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Into the lion’s lair

Into the lion’s lair

Botchi Santos

A new team is out to rekindle the Pinoy motorists’ love affair with French brand Peugeot and its renowned models like the 5008

France, Malaysia and the Philippines. Three countries brought together, strangely enough, by the most unlikely of automotive brands. Peugeot, purveyors of some of the finest, yet quirkiest automobiles, wants to shed its decidedly French-centric image and present itself as a true global citizen that’s perfectly at home on the Champs Elysee in Paris, as it is on the very busy and upscale Bukit Bintang district in Kuala Lumpur, and finally, the ultra-hip high streets of Bonifacio Global City.

Some of the world’s biggest and most iconic fashion houses are very much French in origin: Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Christian Dior, Chanel. They all have resolutely French origins, but their appeal is very global. You’ll see their wares being strutted by well-heeled fashionistas from Singapore, Shanghai, Tokyo, Los Angeles, New York, London, and South Africa. Universally loved anywhere and everywhere, Peugeot aspires to do the same with a revitalized line-up that’s competitively priced, putting it squarely on the radar of people looking to buy a typical mass-market crossover.

These are lofty goals from a very traditional, very conservative French company which originally started making salt shakers and pepper mills way back in 1810, followed by hand tools, kitchen aids and implements, before venturing into bicycles and even had a stint making firearms. At the Peugeot Museum in the brand’s spiritual home in Sochaux, a quaint town outside of Paris, you’ll see everything Peugeot ever built or ventured into, a testament to the brand’s pioneering spirit. Coincidentally, the Peugeot factory alongside it is France’ second most technologically advanced and highly automated factory, trailing only behind the Airbus factory in Toulouse.

Peugeot as a brand is also another name that has delved heavily into motorsports. While fellow French brand Renault has made a name for itself in Formula One, Peugeot and its corporate sibling Citroen have both made for themselves a legendary reputation in the grueling stages of the World Rally Championship where it has 48 outright victories, and the iconic Dakar long-distance cross-country rally raids where it bagged the top spot four years in a row from 1987 to 1990.

This year alone, Peugeot is re-entering the World Endurance Championship, with their cross-hairs aimed squarely at Le Mans 24 Hours overall victory in the Hypercar Class to battle with Toyota, Glickenhaus, Alpine and eventually, Porsche, McLaren, Audi and Ferrari. Peugeot itself is no stranger to Le Mans, having won the French Classic three times in 1992, 1993 and 2009.

Under new management headed by Stellantis N.V., the rejuvenated French brand has been busy, finding synergies with its new American (Chrysler) and Italian (FIAT) siblings. In the Philippines, the brand has also been relaunched under a new distributor, Astara (formerly Berge’ Auto), one of the largest automotive distributors in Europe and Latin America making a huge push into Asia, starting in the Philippines as a solid foothold in the Asean region.

And what better car to spearhead Peugeot’s resurgence in the country than the 5008? It represents the motoring zeitgeist to a T, being a 7-seat crossover SUV that has the ground clearance and ride height to tackle typical Philippine roads, whilst delivering the joie de vivre of driving that eludes many of today’s four-wheeled appliances, wrapped up in a design that is unmistakably French in origin, yet universally appealing?

A little trivia: the previous 5008 was originally an MPV (multi-passenger/multipurpose vehicle). The modern MPV is a French invention, as it was the country’s local brands who originally came up with an MPV formula that soon saw the rest of the world copy it way back at the turn of the millennium according to anecdote. It’s smaller than the traditional American minivan, allowing it to comfortably fit tight European inner city streets, more car-like than the Asean AUV for the fast and wide highways and by-ways of Europe, more maneuverable than an ungainly SUV, and delivered versatility in its interior seating and cargo layout which soon became the norm in this segment.

But the world wanted more than what a traditional French-centric MPV could offer, hence Peugeot wisely evolved the 5008 into the 7-seat SUV that it is today, while still delivering the MPV values it helped establish.

The 5008 is powered by a 1.6 liter turbo high pressure (THP) gasoline engine that delivers 163 hp and 240 Newton-meters of maximum torque, driving the front wheels via a 6-speed automatic transmission. The Peugeot i-Cockpit, together with its unique low-mounted steering wheel gives a very relaxing driving feel, perfect for a long stint behind the wheel or after a hard day at work. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto mobile phone connectivity are available via the 8.8-inch LCD screen and two USB outlets ensure your mobile devices are always topped-up.

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At this point, it is easy to dismiss everything I’ve written as mere lip service to the brand. But bear with me, as I promise that my experience with Peugeot and its cars are more than skin deep. I was fortunate to have attended the global launch of Peugeot’s 5008, 3008 and Traveller at the Paris Motor Show back in 2016. From Paris, Peugeot brought us to Sochaux, to see the first batch of 2nd generation 3008s being assembled. From Sochaux, we proceeded on what remains to be the most epic road trip in my life, crossing the border to Neuchatel in Switzerland, then criss-crossing back to Chamonix, France, before finally ending up at the beautiful Modenese countryside in Northern Italy over a period of four days full of driving. Autoroute, Autostrada, mountain passes, old farm roads, deserted forest trails, you name it, we passed it. I drove the new 3008, a pre-production 5008, the Traveller, and lastly, the previous generation 2008. And everything was just epic: the roads, the scenery, the company, and of course the cars. Even when my traveling buddies all fell comfortably asleep and snoring blissfully inside the Traveller, thanks to its business class style airplane seating, I was having the time of my life driving a mini-van through the Swiss countryside, depending down to Lac Leman. Few other mass market brands have ever delivered such an exhilarating driving experience as Peugeot.

Surely, all this goodness comes at a premium, and for the longest time, that has put off many a potential Peugeot buyer, as the cars and parts would ship directly from Europe, increasing both the cost of ownership and the potential downtime waiting for parts. We owned the previous French-made 5008 and while it never gave us any serious problems, there were some parts that had to be ordered and took roughly 60 days before they arrived in the country. Thankfully, it didn’t keep the car off the road.

But thanks to Astara’s stewardship of the brand, the prayers of local Peugeot fans have been answered as the 5008 and the next models to be launched from now on will be sourced from Gurun in Northern Malaysia, which lowers logistics cost, and benefits from the Asean Free-Trade Agreement. The 5008 starts at a highly competitive P2.260 million, putting it in contention with the likes of the Mazda CX-5/CX-8/CX-9, the Honda CR-V diesel and presumably the upcoming Toyota RAV4 HEV and the KIA cross-overs. Long-term, future buyers can be assured of a fast and steady supply of parts coming in from Malaysia, which can only bode well overall for the brand. And for the highly-competitive price of P2.260 million, you get premium-car features such a 7-seater compact SUV that has six airbags as standard, ABS brakes with traction / stability control, rear parking sonar sensors, ISOFIX child seat tethers, a full leather interior, a panoramic glass roof which delivers on the drama and ambiance and as mentioned previously, a driving experience that is second to none.

If the 5008 is this competitively priced, then the 3008 and 2008 is expected to be even more accessible to a bigger market, putting the brand right smack in everyone’s top-of-mind. That is the magic of the French: they can make the most normal, ordinary things feel special, upscale and premium. The relative rarity also helps with its mysterious aura, although Peugeot PH wants to remove much of that rarity and mystery, to show that entering the lion’s lair that is Peugeot ownership is not a risky proposition at all.

It’s the best time to be excited and get a test-drive scheduled quick. With a planned seven new dealerships opening over the next few months, a revitalized Peugeot brand will become much closer to its owners than they could ever think.