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Compact crossover has most of its rivals licked, but the class is still waiting for a true game changer

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If you’re hoping to make it big in new car sales these days then it's best to think compact, as in ‘compact crossovers’. These machines that aim to mix family hatch practicality and running costs with just a sprinkling of SUV street cred are big business, which is why manufacturers, mainstream and premium alike, have jumped into the sector with both feet. One of the first was the original Peugeot 2008 in 2013, which Peugeot replaced by the current car six years later.

It sits on Peugeot’s CMP (Common Modular Platform) small car architecture which, you may know, means it comes with a choice of internal combustion power or as a pure battery-electric vehicle (BEV) - the Peugeot Peugeot e-2008. Plug-in hybridisation is saved for bigger Peugeots and CitroënsDSs and Vauxhalls that with Peugeot form the Stellantis automotive super group.

The steering’s light, but increasing cornering force and speed adds nicely natural weighting. And the ride quality, on 17in wheels, is pliant enough

Anyway, the idea is that, instead of Peugeot making a stand-alone electric vehicle, you choose a car from the regular Peugeot range and then choose a powertrain - ‘thermal’ or electric - to suit you, which strikes me as a pragmatic long-term approach. Like most big car companies, Peugeot needs a mix of low- or zero-tailpipe-emission vehicles to meet legislated CO2 targets. Its current order bank suggests it’ll meet them comfortably.

The latest 2008 joins a raft of compact crossovers and, at this size and price, is pitched against rather a lot of family hatchbacks too. Other crossovers have not exactly set a high bar, but the best small family hatchbacks are really rather good, meaning the pugnacious Peugeot has its work cut out.

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In the UK, most 2008s will be powered by a PureTech 1.2-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine that comes in 99bhp (six-speed manual only), 128bhp (manual or eight-speed automatic) and, on the top flight GT Premium, 153bhp (auto only) flavours. The 134bhp electric version will make up a double-digit percentage of sales, considerably more than the 108bhp manual-only 1.5-lire BlueHDi diesel, which thanks to the fallout from Volkswagen’s diesel cheating will likely make up just one 2008 in every 20. You can try to make a good case for a clean modern diesel, but as former Peugeot CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato once told us, “nobody’s listening”.

Prices for combusted 2008s start at just over £21,000 and rise to £31,000, with electric variants weighing in at up to £38,000, though lower servicing and refuelling costs on the BEV are meant to keep overall ownership costs equivalent to a 129bhp petrol.

The 129bhp model we tried was in GT Line trim, near the top of the 2008 ladder and quite classy inside, with some faux-leather and funky contrast stitching, with silvered plastics used sparingly enough that you can almost be convinced they’re actual chrome. 

Passenger space is reasonable if not quite outstanding. You should be able to fit four adults in the 2008 without trying too hard, and I doubt those sat in the back would feel as though they’d drawn any short straws - provided you keep the journeys short. There’s a 360-litre cargo bay that Peugeot says is a very strong loadspace for the class, although clearly it overlooked the Ford Puma, which packs in 456-litres even if you ignore its surprising useful 80-litre Megabox secreted under the boot floor.

At this trim grade, the 2008 gets a large central touchscreen that’s nice to look at but sometimes fiddly and laggy to use - the climate control functions, at least, ought to be separated from it and replaced with more conventional buttons. And there’s a new, fancier 3D take on Peugeot’s i-Cockpit instrument cluster, which as usual features a small steering wheel that’ll probably obscure some of the display, unless you set it very low and giving yourself a low-slung, go-karty driving position.

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The instrument pack now has several distinct layers, with a speedo, for example, reflected onto a screen from beneath - a bit like on a head-up display, just in the usual instrument position. The idea is that, thanks to a projector and various mirrors, the instruments are actually further away from your eyes than regular dials, reducing the time you need to refocus from the road. Can’t say we noticed a difference, but it the customisable display is particularly attractive.

The mechanical layout is straightforward. CMP is a steel monocoque with MacPherson struts at the front and a torsion beam at the rear. Combustion engines sit transversely in the front and drive the front wheels (ditto the electric motor on the BEV), and despite being a crossover, there’s no 4WD option. Such is the way of small crossovers/SUVs that you don’t even ask about four-wheel drive these days. That said, the 2008 is available with the firm’s novel Grip Control driver mode system that works in combination with all-season mud and snow tyres to give surprising off-road capability. 

We spent most time in the GT powered by the 129bhp petrol with a six-speed manual (127g/km, 45.2-52.6mpg, 29% benefit-in-kind tax and £26,515), but also a little in the higher-powered 153bhp auto (140g/km, 41.7-46.6mpg, 32% BiK and only available in ‘GT Premium’ trim only, at £30,665). In either output, the 1.2-litre engine is a quiet thing, only making a muted thrum when you work it hard. Some of the TFT instrument cluster’s display options don’t include a rev counter but you hardly miss it, even with a manual, because the torque is broadly spread. Both transmissions are easygoing, the manual much more so than Peugeot's usual. Maybe that’s a result of experience gained from the relationship with Vauxhall/Opel, which traditionally delivers a better shift action to their cars and so have become the group’s manual-shift expert advisors. Now there’s only a little notch as the lever moves into each gear, and an easy action as it slots home. The eight-speed auto, meanwhile, is smooth and fuss-free.

The rest of the driving experience is mostly as straightforward. The steering’s light, but increasing cornering force and speed adds nicely natural weighting. And the ride quality, on 17in wheels (215/60 R17 Michelin Primacy tyres), is pliant enough. On the motorway, there’s more than enough pliancy for comfortable progress to be made, and you’re reasonably well insulated against tyre roar and wind noise. In any case, for rolling refinement the 2008 is leagues ahead of its DS 3 Crossback platform-mate, which seems intent on banging and slapping its way across every surface imperfection its baggy-feeling chassis seems to encounter.

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Inevitably, given the 2008 is taller than regular hatchbacks, there’s a ride quality/body control trade-off, but Peugeot has pitched the 2008 pretty well. On these 17in wheels, at least. On its 18in rims (despite still relatively generous 215/55 R18 tyres), the GT Premium is more brittle. Either way, there’s some roll and pitch, which is inevitable given the emphasis on rolling comfort, but the movement is well controlled and the Peugeot will scythe neatly through a series of corners. It’s not fun or engaging in the traditional sense, but then if you want dynamism, a 2008 isn’t for you - and if you cared that much, you probably wouldn’t be looking at a compact SUV anyway.

In our view, the combusted 2008 is probably at its best in 129bhp form and in, maybe, Allure Premium trim (two from bottom, £23,265). That brings the cool 3D i-Cockpit digital instrument cluster, a reversing camera and electric parking brake that frees-up the transmission tunnel for extra storage. It gets the smaller 7in touchscreen, but Apple CarPlay and Android Auto which means you get almost all the functionality of the bigger display seen in more expensive models.

We still prefer conventional hatchbacks because, with a lower centre of gravity, they tend to be nicer to drive and more efficient, but the 2008 does leap above the abilities of most of the compact SUV competition. A true game changer, though? Still waiting for that one.

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Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Peugeot 2008 First drives