Are there three more depressing letters in the motoring lexicon than MPV? Of course, there aren’t. And not for the first time we can blame the French. Back in 1984 Renault decided that what the European car market needed most was a family cattle truck with the kerb appeal of a skip that handled like a fridge-freezer mounted on a roller skate. Upon its release, the original Espace was greeted with widespread horror and in the first month of production, guess how many sold? Yes, you’re right. it was nine.
Drawn in by its fibreglass body, galvanized steel chassis and vast cumbersomeness, this was a vehicle perfectly suited to practically minded families who considered procreation a competitive sport. Jeremy Clarkson once claimed that he would rather have a vasectomy than an MPV – and most car drivers agreed.
And yet in no time at all multi-person vehicles began spreading like a virus and selling like hot gateaux. Chrysler gave us the Voyager. Citroën, Fiat and Lancia made hideous contributions. And eventually, even Volkswagen and Mercedes felt they needed something in the sexless of all sectors. Which brings us on to Peugeot’s best offering, the 5008. The original was launched in late 2009 at the same time that the French manufacturer promoted style-conscious car designer Gilles Vidal to the role of design director.
Vidal promised a new generation of groovy Gallic designs, of which the original 5008 wasn’t quite one. It was a little futuristic, but the bottom line was it remained a somewhat lumpen people carrier. But Vidal had big plans for it, principal among them to swap a couple of vital letters: au revoir, MPV; bonjour, SUV. The result is the new and vastly improved 5008, a stylish seven-seater that children (and adults) won’t be embarrassed to be seen in.
And it has its work cut out. The large and affordable SUV market is a tough playground, with the Škoda Kodiaq, Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento all making strong demands for your pocket money. But the 5008 is a serious alternative. A bigger, bolder and more imposing version of the hugely successful 3008, the 5008 looks and feels like a proper SUV and yet offers the – whisper it – practicality of an MPV. It doesn’t come with all-wheel drive, but what it lacks in off-road ability it makes up for in nimble handling and serious levels of comfort. It is quiet, makes motorway cruising pleasure and if you are feeling frisky there is a “Sport” button that will liven up proceedings (but not too much).
Inside, the i-Cockpit is a stunning place to sit. Neat, modern and minimal, there are two screens and an array of analogue buttons that work intuitively with the digital dials. The dash, seats, and surroundings feel suitably slick and substantial and, thanks to the driving position and the panoramic sunroof, it is a light and lovely place to be.
The 5008 has loads of space inside, but from the outside looks smart and even a bit sporty. Keep the spec upgrades to a minimum and you get a lot of car (parking sensors, reverse camera, 18-inch alloys, and ambient lighting) for a very reasonable amount of money. But if you want gadgets and gizmos (a powered tailgate, a serious stereo, and keyless entry) they won’t break the bank. No wonder the 5008 has been picking up awards left and right over the past year.
“We want to create exciting-looking cars with strong personality,” explains Vidal of his biggest baby. “When you look at the car from 100 metres, the shape should be super obvious and super simple. When you get closer, say ten metres, then you start to see more details and gain a second level of understanding.”
By turning the 5008 from an MPV into an SUV, Peugeot has made a big, boxy seven-seater “people carrier” cool. I suppose we’d have to blame the French for that too.