The French do many things well. Most of them go without saying, and include wine, food, and fashion, but also lesser-known things such as architectural engineering and aerospace. On the opposite end, there are a number of things that the French do poorly, including war, sanitation, and worst of all, automobiles. Of all the countries I have visited in my 31+ years of life, it does seem to me that the one country most hostile toward the automobile is France.
The worst (for an auto-phile like myself) is that for French industry, government, and citizenry this is quite acceptable. French industry is of course centrally to blame for the problem. The continually hire managers from the country’s elitist schools, but too often those managers lack automotive experience and passion for the vehicles. You can just imagine product-planning meetings where the CEO demands, “Mon dieu! But I want it to look more like the Eiffel Tower and it must smell like a baguette!”
Granted, I have not yet driven a Bugatti Veyron, and perhaps I never will unless I can find someone so distinctly wealthy and gullible that for a moment they take leave of their senses and hand me the required keys to operate one. Yes, in fact the car requires two separate keys to operate at top speed – how French is that? Nevertheless, my point is I have yet to drive, in all my years, a French car that I would call “good,” or “fun.”
I also have not driven one that I would say had a “normal” or passable transmission. No, in my experience, if it is French and it is automatic, the car will not be persuaded select a gear in a timely manner, or if I am lucky enough to be driving a manual, the clutch always seems to be wonky or the gear pattern seems on a stroll of the vineyards of the great Bordeaux wine region.
And then the Peugeot 5008 people carrier? Well, it is in a class of its own. Never before have I driven a car that featured a transmission designed to behave as a player piano. It is as though a little old man were taking note of when I requested a gear shit, and slowly got up out of his chair, picked up a hammer and began pound at the gears to get them to move, until finally, voila! An upshift!
Hesitancy in the gear shifting is just one of the most annoying quirks, and is about as much fun as listening to Mitt Romney prattle on about his business career or Paul Ryan about his budget figures. As for the steering, the 5008 has fantastic steering – for a cruise ship. The Peugeot I got must have been upgraded to include the Nautical Package. The problem with this numb, disconnected steering is that while it might work well for the long, straight interstates of America, I drove it in Ireland. And if you are not one who has enjoyed the opportunity of driving on the green island, let me assure you it is not a place where the road works crews have utilized modern technology to tunnel or obliterate the land to create long, wide motorways capable of high speeds. Rather, the roads everywhere were twisty and slow, and always wet.
Irish roads are far from perfect (but that is for another article), and bearing that in mind, automakers really need to tune their suspensions to allow for this kind of “off-roading.” I mean really, I have seen better suspension in golf karts. Indeed, I had the misfortune of taking the 5008 to the west of Ireland where some of the roads seem to run straight into the lochs (that’s “lakes” for the American readers). I sat in the back to relax and stretch out a bit while my father took over the driving, and I must say the ride from the back nearly left me in hospital. It had been awhile since I have actually hit my head against the roof of a car, and I’ll be damned if it didn’t hurt the first few times. After that, I must have been smacked unconscious because all I remember after is waking up in the idling 5008 surrounded by what must have been 40 or 50 sheep. Yes, ok, I was counting sheep. Ha HA!
So, I left Ireland with a sore head, a stiff back, a numb ass, and a general sort of malaise, and I don’t think it had anything to do with the country’s debt problems or the mutton. Rather, it had everything to do a little Peugeot 5008 that seems to have lost its way across the Channel. Anyway, Peugeot 5008? What kind of signifier is that anyway? I suppose it is the number of Euros it should sell for, but that would valuing it far above its worth.