In fact, the 208-based Peugeot 2008 and its forthcoming rivals, the Fiesta-based Ford EcoSport and Clio-based Renault Captur, all have their international launches staged within weeks of each other – stay tuned for first drives of the other two – while the Barina-based Holden Trax will arrive first in Australia mid year.
For what it is, the Peugeot 2008 is a surprisingly good package. Despite being based on the city-sized Peugeot 208, the mini SUV teams ample room and storage space for a small family with stylish and sophisticated design. It’s arguably one of the best-looking small SUV models from the outside, and although it’s classified as a sub-compact SUV, it certainly doesn’t look miniature in person.
Like the 208 on which it’s heavily based, the interior is of much higher quality than expected for a car of its size, while equipment levels are also impressive. Once inside it doesn’t take long to notice the high quality fabrics and plastics used throughout the cabin. Although hard plastics are used on the doors, the look and feel of the dash and instrument cluster is good enough to rival several more expensive SUV models.
All Peugeot 2008s come with a seven-inch high-resolution colour touchscreen that controls audio and satellite navigation (the latter not yet confirmed for Australian cars). In addition, there are also two USB ports for connecting and charging phones and media devices.
We used the satellite navigation system to guide us over 300km across France and found it precise and accurate. Nonetheless, the iPod integration via USB proved glitchy (as in 208 GTi) with our iPhone 5, while another iPhone 4 randomly skipped and blacked-out during playback. This was not an issue using Bluetooth audio streaming.
There are some equipment omissions, however, such as the lack of a reversing camera; although it does have sensors all around. Peugeot decided that a self-parking system was a better use of its resources than installing a reversing camera. This may change for Australian-delivered 2008s, but it remains to be seen.
The front seats are located slightly higher than in the 208; good news for those whose view of the multi-function display in the 208 is obscured by the steering wheel due to its less than ideal seating position.
The seats are supportive and comfortable, and although it may not look it, you can genuinely fit four adults in the car without any hassle. The rear leg and headroom is decent if you measure south of 180cm. It can carry five but the fifth rider will feel the squeeze.
The cabin ambience is very good, with dark textures well contrasted with other tones throughout. There’s the option for a textured roof lining, but even in base trim we found the 2008’s interior to be of excellent quality.
The boot, measuring 422 litres with the rear seats up is surprisingly large, measuring more than a 100L larger than the size-larger Subaru XV, and even 27L larger than the Volkswagen Tiguan two sizes up in the SUV class. This means it can easily accommodate a large pram and the week’s shopping at once.
Of course, you can fold the rear seats completely flat, which increases the boot size to a massive 1400L, making those trips to Ikea a less frustrating experience.
The Peugeot 2008 has been built to accommodate eight different engine configurations, four petrol and four diesel. Australia’s powertrain line-up is still to be finalised. The only engine that has been confirmed is the naturally aspirated 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol, which has 88kW of power and 160Nm of torque.
The Achilles heel of the 2008 will be its four-speed automatic, the only automatic option to be offered. It is unacceptable for any new car in 2013 to launch with just four gears. In five-speed manual form the 1.6-litre petrol weighs in at 1080kg and goes from 0-100km/h in 9.5 seconds, but the auto struggles with an additional 60kg and takes a further 1.7 seconds to complete the same dash.
We drove the manual variant around the twisty mountains of southern France and found it to be more than adequate for the task with well-placed gear ratios and an easy to operate clutch.
Handling-wise the Peugeot 2008 is superb. It turns in well and has enormous grip, regardless of its fuel-efficiency-over-grip optimised tyres. Pushed well past its modest tyre grip levels, the Pug’s body control and agility proved excellent, particularly for a tall riding vehicle. The stability control system is well calibrated, only interfering when required.
Excellent ride quality is also a 2008 highlight, with Peugeot’s mini SUV absorbing the bumps with minimal cabin intrusion. We will have to wait for an Australian drive in October to assess the car’s ride on local roads, but from first impressions it’s likely to be comfortably firm and controlled.
The other potential for Australia is one of the two 1.6-litre turbo-diesel engines. The engine is available with either 84kW of power and 270Nm of torque or 68kW/230Nm. It’s likely that Australia will stick with the lower-output diesel given the price-sensitive nature of the sub-compact SUV segment.
We drove both diesel variants and found them largely ideal, although neither are as smooth as the petrol. Both offer better fuel efficiency (no Australian figures yet) and a six-speed manual instead of a five, but without a traditional automatic option neither is likely to be overwhelmingly popular in our market.
Peugeot Australia is also considering a 60kW/118Nm 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol as a price leader. Our brief drive in that model, which is manual only, was not particularly pleasant, with the three-cylinder unit making considerable noise to get up to speed (0-100km/h in 13.5 seconds). What is a sweet little engine in the 208 hatchback, struggles with the extra weight of the 2008.
All 2008s have a system called Grip Control, which s Peugeot’s attempt to compensate for the lack of a four-wheel-drive system. Basically a multi-mode traction control unit, the torque-vectoring system works in five different modes (standard, snow, all terrain, sand and off) and uses a computer system to work out the best way to distribute torque between the two front wheels.
We tested the 2008 in muddy conditions and managed to easily get stuck. But with the grip control on, it certainly made a difference getting out. Nonetheless it’s by no means a replacement for 4WD and the 2008 should not venture too far from the tarmac too often.
The Peugeot 2008 will face tough competition when it arrives here in October. Pricing will be announced in the coming months, however we suspect that if the 1.2-litre three-cylinder engine makes the cut, it will start in the low-20s for the manual, with the 1.6-litre petrol likely to be in the mid- to high-20s depending on specification.
While the 2008 is an impressive sub-compact SUV with decent performance, good space utilisation and an impressive ride and handling balance, the untried four-speed auto will no doubt affect its driveability … and possibly its standing against the forthcoming EcoSport, Trax and Captur. Stay tuned.