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First drive: Peugeot gets it right with 2008

Coming soon: Peugeot has gotten a lot of things right with its chic new 2008 crossover.

Peugeot’s baby 2008 crossover has the smarts to shine despite drivetrain shortfalls

22 Apr 2013


PEUGEOT will get a jump on the growing horde of coming baby SUVs with an earlier-than-anticipated Australian arrival of the 2008.

To be priced from around $24,000, the 208-based crossover will launch in October with 1.6-litre four-cylinder engines in VTi petrol or HDi turbo-diesel configurations.

Yet the newcomer may even kick off from as low as $21,000, if importer Sime Darby decides to take the tiny 1.2-litre three-cylinder VTi unit. A decision has not yet been finalised.

However, automatic transmission availability will be limited to the 1.6-litre VTi to begin with – and that’s an old four-speeder at that – as Peugeot scrambles to complete a new family of transmission developed with ally General Motors.

Furthermore, no four-wheel drive versions are planned for now, though an electronic stability control-based front-wheel torque vectoring option, known as Grip Control, should see the 2008 amble through some mild mud, sand, and snow scenarios.

This lack of auto options is likely to hurt Australian sales, which would be a shame, since our early time with the chic little crossover on its home road in France left us impressed.

Belying its maker’s well-publicised financial troubles, the 2008 combines a flexible and classy cabin with a welcome dose of driveability – a return to ‘Frenchness’, if you will.

Unlike with the old Outlander-based 4007 and continuing, ASX-derived 4008, there is no Mitsubishi Motors involvement with the 2008, meaning it is a 100 per cent pure Peugeot effort.

Essentially, the 2008 is the replacement for the slow-selling 207 SW wagon, and represents a crucial move by its financially strapped parent to find new buyers in emerging markets in Asia and South America.

Development commenced in early 2010, while the small crossover’s small-SUV styling was completed by September of that year in Paris, before tellingly being wheeled out as the Urban Crossover Concept in Beijing last April.

Peugeot’s headquarters in Paris led the project, which involved 400 people and cost over €400 million to materialise, but there was significant investment in the Chinese and Brazilian plants that will also produce the 2008. By 2015, annual production is expected to eclipse 200,000 units.

Basically, this is a re-bodied 208, but is slightly larger in most key dimensions. Length/width/height and wheelbase measurements are 4159/1739/1556/2538mm respectively Sitting on the same transverse engine/front-wheel drive P1 platform, the 2008 adopts typical SUV styling elements to differentiate/defeminise it from the pretty and pert hatchback models.

These include a raised (by 25mm – to 165mm) ride height, blacked-out lower body extremities, squared off wheelarches, a ‘roof wave’ to give the cabin the impression of more height, integrated roof bars, chrome trim, floating grille, and LED daytime driving lights.

“The first sketch was almost perfect,” said Peugeot’s head of design, Gilles Vidal.

The 208 connection is much more apparent inside, though the loftier seating positions, taller turret, deep side windows and elongated rear continue the crossover cues.

Specific 2008 details include blue lighting for the instrumentation and (optional) glass roof surrounds, LED roof track lights, and an ‘aviation’ style manual handbrake, as part of a redesigned lower console area.

Strangely enough, they all go a long way in making the Peugeot crossover feel more like an SUV than its sum of parts suggest anyway.

First impressions of the mid-spec Allure interior are positive, with more than usual front-seat legroom, plenty of headroom, a roomy back seat area, heaps of in-car storage solutions, and a low, long and wide cargo floor that shames many larger hatchbacks. The split/fold rear seats fold down flat at just a push of a button too.

The 2008 may have replaced the 207 SW but its forefather’s wagon DNA seems to have filtered through.

More thumbs up go to the panoramic front vision afforded by the 208’s basic dashboard architecture donated to its bigger brother, aided by a deeper than usual side glass areas, for an upbeat airy feel.

The instrument dials are almost at road-level height and easy to see the steering wheel is set down low every important switch is within easy finger reach and the aircraft-style handbrake is a welcome relief after so many electric buttons infiltrating modern vehicles.

The French ergonomists that have made the 208 a bit of a modern little masterpiece inside have worked their magic in the 2008 as well. Yes, it still feels narrow and compact like an urban crossover should, but you’d never call the Pug cramped.

Minus points include the lack of overhead grab handles, and front seat cushions that some might find a little flat. Otherwise, the 2008 offers one of the smartest bit of SUV packaging out there.

Applying much of the 208’s lightweight thinking (which saw its mass plummet compared to the portly 207 predecessor thanks mainly to shorter overhangs and lighter materials), kerb weights range from 1045kg for the 1.2 VTi to 1180kg for the most powerful 1.6 HDi.

The expected bestseller will be the 1080kg, 1598cc, 1.6-litre VTi – producing 88kW of power at 6000rpm and 160Nm of torque at 4250rpm, while delivering 5.9 litres per 100km (auto: 6.5) and 139 grams of carbon dioxide emissions (auto: 150).

With the four-speed auto unavailable for us to test at the 2008’s global launch in Alsace, France, we drove the five-speed manual version first off.

Unsurprisingly, this petrol powerplant – shared with some BMW Mini models – needs a bootful of revs to perform – the official 0-100km/h time takes 9.5 seconds. The rather rubbery gear lever is not much fun either, requiring some precise shifting between the fourth and fifth ratios.

But the engine always feels and sounds smooth, with a bit of an energetic rasp audible around the 4500rpm mark. It likes to swing well past the 6200rpm red line, pulls strongly as long as your foot is planted on the gas pedal, and had no problem hauling a couple of hundred extra kilograms of ballast along some beautifully mountainous terrain we encountered.

Happily for the French, the news just gets better, for the electric power steering system is truly one of the best in an SUV application out there, providing easy low-speed manoeuvrability with progressively weightier firmness when velocities increase.

Make no mistake. The 2008 is a joy to punt along, tipping into turns quickly, slipping through the corner calmly, and exiting them again with confidence and composure.

We’re not just talking about slick dry rural roads either. We sampled some dirt and gravel, as well as wet surfaces, and the petite crossover impressed us every single time. Peugeot’s engineers seem to have found their handling and roadholding mojo again. Who’d have expected it in something like this!There’s little doubt the 2008’s lightweight chassis has more than a little to do with it. There just isn’t the weight and inertia found in other such vehicles. It is astounding to learn that the most rudimentary MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear lurk underneath, for this is the little French SUV that can.

It’s enough to make you forget about the meagre power and disappointing automatic situation.

But even the former is surmountable here, thanks to the other engine confirmed for Australia – the 1560cc 1.6-litre HDi.

Driven in 84kW (at 3600rpm) and 270Nm (with 285Nm at 1750rpm available in short bursts) e-HDi specification, complete with Start/Stop technology to help it achieve an astounding 4.0L/100km and 105g/km rating, this common rail turbo-diesel is the engine to have.

Not only is its six-speed manual slicker and more pleasurable to row along, the deep well of low-down torque on offer soon has the 2008 diesel bowling along (after a sluggish 13.3s 0-100km/h acceleration time), thrusting forward with just a tickle of the throttle once on boost.

Despite the unavoidable diesel thrum, the e-HDi rarely raises a sweat, maintains most of the petrol version’s front-end alacrity (despite weighing 100kg more overall), and stays just as cool and collected around the bends.

We’d go diesel every single time even though the ride is also a bit less supple – we suspect there are firmer spring rates at play though nobody at the Peugeot gig could confirm that, since it combines acceptable rolling performance with superb driveability.

Our only issue is that the electronic stability control failure light kept coming up, reminding us that the French may still be some way off of achieving Japanese and South Korean levels of reliability.

On the second day, we drove the 60kW/118Nm 1199cc three-pot petrol five-speed manual unit.

Offering a 0-100km/h dash time of 13.5s, 4.9L/100km and 114g/km, we found the 1045kg lightweight surprisingly eager, spirited, and refined along the flat urban roads, but really lacking once inclines and extra weight are added unless the driver is willing to rev it mercilessly.

Yet, strangely, the 1.2 VTi doesn’t really seem the lesser vehicle for offering such a little powerplant.

As with all the other models we drove – and the 208 GTi earlier in the day – it is further, compelling evidence that Peugeot may have finally rediscovered how to make its cars flow through corners while riding better than the opposition.

There is a Frenchness that has returned, a suppleness and pleasure that long-suffering marque enthusiasts will rejoice in.

And that’s ironic, because the 2008 is one of the last-ditch efforts for a struggling Peugeot, with its back against the wall financially, haemorrhaging billion of Euros, while trying desperately to stay relevant in a fast-evolving world.

For its frisky competence and intelligent packaging, we forgive the 2008’s lack of modern automatic and strong petrol engine at launch – but please don’t keep us waiting too long for them, Peugeot, because our patience may run out.

In the meantime, we hope the customers see past these foibles too, because your bold new crossover is worth it.

We eagerly await to drive the 2008 on Aussie roads.

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