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Car reviews - Peugeot

Our Opinion

We like
Sharp handling, refinement, entry price, comfort, cabin practicality, chic styling
Room for improvement
Limited drivetrains, transmission choices, no overhead grab handles, firm/noisy ride on Outdoor’s 17-inch wheels

7 Oct 2013

AS A car-maker, Peugeot has been fighting in the trenches longer than anybody else this side of Mercedes-Benz.

Before the Golf, before the Beetle, before World War Two, before World War One, even before Australian Federation, its vehicles have been around.

Yet, with the new 2008 sub-compact SUV, it is still a surprise to find the 131-year-old mingling at a party that has only just started (though Suzuki’s trendsetting SX4 has been sending invites out since 2006), looking this trim and terrific.

Obviously, over the years, Peugeot has learnt from many – though not all – of its most common mistakes, like waiting far too long to react to shifting consumer tastes (especially with the original wave of SUVs).

Hence the 2008’s timely arrival, here right now hot on the heels of the Holden Trax and even before the (uncharacteristically tardy for Nissan) Juke’s protracted local debut.

Now, we drove the 2008 in France back in May, and came away feeling warm and fuzzy over its abilities in areas where SUVs usually leave us cold – namely its chassis balance, steering sharpness and interior packaging.

The latter, in particular, practically floored us, actually.

Peugeot’s decision to cut overhangs, push the windscreen forward, and raise the rear half of its newcomer’s roof section has resulted in an incredibly spacious vehicle considering its 4.15-metre footprint. Four taller-than-average adults will easily fit.

Only the 2008’s comparative narrowness betrays its baby-car underpinnings.

While still inside the car, we applauded a noticeable uplift in build quality, enjoyed the panoramic views afforded by the vast windscreen, deep side windows, lap-lapping steering wheel and high-set instruments, and praised the supportive and comfy seating.

Basically, the Pug SUV felt and behaved in a very car-like manner. That’s what you get when you base your crossover on the very lithe and lively 208 – the real comeback kid for the brand. In fact, they share 67 per cent of parts, though none you can spot from the outside.

But France is not Australia, especially in the road department, so here we are again, this time in and around Canberra, to see how the marvellously designed 2008 behaves from behind the wheel Down Under.

There are basically four variants to choose from for now, and none of them will fill spec trawlers will excitement – a 60kW/118Nm 1.2-litre three-cylinder manual, 88kW/160Nm 1.6-litre four-cylinder manual and automatic, and a 68kW/230Nm 1.6-litre turbo-diesel manual.

The 1.6L petrol duo will account for about 75 per cent of all 2008 volume, Peugeot reckons, so we’ll begin with the anticipated more popular choice, the four-pot petrol auto – which kicks off from $25K.

The good news is that its BMW-designed naturally aspirated ‘Prince’ engine is a smooth and willing performer across a wide rev range, offering more than sufficient poke for the everyday schlep.

The bad news is that neither the four-speed automatic nor the five-speed manual transmissions do this modern powerplant justice.

Frankly, we doubt most people will even notice that there are just four forward speeds in the auto, since it picks up quite smartly from standstill, flicks through each ratio fairly imperceptibly, and is geared up top to feel relaxed on the freeway. Don’t forget that most small cars up until recently sufficed with similar trannie speeds.

But the peace is broken the moment you need to overtake, with abrupt and noisy downshifts accompanying the feeble momentum increase that ensues. No doubt the lack of ratios also hurts fuel economy too (on 95 RON premium unleaded at that).

“Obviously a company as old as Peugeot should know better!” you might exasperatedly remark. Believe us, it does. Until the 208/2008 arrived it faced ruin, was bailed out by the EU, and is now in bed with fellow basket case General Motors Europe to fix the myopic thinking that led to inadequate decisions like four-speed autos in the 21st Century.

Rest assured. From 2015, new-gen tech arrives.

In the meantime, though, our advice is to choose the auto only if most of your commuting is around town or in the inner ‘burbs.

The manual is much better on the open road – though inexplicably fifth gear nears a noisy 3000rpm at 110km/h so beware – in that the driver can better exploit the engine’s performance potential.

But the shift lever feels long and rubbery and not that pleasant, and after a while it occurred to us that city folk might actually prefer the easier auto.

So that’s three quarters of 2008 buyers catered for, then. Too bad they’ll miss out on the superior powerplant choices.

That’s right. The fringe-dwelling $21,990 (plus on-road costs) Active 1.2L VTi three-pot petrol manual opener that barely 10 per cent of you will buy is a little bombshell.

Tipping the scales at a featherweight 1045kg, it features a lively engine that simply gives its utmost in terms of performance and refinement.

Backed up by a light and easy five-speed manual gearbox, it zips along eagerly – even with two people and the air-con on. Yes, the driver needs to keep on it rev-wise, but that’s no hardship when the drivetrain is as sweet and spirited as this.

We don’t deny that hilly terrain with a full load will expose the meagre outputs on offer, and even Peugeot admits 100km/h will take an epochal 13.5 seconds to achieve, but in all honesty the smallest engine feels faster and fruitier than that. It’s a fab little trier.

As we said all those months ago back in France, it is also the nicest to punt through fast corners, since the aforementioned quick steering, sporty chassis, and strong brakes provide what must be one of the most fun SUV driving experiences around today.

And – as with all 2008s – it will surprise and delight those who appreciate composed body control and fluent dynamics. This little crossover speaks to enthusiasts in a way no SUV this side of a Ford Kuga can.

Anyway, moving on, annoyingly, Peugeot continues to be its own worst enemy, for back in Europe we found the uprated version of the optional turbo-diesel – with an 84kW/270Nm 1.6-litre HDi and a six-speed manual gearbox combo – to be the best because it provided the effortless torrent of torque that the 2008’s superior chassis craves.

And, guess what? We’re not getting it.

Unfortunately the French won’t build this engine and gearbox in right-hand drive configuration for Australia, so we’re stuck with the lower-powered eco-minded 1.6L e-HDi unit instead.

Still, it remains the pick of the local drivetrain choices, especially if you do plenty of open-road driving or need to carry a load of people and packages since the e-HDi’s torque delivery comes on early and strong, but – again – the five-speed manual shifter is a ratio short of ideal. Who makes these crazy spec decisions? Plus, there’s a fair bit of road noise intrusion and a firm ride on the 17-inch wheels this model comes with.

On the flipside, the e-HDi engine is a low-emission champion amongst SUVs, returning an exceptional 4.0L/100km on the combined average fuel consumption test, so buyers needing a frugal crossover that’s fun to scoot about can do a lot worse than this – if they don’t mind changing gears.

By the way, diesel is only offered in the current range-topping Outdoor variant costing $32K plus on-roads. That’s deep inside larger compact SUV territory, Peugeot! Note, too, that like all 2008s it is front-wheel drive only, has very limited track/light snow/shallow sand off-road applications, and offers no automatic option of any variety.

This is so frustrating because the 2008 is so very nearly a great car.

In fact, it’s so good we’re going to give a damn and proffer this advice to Peugeot in France and Australian importers Sime Darby.

The pricing needs to be $2K cheaper across the board – because most Aussies will see the fine naturally aspirated 1.2L manual Active model and scoff get those new-gen turbo petrol and diesel engines ready and over here post haste and hurry up with the fresh GM autos already!In the meantime, if you’re willing to bargain down, there are real gems in the 2008 range for everybody to enjoy, especially in the areas of interior packaging and driver appeal.

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