Better With Allure

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[1] 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[2].

Sharing a platform with the 408 – 2021’s Citroën C5 X. (c) uk-media.citroen.com

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[3].

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.

Image: Autocar

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.

Citroën ë-C4 X. Image: (c) Media.Stellantis

Meanwhile from Vélizy, the first Citroën design to be carried out under design chief, Pierre Leclerq’s direct oversight[4] 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[5] 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’.

Something almost Alfa-esque about the tail treatment. Image: Autocar

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.

Peugeot 408. Image: (c) Media.Stellantis

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?

[1] 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.

[2] Or would be but for the fact that Citroën’s range now consists almost entirely of faux-crossovers of one sort or another.

[3] Rear legroom is more generous than that of the 508.

[4] The closely related C4 hatch was already complete when he arrived.

[5] 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

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

33 thoughts on “Better With Allure”

  1. Interesting article, Eoin. Thank you! I truly hope we are at peak CUV / SUV. Never have I understood a car segment less. As an Espace 4 owner, I can appreciate the virtues of a higher seating position, which is so often used by owners of CUVs and SUVs to justify their popularity. But most of the time it’s nonsense, particularly in town : just how is one supposed to “see over the tops of other cars” when everybody has an SUV and is sat at the same height?

    These types of vehicles are too heavy, too wasteful of resources, and to cap it all are mostly incapable of doing the whole “rugged, outdoor lifestyle” thing that Marketing has sold us as their raison d’être. The Peugeot and Citroen above don’t convince me at all. Introducing fastback rooflines to this segment doesn’t change anything. It’s just more porcine lipstick.

    What this segment needs is the radical application of the Lotus / Alpine A110 “less is more” design philosophy. Downsize, pare back the excess weight. Save hundreds of kilos of steel. Drop the height, enlarge the windows (please!), give us sensibly sized, properly lightweight alloy wheels. It’s a virtuous circle. Resource requirements are lowered, energy is saved, dynamics are improved. There is no downside!

    But I know I’m just whistling in the wind, sadly.

    1. BMW had done this SUV fastback thing before with their X 6 GT, one of the ugliest cars available.

      I don’t like SUVs either but they are no worse than other nonsensical trends in the industry. An SUV has the same frontal area as an MPV which is another useless category that thankfully was short lived.
      And unnecessarily tall standard cars like Peugeot 307 or Golf Mk5/Golf Plus aren’t that much better.
      In the end it boils down to the aggressive looks of SUVs which make them a love or hate affair.

  2. I just wanted to write something about the awful large lion in the Peugeot’s grille and then I recognised they have a new logo which looks very similar to the one I remember from the time I was young and the 404 was a new car.

    And then I remembered they had relatively large full lions on ‘05-series’ cars and started to look for Peugeots with only the lion’s head in the grille and could not find one.

    At least the current logo looks much more attractive as the ugly boxer-like lion they had before.

    1. Dave, sorry, but I have to disagree about MPVs. They differ from SUVs in that they are inherently fit for purpose. Within a given wheelbase, no other vehicle type is as space-efficient. My Espace is incredibly versatile. Totally modular, I add or remove seats as required. I decide what I need. How many vehicle types give you that freedom? If I need a seven-seater, it’s 5 minutes work. Likewise if I need a van. I’ve saved many hundreds of Euros in van rental over the last couple of years, moving houses. In addition to its practicality (and I can’t speak for all MPVs, but in the Espace at least) the overall experience is far superior to any SUV I’ve driven. It drives reasonably well, I get an easy 40 mpg, and above all the feeling of airiness and space thanks to the huge glasshouse is in direct contrast to the claustrophobic tank-like SUV experience. I sincerely think the MPV was a true innovation. In contrast, I feel the SUV is fundamentally a charlatan.

    2. The size and color is driven by the need to mask the cameras found under the badge.

    3. I agree with ric. Mpv and suv have different concepts. Mpvs have a lot of inside space and normally more space for luggage in comparison to other cars of the same lenght. Both are disturbing when they are in front of you. Sometimes i find ridicolous suvs on the road with the extra luggage box over the top of the car.

    4. An MPV can either transport the standard number of passengers plus their luggage or two additional passengers and no luggage at all. It therefore can’t do anything a standard estate car can’t do as well or better and you drive around the frontal area of a wall kit with all accompanying negative effects just for the eventual moment when a VW bus or Transit Tourneo would be the better alternative anway.
      The way these things were driven overanxiously most of the time showed that there must have been something fundamentally wrong with the concept. People overtasked with driving an Up! or Corsa in a straight line on their way to the kindergarten suddenly had to get along with bus like MPVs just because the marketing machinery and media had declared the MPV the must have solution for the modern family.
      My theory is that some drivers need to be able to see the surface of the bonnet to be able to drive a car. In the average MPV the bonnet was out of sight no matter how close you sat to the steering wheel or how high you pumped your seat, resulting in feeling unsafe and driving accordingly.
      For me, all this is the very definition of a silly concept.

    5. People who are nervous, novice or simply unskilled behind the wheel will drive poorly, regardless of the vehicle they are in command of. The idea that MPVs are more difficult to manoeuvre than other types of car is a somewhat spurious argument in my view. If you can drive competently, you can do so driving any type of car. MPVs are no more silly than anything else.

  3. Good morning Eóin and thank you for your insights on the background to these new Stellantis models. The 408 is, I think, one of those cars where the designers really ought to have put their pens down a little earlier:

    I really like the silhouette and stance at first glance, but then start to notice the overload of detail. The diagonal creases on both door skins are superfluous and disruptive, and does it really need those additional Peugeot badges beneath the door mirrors? It’s a shame because, for me at least, it’s so nearly a really good design.

    1. Those wheels alone would be enough not to buy that car. What are they supposed to look like? The knives of a food processor or French fry cutter?
      Maybe it would help to design cars that can be identified as Peugeots without badges on the front wings. Like a 504 or 205…

  4. Wouldn’t it be nice if the crossover rage is indeed going to wane? I think I get what Peugeot are getting at with the 408: Whilst the criticism of it differing relatively little from a crossover is valid, judged as a transitional design, it seems quite defensible.

    Am I the only one seeing a hint of Polestar in the 408’s stance? I mean, if you imagine away all the busy detailing (which, by the by, Peugeot seems to do less badly than other marques).

  5. Good morning all. Ric has beaten me to the draw this morning – I’m with him 100%!

  6. Neither of these two products meet my criteria for pleasing design. There´s a shift back to quieter, simpler shapes afoot and Peugeot and Citroen are ignoring it. Both of these shapes need about half the features to be removed. The Peugeot is the bigger sinner of the two – the bodyside seems to have the styling tropes of three cars. I remember having a nosebleed when I saw Opel´s “blade” feature on the Insignia. I got used to it, but it was just one line on the side. Generally, Peugeot are doing okay with their styling but this one is over-cooked. And yes, people ough to look at what Polestar are offering. It´s simple but very effective.

    1. I’ve just had a look at the S40 – I had completely forgotten that they made it. It’s been out of production for 10 years, which is a bit of a surprise. It’s a simple, ‘gentle’ design. Many cars these days look intimidating – I don’t mean aggressive, more that they’ll be headache-inducing to use / look at. That said, I like that blue colour, above.

      The perfume advert with the tagline ‘Where’s my allure?’ Has been running through my head. Where, indeed.

  7. Hi Eóin, is it Citroën easyforks, then?

    If this is the post-crossover future then things aren’t looking bright. The sounds that all the automakers are producing: “upmarket, smaller volumes, larger margins” and the inevitable stress that will create with a car-buying public that isn’t getting richer makes me think that crossovers will be with us for a while yet, either because they provide the highest margins when sold to the happy few who can afford them, or because their life will be extended by the rest of the populace who are unable to afford a new car.

    Anyhow, all of these cars just remind me of the Polestar 2 (née Volvo S40). I’ve still not grown to like the saloon-with-skirts-hiked-up look, even if the design itself is quite neat:

    1. I had a look at Volvo and Polestar´s websites. So, Volvo don´t make an S40 anymore. A parallel innovation is Seat spinning off the Cupra brand complete with its scary bio-hazard-esque logo. Is this abandoning of well-established brands a good idea? Or is it reminiscent of Mazda trying to be Xedos, Honda being Acura and (more succesfuly, Toyota selling cars as Lexus)?

    2. Personally, I’m still struggling with Polestar, but in Cupra’s case, I do see a certain logic: what with the Seat brand being perennially amorphous (one man’s Spanish Alfa being another man’s Southern Skoda – not to mention a peculiar detour into all-monobox territory), Cupra presents the company with a chance of establishing a brand that it’s as inherently compromised.

      Would anyone truly care of Seat wasn’t around any longer?

    3. I suppose the market research people have done their work so it´s hard for me to second guess them. My intuition is that it´d be better to carry on burnishing the brand than starting from scratch. All that´s good in Cupra would still be good without the added burden of introducing a brand with scary graphics. Is it aimed at men who find Tesla and other electric cars a bit too feminine? Its butchness is a bit unappetising for me, to be honest, much like Harley Davidson. It seems a wee bit insecure. The question about Seat: no, nobody would miss it were it to go the way of Rover, Austin and Wolseley.

    4. The contrasting VAG-fortunes of Seat and Skoda are quite interesting. I definitely concur that few people would miss Seat if it disappeared: its mismanagement has been spectacular. Say what you will about VAG, but they generally do brand (or marque) management pretty nicely, I think. I mean that in the sense that all of their brands have a place you can understand, even if said place shifts frequently, but not Seat. Then again I have to agree with Richard about Cupra’s graphics. They always remind me of pre-millenium tribal tattoos, preferably on the lower back.

      Polestar strikes me as a bit of a coincidence: the car that became the Polestar 1 but began life as Volvo Concept Coupé was probably deemed a stretch for the Volvo brand and creating a new brand gave the car and its manufacturer some cover for the inevitably small sales numbers. I don’t think it made much of an impact in any case, even if it’s a lovely design.

      Strictly from the outside, it looks to me like Geely/Volvo then saw a chance to retool the upcoming S40 as the second Polestar and thus create a car with some of the ‘buzz’ (ugh…) of Tesla to have a rival in that market segment. The 2 is marketed as EV-only, but it shares much of its underpinnings with the Volvo XC40 that very much is not EV-only. It certainly was introduced as a Tesla killer, even if that was only implied. After that they just, to employ a colloquialism, ran with it. It’s striking to me that the 2 isn’t as overtly aerodynamic as Teslas and many other EVs but many of the leaked up-and-coming Polestars are. (image: motor1.com)

      https://cdn.motor1.com/images/mgl/YAA64y/s3/polestar-5-patent-images.webp

      I have to say that in the Netherlands, Polestar has quickly become as much of a household name as Volvo, and both brands continue to do well. Is it me, or is Hyundai flip-flopping a bit about making Ioniq a stand alone brand? I seem to remember the 5 being branded as Ioniq only, but more recently as Hyundai Ioniq 5. I might be wrong about that, though.

    5. I think the purpose of Geely establishing Polestar as a separate brand is to facilitate selling direct, bypassing existing Volvo dealerships.

  8. I’ve been trying to fathom out the new Citroën models. It seems that the ë-C4X (terrible name) is identical to the C5X back to the C-pillars, but has a different, more conservative looking rear end with a boot rather than a hatchback:

    Actually, the ë-C4X looks rather like the Polestar 2 from the rear three-quarter view.

    1. The Citroen´s rear lamp looks like it´s a Peugeot part. It has a “tab” cutting into the main shape, just like the outgoing 308 (and I never liked that feature). It doesn´t look like the lamp has two extensions or teeth; it looks like the lamp is partly obscured by body-coloured paint. Anyway, it´s not very good either way.
      Thank you Daniel for revealing the deep-down uninterestingness of the Citroen.

    2. Pedant alert Daniel: The car featured next to the unlovely new ë-C4X is not the C5 X (that’s a larger car), but the current C4. And yes, they’re both identical from the doors forward.

      Pierre Leclerq told Lingesauto that the rear lamp shape was shaped this way to pull the eye forwards. It is intended (I imagine) to fool the viewer into seeing the front and rear volumes as being balanced (when they are not) and to try to mask the heaviness of the boot area. They did not succeed, in my estimation.

      Interestingly, Pierre Paul Mattei was also quoted in Lingesauto saying that the 408’s styling was deliberately over-emphasised and that it was in his view, necessary to do so.

    3. Ah, you’re right of course, Eóin. Citroën really is rattling out new models recently.

    4. Hi Richard, the issue you describe with the rear lamp is exacerbated by the fact that the two ‘teeth’ are actually connected by a crease in the bodyside, making the piece between the teeth look even more like part of the lamp rather than the bodyside:

    5. Oh, no, Daniel. You´ve made it look even worse than I thought it was. Goodness. Do they teach anything of the Gestalt Laws in car design school? The last thing you want to do is to make the “tab” look separate from whatever it´s hanging off. Oh my.
      A small extra thing is the sharp corner where the edge of the lamp is defined by the meeting of the bumper bit and bodyside bit.
      Had the lamp´s outline been such as to include the body-coloured area inside that daft crease it would at least have looked neutral. As it is, it´s the dinner of a hound.

  9. The Citroën in particular reminds me of the Polestar 2, it’s the DLO.

  10. I don´t draw cars so much but when I do I try to avoid fussy shapes. I realise now these cars are precisely the kind of busy and fudged collections of lines that I abandon if they even get this far.

  11. Surely the slogan for this car would be: “the 408, more of what you don’t like” or something similar. I agree with Dave the wheels are horrible. Wheels can be easily replaced, though, the rest of the car not so much.

  12. Just spotted one ec4 black colour. Better looking than the average SUV. Long, big car. Curves add to the visual appeal.

  13. I have just had the very dubious pleasure of renting one of these C4s for the last couple of weeks. The following will doubtless read like hyperbole but represents my considered opinion. This thing is an absolute shocker, one of the worst cars I have ever driven – a sad monument to most everything wrong with contemporary car design, condensed into a single vehicle.

    Let’s start with the good points. The diesel motor was reasonably refined and the ride was acceptable – not exceptional by any means but not a focus for complaint. It is fairly spacious for front-seat passengers.

    This exhausts my discussion of the positives.

    Most everything else was either wilfully poor or unspeakably annoying. Starting with the simple stuff – the boot is a stupid shape so it could only accommodate one large suitcase and a carry-on, when a standard C-segment hatch can take two large cases without drama.

    It has the frontal area of an InterCity 125 so fuel economy wasn’t terribly good.

    Suspension control goes to pieces over 120km/h and it develops quite disconcerting float tendencies.

    Stability in crosswinds is woeful.

    Visibility is diabolical – the view out the rear especially is like peering out of a letterbox, but even out the front it is poor and the fact you sit so relatively far back in the car makes semi-blind junctions a true exercise in prayer.

    The telematics – mother wept, the telematics.

    The touchscreen menus are infuriating.

    The automatic wipers come on with no obvious prompt.

    The automatic lights flick to high beam uncommanded whenever they feel like it.

    The design is hideous.

    The space efficiency is poor given the amount of road space it occupies.

    You sit nominally high but don’t really get a decent view of the road due to the low-ish roof and rubbish visibility, so you lose a major benefit of the step-up position.

    The dynamics are underdone.

    It’s not much fun to drive.

    Traction is notably poor when the front is unloaded.

    The armrests are hard and uncomfortable.

    The Stop-Start system had a mind of its own.

    It has an idiotic ‘sporty’ starter button (which, incidentally, is obscured by the steering wheel) which fails to perform its sole function in life adequately. It isn’t enough to press it – it needs a long press both to start and stop the engine, which gets old very quickly.

    The gearbox is easy to swap into a cog that isn’t the one you thought you were picking.

    It locks itself without warning so I was forever worried I was about to lock the keys inside.

    I have no idea what the list price on one of these is, but whatever it is, I am simply staggered that anyone would consider paying even a tiny fraction of it.

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