this part of the market, but there's no doubt it feels and performs like a premium European offering.

Standard equipment in the flagship model stretches to autonomous emergency braking, 360-degree parking cameras, speed sign recognition system, lane-departure warning, and blind spot alerts - as well as a long list of premium luxury features including leather trim (stitched in a stylish diamond pattern), panoramic sunroof and Apple Car Play.

There's also a feature called Amplify - which controls the cabin ambience with scent piped into the air conditioning system, as well as mood lighting and a massage function in the driver's seat.

There's a cool-looking electronic gear-shifter, as well as electronic park brake. One bugbear was the push-button starter, which required a longer-than-normal push before it would kick the engine into gear.

The Peugeot's diesel drivetrain, delivering a useful 135kW and 400Nm, is a bit of a Jeckyll and Hyde proposition. In normal mode it's smooth and reasonably responsive, but hardly inspiring.

However by selecting Sport mode, the performance is immediately dialled up a notch or two, complemented by a rorty, artificially generated exhaust note, thanks to a speaker placed within the car's exhaust.

We've seen this in other models - including the 308 GT - as well as in Audi diesels with sporty pretences. But quite why they bothered on a car so practical and family-focused as the 5008 I'm not quite sure.

Maybe it's a French thing. Oh well, vive la difference!


HOW BIG? Based on a compact platform, the Peugeot magically seems to become larger once you step inside. It will seat seven, and legroom for the third row can be expanded by sliding the middle row forward.

HOW FAST? Even in sport mode it's no firecracker - taking about 10 seconds to rumble its way up to the speed limit, although it feels a bit quicker than that. It's also responsive enough in city traffic and makes a very relaxed cruiser for longer trips.

HOW THIRSTY? The diesel tested here manages a frugal 4.8L/100km - terrific economy for a car capable of carrying seven.

HOW MUCH? A premium price for the flagship GT model at $52,990, although it packs in substantially more features than the two lower-priced turbo petrol models. Overall it seems like solid value for a beautifully designed and finished machine.