Multi-purpose vehicles such as the Peugeot 5008 are big in Europe but shunned in Australia.
A full 30,000 compact SUVs were purchased locally in the first half of 2013, compared with just 3690 people-movers. Sub-$50,000 MPV seven-seaters are partially unpopular because most manufacturers won’t bring their offerings here – we miss out on the Ford C-Max and Volkswagen Touran, among others – and therefore in a self-fulfilling prophecy they cannot be popular.
Yet, arguably, they are mostly unpopular because MPV models lack the high driving position and tough looks of an SUV. How else can it be explained why a family car buyer would pick a Peugeot 4008 SUV with just 384 litres of boot space and a fixed rear seat, when for around the same money a Peugeot 5008 with 679 litres and seven seats that flip and fold can be purchased?
At least the mini-MPV is making a resurgence in terms of availability, if not sales, with the arrival of the Peugeot 5008 within weeks being followed by the Opel Zafira. The Fiat 500L Living is also being considered to join existing rivals such as the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Prius V.
For $36,990, the 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol Peugeot 5008 is stacked with more equipment than any compact SUV.
As standard it includes: 17-inch alloy wheels; panoramic glass sunroof; rear view camera with parking sensors; twin rear DVD screens with Bluetooth headphones and RCA jacks; satellite navigation; dual-zone climate control with separate fan speed adjustment for rear vents; automatic headlights; and electrically-folding door mirrors. The only thing that’s optional is leather trim to wrap around the seven seats.
In addition to offering more kit for the cash compared with even highly specced compact SUV models, the Peugeot 5008 also offers fine space utilisation.
With a stubby bonnet helping contain overall length to 4.5 metres, the Peugeot 5008 packs seven seats in without too much of a squeeze.
The middle row includes three individual seats, each of which moves forward and backward independently. The base of each can flip up into the backrest, or each whole pew can fall flat into the floor.
Likewise the two rearmost seats easily acrobat their way into the boot floor.
Sliding the middle row forward expands boot space from 679L to 723L, while folding all seats down, a massive 1754 litres is available.
The front passenger seat backrest can even fold flat to create a seriously long load area.
There are a couple of issues with the design of the 5008, however.
The sunroof means headroom in the middle row is very tight, even for this 178cm-tall tester. A compact SUV such as the Volkswagen Tiguan, for example, offers a more comfortable rear bench and lots more rear legroom and headroom.
The far back seats are a kids-only affair, meanwhile, though tiered seating means the view is good for toddlers. If all seven seats are in place, there is nowhere for the retractable cargo blind that sits behind the middle row to be stored.
Up front, the seats are comfortable, there is a massive centre console storage bin, and the plastics quality is decent. Visibility either through the large windscreen or the square glasshouse behind is also first rate.
On the downside there’s only a single cupholder and the layout of buttons on the centre stack are not the most ergonomic. The sat-nav functions need to be accessed through the small, fiddly single-DIN radio, for example, while the trip computer modes can only be accessed via the end of the indicator stalk.
The 5008 shares its interior design with the 3008 half-MPV, half-SUV, which itself is four years old. In many ways, the design feels its age.
The Peugeot 5008 also weighs 1568kg, or about the same as a comparably priced compact SUV. Except the front-wheel-drive 5008 gets only a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine producing 115kW of power at 6000rpm and 240Nm of torque at 1400rpm.
This isn’t a lot for any car playing in the $30-40,000 bracket, let alone an MPV with the ability to seat seven.
Yet the engine itself – shared with the Mini, of all things, in addition to several other Peugeot and Citroen products – is an absolute delight; keen, willing and sporty.
It simply struggles with weight, as an unladen 0-100km/h claim of 11.1 seconds clearly shows.
More tellingly, the six-speed automatic transmission frantically searches to find the right gear to provide decent acceleration, proving at times smart, but in other cases ditzy and overdramatic.
It intelligently holds lower gears on light throttle, for example, but it won’t go back a gear or two when braking downhill or for a corner, even in Sport mode. It will, however, then aggressively surge back through the ratio set when the throttle is prodded. It is also prone to hold onto a lower gear for too long before finding a taller one, which affects engine refinement levels.
Optional for $3500 is a 2.0-litre turbo diesel that provides an extra 5kW and 100Nm, while decreasing consumption to a claimed 6.3L/100km.
It will no doubt boost the 5008’s driveability, though it does come at a cost, and the 0-100km/h run stretches to 11.8 seconds.
The petrol claims 7.6L/100km, but we got 10.3L/100km on test, without any passengers on board.
Ride quality is more troubling than fuel use when it comes to the Peugeot 5008, however.
Although based on the Peugeot 308 hatchback, the suspension rates in the 5008 are so tight it feels as though it has commercial van origins. Over seemingly smooth roads the ride feels lumpy, and constantly restless, but bigger hits even sends shivers through the body.
Over one particularly large bump, the stability control light even flashed, panicked by the Peugeot’s own inability to properly absorb the bump.
The upside to tight suspension rates is decent body control and reasonably keen handling, at least for an MPV.
The Peugeot 5008 sits flat in corners and grips well, though its actual chassis balance is unremarkable and its lack of power further limits its appeal to any buyers with half an eye on rewarding country drives.
The steering surprisingly comes good in corners, though, proving quite direct and mid-weighted. We say surprising because around town the steering feels vague in slight maneouvres and slow when attempting to park, making the car feel bigger than it really is. Only when lots of lock is being applied does the steering feel reasonable.
In areas not specific to a mini MPV, the Peugeot 5008 has weaknesses.
Its small engine struggles with weight and the ride quality is below average. Its dash layout isn’t ergonomic, and the sunroof hinders rear headroom.
For interior flexibility and standard equipment for the price, though, the Peugeot 5008 joins the rest of the mini MPV breed in providing a smart option for families not fixed on an SUV.