This is the Peugeot HX1, a concept car to explore the theme of French luxury. It’s a sleek people carrier with an exquisite cabin, featuring natural oak structures and a slatted roof that casts light and shade across indulgent white leather seats.
The HX1 raises a fascinating question: how did France – home to haute couture fashion and gourmet cuisine – permit the rational, formal Germans to define and monopolise the luxury car? It’s not that France doesn’t periodically try to do premium: the Citroën C6, Renault Avantime and Renault Vel Satis are recent and engaging attempts at Gallic luxury. Which all flopped.
Peugeot HX1: a very Gallic concept car
Peugeot’s Frankfurt show car is reminiscent of the Avantime in particular, that four-seat coupé with a galaxy’s worth of space. The HX1 is the length and width of Mercedes’ R-class MPV, but it stands only marginally higher than Peugeot’s own RCZ coupé. The HX1’s long, low interior volume is optimised for four seats, though a middle row of perches can slide out from behind the front seats to accomodate six people. A daft compromise: the HX1 is all about two rear passengers luxuriating in the same legroom as a Maybach 63 limousine.
Per Selvaag, Peugeot’s head of advanced design, is a thoughtful and opinionated commentator. A Norwegian national of Chinese descent living in France, Selvaag has a clear mission for his latest concept car. ‘I’m trying to tell the world something about Peugeot as a brand. It’s a condensed version of Peugeot’s direction, a signal of our thinking, a marker: design direction, architectures, customer reaction – there are so many things we can gauge.’
Pegueot: up or down?
Peugeot, like all mainstream car companies, is a determined social climber, desperate to boost its brand image and drive up its list prices, euro by euro. The HX1 is a small chip in this game. Selvaag wants the HX1 to capture the attention of Vogue readers as well as CAR readers, so there’s a tie-up with couture shoe designer Pierre Hardy, who commissions Italian artisans to forge his one-off designs. The ex-ballet dancer has created collections for Hermes and Dior, so he epitomises French luxury.
Hardy has designed a ‘concept shoe’ which dovetails with the HX1’s theme of duality and adaptability. The shoe is in two parts: a comfortable slipper perfect for heel and toeing, which slips into a towering edifice for teetering into a Sir Elton John gala night. Similarly the HX1 is adaptable: flaps between the spokes in the 21-inch wheels fold out to smooth air flow, while the rear spoiler can alter its position to reduce drag, increase downforce or act as an air brake.
This duality continues inside. The front seats have a different beige and grey leather colour scheme, and the environment is stripped back and driver-focused – compare that with a Porsche Panamera’s button-strewn definition of luxury. In the white-coloured rear, centre console buttons control lots of gadgets, and there’s a pampering coffee machine and minibar.
Peugeot HX1: very French luxury
‘What does French luxury smell like, feel like?’ asks Selvaag. ‘The French can have pizazz, flamboyance and energy. This project is to show French premium is different to any other premium.’
The use of materials is imaginative. Blocks of oak form part of the door structure, pierced by fibreoptic cables to ooze warm light, and Carrare marble adorns the rear compartment. And with the glass roof now commonplace, Selvaag’s team experimented with a slatted headliner, pouring light and shade into the cabin for a unique ambience.
HX1 is the fourth concept of Peugeot’s new design era, which kicked off with the beautiful SR1 roadster in January 2010. The HX1 features the floating grille, sculpted surfaces and boomerang rear lamps filtering through to Peugeot’s production cars.
‘Our form language will be consistent: you won’t see fish one year, fowl the next,’ says Selvaag. ‘The SR1 was our blueprint, which we are looking to expand. We want to show it applies to other architectures: HR1 or EX1 or SXC. These cars illustrate its flexibility, and ram home the viability of our current design language.’
Peugeot HX1: another hybrid
Peugeot-Citroën’s Hybrid4 drivetrain – exclusive to the French for now – powers the HX1. Up front, a 204bhp 2.2-litre diesel engine turns the front wheels, while a 70kW hang on electric motor spins the back axle. Total output of this four-wheel drive system is 299bhp. The new development is plug-in capability: the lithium-ion battery pack can be charged from the mains for an 18.6-mile electric range. Combined fuel consumption is calculated at 88.2mpg, with 83g/km of CO2.
With its novel powertrain, a sleek but muscular form and a beautiful cabin, the HX1 is a luxurious one-off. Could it become a production car to give France a successful premium challenger? The C6 and 607 were too unremarkable to crack the German saloon hegemony; a wonderful idea like the Avantime was hamstrung by terrible quality. But their failure doesn’t mean all French premium cars must fail. The Espace, S-Max, Scenic and Touareg have all proven that fresh concepts or high quality, desirable products in unretrenched market segments can succeed.
Imagine reclining in the HX1’s rear seats, sunlight dancing across your face, swept along on a supple French suspension. That experience would eclipse any feeling that the Mercedes R-class and BMW’s 5-series GT can offer. Neither of those Germans are world-beaters. If anyone is going to crack the luxury people carrier niche, it should be Renault, Citroën or Peugeot. Because as Per Selvaag says: ‘Nobody can beat the French at being French.’