IAIN ROBERTSON 

Peugeot

Peugeot

Seldom has Iain Robertson felt so alienated by one single motorcar (perhaps a pair), as he has been by the latest crop of SUVs (3008/5008) from Peugeot, a carmaker he once revered for its Gallic conservatism, yet design excellence.

Beauty is subjective. We all recognise that fact. What appeals to my eye, might make you retch. Yet, automotive design has a defined role to play. By rote, it must attract, perhaps even cause a ‘double-take’. However, it needs to display balance between engineering purpose and organic, natural influences. Nature is all-enveloping and provides an infinite store cupboard of both form and function, from which any intuitive designer can draw, often without fear of unwarranted repetition.

However, while form is important, so, too, is function. The motor industry provides its own limits, the parameters within which each model type should comply, in order to remain competitive in a shark tank festering with dimensional rivalry. Each brand pretends to be amiable but, in reality, they are hotbeds of envy and each wants to retain an edge, while attempting to foster degrees of cooperation, to develop loyalty and encourage some ‘Wow!’ factor. It can become a striking di-, tri- and multi-chotomy of confusion, although reversion to type, perhaps even ‘safe ground’, is always an option open to the most perceptive of design bosses.

Peugeot

Peugeot

Peugeot of late has become ‘Bling Grand Central’; a ‘plastichromer’s’ delight, with magpie detailing taking precedence over subtler nuances. For some inexplicable reason, Peugeot determined that mirror finishes would create appeal, forgetting in the process that they do not reflect the brand image a single iota. Like the ‘Ugly Sisters’’ looking glass, they only reflect the image of the beholder, which can be terribly biased.

Peugeot was an innovator. Look back at the Sochaux-made 402 Darl’mat Decapotable, of 1938, the first truly dual-purpose car, by which hardtop became open top at the depression of a button. Reflect on the pretty and compact 205 of 1983; it was good enough to be declared a ‘Car of the Decade’. Contemplate the role of the Farina-styled 404 of the 1950s, or the 504 of a decade later; these models became African stalwarts, as popular and durable and repairable in their own colonial ways as the Morris Oxford/Isis became on the Indian sub-continent, morphing with ease into the home-bred Hindustan Ambassador.

Peugeot became a corporate beast with the formation of PSA Groupe. Its absorption of Citroen, a brand for which innovation was both its repute and self-destruction, may have been a French government-fostered error of judgement and led to its 1990s’ loss of purpose. Peugeot was desperate to be different. It perceived that it had to be, to differentiate it from a potential badge-engineered watering down…but with misdirected bling and detailing change-for-change’s sake?

Peugeot

Peugeot

‘Camaleo’ was an expensive marketing misjudgement by Peugeot. Introduced as a cost-effective but profits-generating personalisation (trim) programme for the sliding-door 1007 model, it was simply a waste of effort, not dissimilar to the firm’s ‘automatic atmosphere/perfume dispenser’ system, for which very few customers ever purchased replacement scent capsules. Not merely in my view but one shared by other critics, the much-vaunted ‘i-cockpit’, with its diddy ‘gamer’s’ steering wheel and instruments occasionally visible above the tiller’s upper rim, has been explored in various mildly altered forms since its 2010 concept and first appearance in the new Peugeot 208, launched two years later. It may work for some consumers but does not deliver for many others.

Well, ‘i-cockpit’, despite its promise of future fractal developments, is installed in virtually all Peugeot models, in the process insisting that you MUST become familiar with its reverse sweep rev-counter needle (graphic, or not), wrong-sided speedometer, row of ‘piano-key’ switches and compromised, wheel-in-lap driving position. Change-for-change’s sake. It also greets the driver in the new 3008 (and 5008) SUVs.

Yet, it is the spangly, chrome peppered, show-shovel grille, with its deep diving LED-DRL lamp signature alongside, on the truly messy snout of both 3008 and 5008 models that defy their relative popularity. The front-end of the 3008 looks more like an Essex girl’s nightwear blouse that may have been bought at the local TKMaxx, for wearing with torn jeans. While appealing to the appalling chav set, it denies the consumer an opportunity to tone it down a touch. It is an ugly mess.

Peugeot

Peugeot

However, that ugliness extends to the ‘cat’s claw’ taillight units that stretch the cliché to new and, as yet, undiscovered limits. I had believed that the Groupe’s semi-hived off DS brand was the harbour for swivelling, rotating, revolving and largely unessential…subsequently problematical…illumination devices. Is it not bad enough that replacement headlamp units can cost a grand a corner these days, without adding to the repairer’s nightmare and the consumer’s/insurer’s on-costs?

Yet, pivoting on Essex girl stilettos also seems to highlight the high-riding stance of the 3008 and its ‘bigger brother’ 5008 too. While SUVs can be truly difficult to brand differentiate, so similar are so many of their styling details and profiles, just being different surely does not involve ignoring all aspects of organic outlines? In one/two swoops, Peugeot has managed to produce a pair of the most ungainly and ungodly SUVs currently on sale. Apart from the ruddy annoying dashboard, the interiors are modestly accommodating, quite comfortable and present fairly well but you do spend more time looking at, rather than driving your SUV, and feeling the need to puke, without inebriation, is a talent I had believed was the preserve of the original Nissan Juke.

However, behind every cloud…Peugeot has managed to dispense with the extra, low-set front foglamps that were invariably incident-prone, utilising some of the internal LEDs, mirrors and switchable potency of the main headlamp array and incorporating them within the main pods. They are switched on automatically, when the rearguard foglamps are deployed. It is a clever touch but it does not save the 3008, or 5008, from the poor sales response they deserve. Yuck!

Conclusion:       Peugeot needs to get control. It requires a fresh design brief. It must reflect on a magnificent French past and ignore what its Chinese masters believe make cars great!

Peugeot

Peugeot