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Peugeot’s Instinct concept car is its vision of an autonomous near-future

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The French manufacturer’s latest concept isn’t as wildly futuristic as earlier creations — and that’s the point

Over the decades, Peugeot has earned a reputation for developing zany concept cars, like the Jetsons-like 1986 Proxima, the rocket-shaped Asphalt, or Moovie — an urban two-seater that looks more like a computer mouse than an actual car. The French manufacturer's new Instinct concept, unveiled at Mobile World Congress today, doesn't look as wildly futuristic as some of its previous creations — but according to Peugeot’s design team, that’s exactly the point.

"In the future, maybe you will have cars that can be only autonomous, and it will be forbidden to drive anymore,” says Matthias Hossann, head of concept car and advanced design at Peugeot. “But this transition will be very long, and what we wanted to illustrate here is part of this transition, because this will take time.”

“This is a bridge, and it’s something that we would like to push for the future,” Hossann adds. “That’s why we didn’t create something that looks like a UFO.”

The Instinct is certainly a nice looking car, and the design of its interior seems particularly clean and intuitive. But like many other connected car concepts, so much of its promise — the idea of cruising around in an autonomous, intelligent remote home that talks to all of your other devices — is predicated on a near-future that is still hard for most consumers to envision.

Speaking to journalists at Peugeot’s design complex outside Paris last week, Hossann said that unlike previous concept cars, the Instinct was designed from the inside-out. The idea is that drivers will be able to choose how much control they want to cede to the car — there are two self-driving modes and two active modes — and that the car, in turn, will be able to adjust its driving based on data collected from connected devices. (The car is designed to integrate with Samsung’s Artik IoT platform.) If you just logged a hard workout on your smartwatch, for example, the Instinct could automatically shift into an “autonomous soft” mode to let you relax.

The plug-in hybrid’s interior design is clean and austere, with a more pared-down version of the i-Cockpit that Peugeot first announced in 2010. The steering wheel and gas pedal are both retractable, and the center console consists of a large screen and an “i-Device” — a small, mouse-like handle that drivers can use to adjust interior controls or switch between driving modes. The floors are finished with a thin concrete layer, and its four seats are made of 3D mesh that is designed to adjust to the contours of a passenger’s body.

The Instinct’s exterior is a combination of sharp angles and curves — the company says it was inspired by its “great coachbuilding tradition” — though it wouldn’t look entirely out of place on roads today. (It’s about the same size as Peugeot’s 308 hatchback). The car’s large, five-spoke wheels convey a powerful aura (it makes 300 horsepower), and there are colorful lighting flourishes under the grille and taillights. An air duct system has also been subtly integrated into the car’s body for enhanced aerodynamics.

“When you see a car with aerodynamic features, it looks like add-ons put on the car, so it’s difficult to have something simple and really elegant,” Hossann said.

The Instinct will make its official debut at the Geneva Motor Show next month, though Peugeot says that the technology underpinning the car likely won’t enter production until 2025 at the earliest.

Unlike more far-reaching concepts, the Instinct wouldn’t seem out of place on roads today.
The four-seat car features several lighting flourishes under its grille and rear.
Peugeot says the interior was designed to provide passengers with the space they may demand in a more autonomous future.
The Instinct is about the same size as Peugeot’s 308 hatchback.
Photo: Peugeot
Linear patterns are a recurring theme throughout the Instinct.
The car combines sharp angles with gentle curves in a surprisingly unified form.

The taillights adopt the same linear pattern found throughout the car’s interior and exterior.
The car’s Darth Vader-like headrests are made of flexible 3D mesh and leather.
The Instinct’s mesh seats are designed to adapt to the contours of a passenger’s body.
Peugeot has pared down its i-Cockpit interface for the Instinct, though it retains its retractable steering wheel and gas pedal.
A look from the back seat of the Peugeot Instinct.
Drivers can adjust internal controls or switch driving modes using Peugeot’s “i-Device” control.

The car’s large, five-spoke wheels lend it an aura of power.
Peugeot says its latest concept is designed for the near-future, as the industry enters a transition phase between active driving and full autonomy.
Peugeot’s iconic lion logo lights up when the Instinct is in autonomous mode.
The Peugeot 402 Andreau, which debuted in 1936, combined style and aerodynamics to create the “tapered line” that has since become a staple of its concept cars.
Photo: Peugeot
The Peugeot Fractal concept, unveiled in 2015 as a car “designed by sound,” hinted at the experiential design that guided development of the Instinct.
Photo: Peugeot
Previous Peugeot concepts, such as the Proxima (1986), aspired to a more space age future.
Photo: Peugeot
Peugeot says the concept could enter production as soon as 2025.

Photography by Amar Toor / The Verge