Crossovers: So over.
For some years now, there has been a modest but persistent sentiment amid the European motor industry’s think tanks that the current wave of CUV crossover popularity would eventually peak, there being a point after any new fashion takes hold of the public consciousness, long after the early adopters have moved on, when what had once been eagerly sought becomes tired, saturated, passé.
PSA’s Maxime Picat of was of this view as far back as 2016, when he posited the idea of a post-CUV future, a viewpoint which was greeted with a certain amount of derisive giggling behind the bikesheds at the time. Two years later in 2018, his successor, Jean-Phillippe Imperato, doubled down on this assertion, suggesting that a shift could begin to become apparent within five years. That would have brought us to 2023 under normal circumstances, but very little in the auto universe these days can be described as such.
Memories are long here at DTW-central, and it was to the statements of these two industry leaders from what has become the French arm of Stellantis that your correspondent turned in the wake of two recent product announcements, in the form of Peugeot’s 408 and Citroën’s ë-C4 X. These two models, if we are to take the respective press releases seriously, would appear to represent their respective carmakers’ first significant production attempts at putting this putative post-CUV thinking into practice.
First over the transom is Peugeot’s 408, dubbed by its maker as “the first of its kind“. Sharing the core EMP2 (Efficient Modular Platform) platform and running gear with the (fairly) recently announced 308 model, the 408 straddles both 3008 CUV and 508 saloon in overall dimensions, using the same extended wheelbase basis as Citroën’s recently added C5 X model, allowing for a more generous rear compartment.
Designed under the leadership of Project Design Director, Pierre Paul Mattei and attributed to Kevin Goncalves, the 408 carries styling themes familiar to Peugeot’s double zero crossover range, yet is considerably lower, more rakish and dynamic in appearance. This dynamic character, wholly apparent in the car’s surfacing, graphics and its comparatively low-roofed, broad-shouldered stance is somewhat at odds with its mission to offer a commodious cabin – a requisite for the Chinese market where it will also be offered.
The slightly awkward looking rearward-bias which was deemed acceptable in the Citroën C5 X was clearly not to be countenanced at La Garenne, being masked in the 408 by some clever tromp l’oeil detailing, aiming to pull the eye away from the height of the rear deck. The level of stylistic detail on the 408 is striking and while Peugeot’s current styling theme certainly remains a matter of taste, in Sochaux’s defence the current cars are cohesive and when viewed in three dimensional form, usually quite convincing.
Meanwhile from Vélizy, the first Citroën design to be carried out under design chief, Pierre Leclerq’s direct oversight has landed. The ë-C4 X (it’s a bit of a mouthful, isn’t it?) is the work of Citroën designer, Sylvain Henry and is described by Citroën’s press team as “a cross-segment design that combines the elegant silhouette of a fastback with the modern attitude of an SUV, whilst maintaining the timeless refinement and spaciousness of a four-door model“, which is as nice a line in meaningless PR waffle-gabble as you are likely to read this year.
Identical to the hatchback C4 model from the C-pillar forward (both employ the group’s B-segment CMP (Common Modular Platform), the extra length resides aft, with a flowing semi-fastback tail and tellingly, a separate boot – a requirement in certain markets where this car will undoubtedly replace the somewhat aged C-Élysée model. Leclerq cites the ë-C4 X’s dynamism and proportions, but in profile one instead detects a tail-heavy, somewhat unbalanced design – one that while reasonably executed overall (assuming you accept Citroën’s current more is more design theme), results in something that amounts to a good deal less than fascination.
Frankly, three volume saloons have never been Citroën’s metier, and the ë-C4 X seems likely to further this less than happy tradition. Remarkably, it is to be offered in UK (and one would presume Irish Republic) markets from 2023, where one can easily envisage showroom traffic being about as laboured as its nomenclature – or delivery times for that matter.
What seems clear from the relative design leaders for both cars is that while the 408 was part of the programme from the outset, the ë-C4 X appears to have been something of an afterthought. In either case, this shows. Both cars proport to offer something new and to a certain extent – notwithstanding the fact that others have ploughed similar furrows in the past – perhaps they do.
Both speak to a putative market who appear to have lost interest in the saloons and hatchbacks of the past, and to a (mostly) ageing European demographic cohort who appreciate the additional height on offer and have little interest in the minutiae of chassis dynamics or the malign affects of unnecessary height and unsprung weight upon stability and ride. Both cars seek to appeal to a section of the market who either wish to move on from the crossover (the early adopter contingent) or have proved resistant in the first instance.
Here, Peugeot’s press release allows the lion out of the bag, so to speak. “Most of the new Peugeot 408’s customers will be active couples, who will use their car for personal and professional purposes. Some will want to move upmarket within the C-segment and buy a larger, more spacious car. Others will be looking for a more original and innovative silhouette than a more common or family-oriented compact SUV. And others will appreciate the stature of a large car. All of them will be looking for a contemporary motoring experience, whether for everyday use or for long, comfortable and peaceful journeys with others“.
And this here is perhaps the key phrase: ‘Contemporary Motoring Experience’.
The ever-quotable Linda Jackson, now CEO of Peugeot, had this to say: “At Peugeot, we believe that life is better with allure”. Now of course, even stopped clocks can tell the correct time, and I think it is fair to suggest that Peugeot have been for some time now the most cohesively reinvented of the former PSA brands, with the most resolved visual theme – one which perhaps most closely resembles that of Lexus in that it is strongly expressed, yet disciplined, despite its often liberal use of pressings and articulations.
What Sochaux seems to be aiming for with the 408 is in essence quite good business. Leveraging the marque’s newfound position as being amongst the closest in transaction prices to that of VW, ultimately aiming for the top end of the C-segment – the metaphorical launch into ‘white space’ and one, should sales projections prove justified, likely to be profitable indeed.
Earlier this week, speaking with journalists, head of strategy at Citroën, Laurence Hansen pointed out: “when you challenge the norm, sometimes you do success and sometimes you do failure.” Hansen also suggested that future Citroën’s would embody “a touch of humour, a touch of fantasy”. Which brings us rather abruptly back to earth and the ë-C4 X (it’s really not getting any easier to say), and while you search in vain for signs of risk taking, humour or fantasy for that matter, at least the market for a car such as this is known and quantifiable. But on a macro level, one must conclude that the double chevron is still casting about for a coherent narrative.
Are we approaching peak-crossover? It would be a brave individual indeed who would currently stick their head above the parapet and suggest such a thing – especially in the current climate. For now, it certainly would appear that people cannot get enough of the things. But nothing is forever, and a shift of sorts will come eventually. Meanwhile for better or worse, the opening salvo of the former PSA’s post-crossover fightback are revealed and to these eyes at least, they look a good deal like crossovers extant. Allure seems awful familiar, don’t it?
 CEO of Peugeot in 2016 . Today Picat is Chief Global Purchasing & Supply Chain Officer at Stellantis N.V. Jean-Phillippe Imperato, meanwhile, is CEO at Alfa Romeo.
 Or would be but for the fact that Citroën’s range now consists almost entirely of faux-crossovers of one sort or another.
 Rear legroom is more generous than that of the 508.
 The closely related C4 hatch was already complete when he arrived.
 UK market ë-C4 X models will be offered as EV only. Combustion alternatives can be pre-ordered in other markets.
Sources: Media.Stellantis/ Lignesauto.fr