Quentin the Peugeot 3008 in St-Clément-des-Baleines on Ile de Ré.
Officially unveiled at the Paris Auto Show in October 2016, the second generation Peugeot 3008 then gave me mixed feelings that were swiftly brushed off by its win of the 2017 European Car of the Year trophy. Since, the 3008 could almost be singled out as the sole responsible for returning the PSA Group to profitability – and above archenemy Renault in market value for the first time since 2009, leaping from one sales success to another. It climbed to #4 at home in France as early as January 2017, peaking at #2 in May 2018, nabbed the outright best-seller spot in Spain in September 2018 and cracked the European Top 10 three times, in February, July and September 2018 when it became the continent’s best-selling SUV outright. Adding its 7-seater twin the 5008 to the sales equation uncovers even more impressive sales feats, such as the unofficial #1 spot at home in France during 5 of the past 10 months (as of end October).
Our itinerary for Part 1 takes us from Paris (outside the map north) to Bordeaux.
Here at BSCB we always endeavour to test drive the best-selling cars around the world to try and uncover the real reasons behind their success, and choosing the 3008 for a week-long spin in both France and Spain, the two countries where it has been the most successful so far, was therefore a no-brainer. This test drive took place at the height of European summer during the last week of July, braving the tourist crowds in what are the two most visited countries in the world: France with 82.6 million annual visitors and Spain with 75.6 million. A courageous feat indeed, which will take us from Paris towards the French Atlantic Coast, wine country near Bordeaux, the French and Spanish Basque regions, Navarre, Cataluña, Central France and back to Paris. It’s in the Poissy PSA factory west of Paris that I take delivery of a 3008 Allure BlueHDi 130 6-speed manual in Magnetic Blue valued at 34.350€ (US$39.200). After Mikey the Tesla Model X, Natasha the Toyota C-HR, Omar the Toyota Prado and Pasha the Toyota Land Cruiser, we need a male name starting in Q as this is a crossover, which has a masculine gender in my native tongue, French. I can never stray too far from these ingrained perceptions even though I have been living in Australia for over 15 years now… The 3008 is French, we are in France, so Quentin it is.
Good: the GPS shows diesel prices in each nearby petrol station…
Before we get into the thick of the start of our French exploration, let’s record my very first impressions as I take the wheel of Peugeot’s best-seller. First an incredible surprise: the GPS features on the map the price of diesel (as this is a diesel model) in every nearby petrol station. I hadn’t heard of – let alone driven – any car offering this service before and was certainly not expecting it. It’s simply a game-changer and instantly creates a human-machine complicity where the 3008 ensures you always pick the cheapest price for petrol, a hot topic in France as diesel prices have increased a whopping 25% since the start of the year. The digital, personalised dashboard is very impressive and genuinely transports you into the premium universe: I had a hard time convincing myself that I wasn’t in an Audi, which says a lot about Peugeot’s stunning progress with the 3008. The surprisingly small steering wheel fast becomes second nature and makes you feel like you’re driving a Formula 1 car, quite a feat for an SUV! The experience is so intoxicating that getting back to traditional steering wheels afterwards feels like driving agricultural machinery… My automotive journalist friends told me I’d be bluffed, and even though I had never been a fan of French cars I have to admit: I am bluffed by the 3008 indeed.
Bad: impossible to read cruise control commands…
There are negatives though – no car is perfect! – and pretty dumbfounding ones at that, especially given all the attention paid making the 3008 a truly sophisticated experience. The driver’s seat being manually adjusted with a unsightly metallic bar does feel like 1988 all over again, at a time when even 5.000€ Chinese cars offer electric seats. Unforgivable in my opinion. But the most frustrating feature of this new gen 3008 has to be the cruise control wand, completely hidden from view behind the steering wheel whereas it should be in plain sight on the wheel like on the Volvo XC40 which we will test drive shortly. What does it mean in real life? Simply that on the highway – basically the only time you actually do need the cruise control feature – the only way to get a look at and understand the intricate options the wand offers is to turn the wheel 90 degrees (yeah, can’t do that) or to stop and look at it. Even then, you will always be blind when manipulating as there is no way to catch a sight of it from a driving position. The actual words on my voice memo for that day were: “I don’t understand how they have managed to f&[email protected] this up so much”. Couldn’t have said it better. I still love you very much Quentin, but you now have some very precise pointers for your mid-cycle upgrade.
Tintin’s Château de Moulinsart is based on the Cheverny Castle.
Our first stop for the day is 200km / 125mi south-west of Paris in the Loire Valley to admire the Cheverny Castle, located only 18km / 11mi from the legendary Chambord Castle. According to the Lonely Planet, this is “perhaps the Loire’s most elegantly proportioned château, the perfect blend of symmetry, geometry and aesthetic order” as well some of the most sumptuously furnished rooms anywhere in the Loire valley. Built in 1624 by Jacques Hurault, the château and the domain that surrounded it before its construction have been almost continuously owned by the same family since the second half of the 14th century, that’s over 600 years! Although I concur on all of the above compliments, the main reason I wanted to visit Cheverny is because it is the model (bar the two outward aisles) for the famed Château de Moulinsart (or Marlinspike Hall) in the Adventures of Tintin of which I am an absolute fan since childhood. According to Tintin’s Belgian author Hergé and as explained in The Red Rackham’s Treasure, the castle was built by an ancestor of Captain Haddock, the Chevalier François de Hadoque, a ship-of-the-line captain in the French Navy under King Louis XIV… I must say I much prefer the castle’s fictitious origins…
Château de Chenonceau
A mere 40km / 25mi southwest is enough for us to be able to indulge in a second Château de la Loire on this trip: Chenonceau, in my view after Chambord the most stunning Château in the whole of France – and perhaps the world alongside Bavarian Neuschwanstein Castle… With 850,000 annual visitors, Chenonceau is deservedly the most visited castle in France after Versailles, but also the most visited private monument in the country. Built in 1514-1522 on the foundations of an old mill, Chenonceau’s unique claim to fame is its 1556-1559 extension into a 3-level bridge spanning the Cher river and featuring large galleries. It is as spectacular and breathtaking “in the flesh” as its description lets you imagine, with the surrounding gardens and bucolic river offering the quintessential experience of a Château de la Loire.
The car landscape of La Rochelle
It is now time to speed through the next 300km / 190mi southwest to the town of La Rochelle, nicknamed La Ville Blanche (the White City) due to its luminous limestone façades. La Rochelle was one of France’s foremost seaports between the 14th and 17th centuries illustrated by its formidable collection of lighthouses, and the early French settlers of Canada – including the founders of Montreal – departed from here in the 17th century. La Rochelle is not just white, but also very green, with Renault Twizy spotted on the harbour (as pictured above) and an electric car-share service called Yélomobile offering a fleet of Citroen C-Zero for just 3€ an hour. Time to do a quick update on the cars I’ve seen on French roads so far: after a 9-month absence from France, I was stunned to notice a fast-evolving market with the 3008/5008 tandem by far the most frequent car on the road, the new generation Citroen C3 now clearly established (except in Paris where it is oddly replaced by an over-represented hybrid Toyota C-HR), and new gen Duster and T-Roc were spotted after only a couple of hours of driving in the south of France.
Ile de Ré snapshots, including a pristine white Citroen Méhari and 24/7 oyster market.
The following day we are headed towards the Island of Ré, linked to the continent with a spectacular bridge, a flat spec of sun, salt and oyster farms on the French western coast. Packed to the brim in the middle of Summer holidays, the island has crown the bicycle king of its roads, making it adventurous to cross it by car: streams of bikes rushing from hidden angles put me on edge for the entire duration of my stay there. At the northwestern tip of the island lies the romantically baptised St-Clément-des-Baleines (St Clement of the Whales) where I took the hero picture in this article. The parking lot to the missing pedestrian-only link to its famous lighthouse was intimidatingly filled with vehicles, so the Island would almost exclusively be explored by car. Very frequent here is the legendary Citroen Méhari (see above), an open-top off-roader with a plastic body built from 1968 to 1988 at 145.000 units. The main entrepreneurial find of the island is a 24/7 oyster market complete with sealed and refrigerated containers, different varieties and quantities of oysters, lemon and opening knives. Perfect!
Quentin meeting the locals in the Marais Poitevin
We are now retracing our steps towards the continent and before heading towards wine country and Bordeaux, we make a pitstop in the Marais Poitevin marshland nature park. I will admit that I spent the best part of an hour chasing various tractors to achieve the photo above, taken near Cramchaban. Quentin and I venture through intricate rural roads, woods and alongside canals, visiting quiet and quaint villages such as Saint-Hilaire-la-Palud, la Gaie Fondue, Frontenay-Rohan, Coulon and Arçais. In this part of France, Citroen is extremely strong and seems to have been for a long time given the various generations still present in the marshland. I spotted many C4 Picasso, Xsara Picasso and C1 but also, a somewhat logical evolution in this wealthy region, a couple of all-new DS 7. As is the case in most of rural France, the Dacia Duster is everywhere, especially the entry-model with grey bumpers.
Quentin on the Royan ferry, in Château Pichon Baron, Château Ducru-Beaucaillou and Pauillac.
Next we take the ferry to cross the Gironde Estuary from Royan to the amusingly-named Pointe de Grave (Serious Point) and Quentin is unleashed into the world-famous winemaking region of Medoc just northwest of Bordeaux. I’ll cut to the chase: travelling through the region is a fascinating experience that I strongly recommend doing. I had the pre-conceived idea that this area had just a few world-reknown wineries but that was about it, whereas in fact the official Medoc 2018 Wine Guide lists no less than 165 different wineries in the Medoc region alone, the majority of them starting with “Château” simply because there is a castle on the winery premises: it’s not just called this way to make it sound grandiose, and most villages sport no less than 5 or 6 different Châteaux wineries of their own! Among the most famous you will recognise Château Margaux, Ducru-Beaucaillou, Mouton Rothschild, Latour and Lafite Rothschild. Did I get to taste some wine while I was there? Unfortunately not, because even though the Medoc marketing might is impressive (see free pamphlets and maps pictured above), actual visits must be booked well in advance and in any case, all Châteaux are closed between 12 and 2pm in the midst of peak touristic summer season! Yes, parts of France are still trapped in the 20th century…
Both the Peugeot 3008 and Bordeaux’s the decanter-shaped La Cité du Vin museum were born in 2016.
The last stop of this Part 1 of the Peugeot 3008 takes us to Bordeaux, 730km / 450mi from our departure point in Paris. As you will know by now after numerous test drives across Australian deserts and a couple of cross-country U.S. adventures (here and here), big cities are not my forte, but it would be a serious miss to avoid the 5th largest metropolis in France after Paris, Marseille, Lille and Lyon at roughly 800.000 inhabitants. The centre of town is a large, recently pedestrianised area that is also Unesco-listed, making it the largest urban World Heritage site in the world, and peppered with quirky installations such as the Miroir d’Eau (Water Mirror) and the strikingly two-dimensional Sanna rusty sculpture pictured above. Bourgeois apartment buildings, old-school Mercedes, a modern tramway, the imposing 2016 decanter-shaped La Cité du Vin museum and of course – and finally! – some well-deserved wine tasting made Bordeaux a nice pitstop on the way to more beautiful nature land towards the Dune du Pilat…
Stay tuned for the next iteration of this Peugeot 3008 test drive taking us to Bilbao in Spanish Basque country.