Yes Yes Yes oh YES!: tasteful design inside and out, fuel efficient, good quality throughout
Oh dear me no: 4 speed auto, 5 speed manual, lack of get up and go (please sir may I have a turbo), horrible handbrake lever
I have oft pondered the wisdom SUVs. They are big and hard to see round, or through for that matter. Still, Australia is having a love affair with them and it seems there is one for every niche and every disturbing and annoying taste.
I have a slightly mad cousin who has a succession of small Mercs, yet in a fit of insanity, decided a Mazda BT50 would be the next car, and a 2WD one at that. I advised him against it simply because it was not his kind of car. The decision to proceed against my advice is one he now regrets. He says he wished he had followed my sage musings. He says he should bought something sporty, after all, it is what a gay boy does when he reaches “a certain age”, he gets a large paunch and a small sports car.
It is while in the midst of my “sage musings”, that I find myself surprisingly attracted to the 2008, Peugeot’s new mini-SUV. Like most French cars, there are exterior angles that are not as kind as others, but in the main, it is a good looking car, built to a price, and a purpose. It is not the kind of inspiring car that makes your heart leap and bounce with each glance, rather it is a car which is practical and thoughtful. You could use it in town quite happily though I’m not convinced tiny engines with tiny KW’s suit the open road, nor of its off road creds.
The front end has the new corporate look about it. In my experience, corporate front ends can go horribly wrong with grilles and headlights that look either demented or boring. 2008 has a smart chrome grille and headlights with a pleasing shape. They rest over the blackened lower intake and driving light section as if they are meant to be there. It is a nice tight piece of design which really works well. The touches of chrome are also a welcome addition and gives the ambience a touch of luxury. It is like a nice pair of diamond earrings that set off a smart cocktail frock. With them, the frock looks elegant and complete but without them, looks unfinished and a little bit lonely.
As for the frock, it is also quite smart. The metalwork is the auto maker’s equivalent of a quality after-five set off by a spot of stainless steel jewellery. It is modern and relevant, but like any after-five frock, not to everyone’s taste. Mini SUVs can look more like a “people mover” that shrank in the wash, but the 2008 is just right. The upper models get the full glass roof which, sadly, is fixed. This is a “thing” with Peugeot who seem to think sliding glass sunroofs are passé.
Inside, the feeling is one of spaciousness and simple elegance. “Blue” is the word du jour and the 2008 cabin has blue highlights dotted throughout. The instruments and ambient lighting have a soft hew of sky blue. My favourite is the ambient lighting hidden inside the glass roof bezel. At night, it adds the feeling of being inside one of those stretch limos sans champers and bad language. I was trying to imbue a feeling of good taste and quality so perhaps you should forget the “limo” comment.
The various surfaces have a myriad of treatments which can look a bit thrown together but I quite like it here. It is thoughtful and stimulating with the dashboard looking like a cross between snake skin and carbon fibre. Everyone who got in had to touch it, and a few were caught touching it during the journey. I let them enjoy their cheeky pleasure uninterrupted. If I’m being honest, even I had to touch the dash board frequently. It has a tactile desirability about it which I have previously only experienced in leather-clad hyper cars. Those cars have dashboards that cost roughly the same as the entire 2008, so one has to ask oneself if one would want to spend a gagillion bucks just to get jiggy with a dashboard covering, or would a 2008 do?
Before we get to the ergonomics, the seating position must be mentioned. Peugeot tells me they have copped a bit of flak from unkind media outlets about the strange way the 2008 cockpit is set up. Instead of looking through the steering wheel, the dials are all above it. No amount of shuffling about made it otherwise. I made an aside comment to Peugeot that a casual test drive might have made someone feel uncomfortable. One is used to looking through the steering wheel and indeed I didn’t like the new stance at all, not one little bit. After a second drive however, I wondered what I had previously been feeling awkward about. They say that this set up means you don’t take your eyes off the road as much as with a conventional dash. Only a Heads Up Display can really make that claim surely!
As for the rest of the cabin, the driving position is reasonably comfortable even with the strange instrument set-up. With the seat positioned correctly, I had to reach a little to get the manual into 1st but everything else fell beautifully to hand, even the awful handbrake. It would be churlish of me not to explain the handbrake lever in more detail. It is horrible. For the first time in my life I longed for the simplicity of an electric button or conventional lever. This handbrake rivals the unmitigated awfulness of foot operated parking brakes in American cars (and some Hondas) for its ease of use. I shall never speak of this again.
We also should tell the blokes at Peugeot that someone shrank the steering wheel, it’s tiny, but cute.
The infotainment system is fairly easy to use though the graphics might be better off functioning more like a smart phone by giving direct access to all functions on one screen. Although the screen is large enough, the graphics make some of the on screen buttons fairly small. Trying to hit a small area while on the move can be harder than it sounds without the tactile feedback a hard button gives. It’s high time that all infotainment systems were fully user-customisable. There is a new model on the market whose centre stack mirrors the smart phone connected to it. Though one wonders what you do if you don’t have a smart phone, it seems an intelligent evolution. Although the 2008 system is fairly easy to use though I still found myself using Siri to perform the phone functions. I’ve taken to always placing the Iphone in a cradle and using the home button to send and receive texts by voice. I do this when driving most cars as the inbuilt voice functions insist on not working, or confirming details a dozen times instead of just getting on with things. The interface is pretty and although I would like to be able to fully personalise it, it is simple to use with most functions only a few clicks away.
The drive is more rewarding with the diesel up font and is my favourite small Peugeot engine. It is insanely economical and feels like it has endless pull, though all engines feel like they need a good breakfast. Performance has been sacrificed for fuel economy which is most laudable, but if you want to be a trifle more spirited, you may need to look somewhere else. It is about now where I frequently shout “turbo please”.
The choice of transmissions is bewildering, not because of a huge choice, but because of the number of speeds they don’t have. There is a 4 speed auto which, while very smooth, appears to be missing a few cogs and a 5 speed manual is similarly sans the 6th cog. Why oh why oh why? With all but the very bottom of the market, the minimum is 6 speeds for both auto and manual. Some of the posh models have 10 speeds, so 4 and 5 feels a bit mean and so last century. Is it a cost saving measure? If it is, it is a measure too far? Because of this, and the diminutive KW count, you have to work all engines hard by shifting gears often. In the right gear they feel reasonably peppy but you have to keep the Nike firmly on the plush-pile or the power evaporates.
The top model has an optimistic terrain management systems which are apparently very good in soft-roader-type conditions. I am not an off-road driver, but if I was, I’d prefer to be using at least 4 wheels to propel me along. Things tend to go pear-shaped very quickly when there is no help around and all of the 2008 models have front wheel drive only. This has become a trend of late with a deluge of SUV’s in all sizes having the option of 2 wheel drive. It saves weight and cost but also means you could never really go far off the bitumen. It seems automakers finally caught on to the fact that most people who buy off/soft roaders never actually go off/soft roading.
After a few days in the 2008, I found myself getting a little misty because the ride reminds me of Peugeots of old. I was transported back to those rickety old Pugs I drove with love and pride (except for the 604 that was like a dial-a-dump on wheels). There was something about them that you simply can’t define with numbers or words. Often, wayward passengers screwed up their faces at the look of my Pugs, until we set off. Some had peeling paint or loose bits of trim but rode like brand new limos. The comments we were always the same from first timers, “isn’t it smooth”. Their palpable surprise often caused enthusiastic cornering to further demonstrate why I loved those old bangers so much, because I remember what it was like to be in their shoes. The 2008 feels similarly soft and cloudlike without giving the impression it is going to fall over at the first corner. Those old Pugs hung on no matter what road surface was thrown at them, but what a lot of people don’t know is that they were also stars on the rally circuit. Many an old 504, 505 and 405 was seen bush bashing on what were little more than muddy goat tracks. They were loved for their agility and simplicity and also had only modest engine outputs. Old Peugeot drivers lament the demise of that simplicity. I’m not that surprised because all the old Peugeot and Citroen drivers are of an ilk and are very odd indeed. Perhaps Peugeot will enter a couple of those old chaps and a 2008 in an off-road comp near you?
I’m reminded of an old print ad for another brand of car where some smart cookie put a couple of attractive boys, a dog, a gingham table cloth, and a wicker basket in the back of a sports wagon. It was so cute and such a success that it was followed up by the same boys in wetsuits fresh from a day of water sports. I asked myself if I could see those boys in a 2008, and the answer is yes. In fact I could see those boys in anything at all, or indeed. It is a tough market and there is plenty of competition, but despite all that, I liked the 2008, a lot.
Would I buy one? Yes, if I ever find myself in the market for a small SUV.
Price: $25,600 – $ 35,900 drive away
Engine: 1.2-litre 3-cylinder petrol 60kW/118Nm, 1.6-litre 4-cylinder petrol 88kW/160Nm, 1.6-litre 4-cylinder turbo diesel 68kW/230Nm
Transmission: manual or 4-speed auto
Thirst: 4.9L/100km, 5.9L/100km, 4L/100km