The little strip of land that lies on the eastern border of France has been both a crossroads and a cross to bear for the French people. Alsace has changed hands so many times over the centuries that a taxi driver taking us to Colmar told a colleague that his parents had been twice German and twice French in their lifetimes.
Torturous politics aside though, there are opportunities to be found at a meeting point of nations, and Peugeot was keen to make the point that north-eastern France is its traditional home. Keener still was it to make the point that, in theory anyway, historical geography allows to draw on many cultures. France for style, Germany for quality, Switzerland for precision. Well, it’s a nice thought anyway.
Small ‘faux-by-fours’ are the in thing right now, both in Europe and in the Chinese and Latin American markets in which Peugeot is making strenuous efforts to expand. The 2008, which will be built in Brazil and China as well as in Alsace, will be a cornerstone of that recovery effort. 200,000 sales, globally, are expected with only around half of those in Peugeot’s traditional European heartland.
So can the 2008 be a Peugeot that gives its opposition a good licking? Well, it ticks the boxes for this burgeoning class capably enough. It looks good, albeit we reckon that the rival Renault Captur has the Peugeot beat for styling appeal. There’s a touch of mini-Discovery about the 2008 though (with that kick-up in the roofline above the rear doors) and more than a hint of Volkswagen’s Tiguan. It’s appealing, even if it breaks little new ground, but you suspect it will age very well indeed.
Inside, it has one of the better cabins in the class. The small steering wheel and high-set dials, lifted straight from the 208 hatchback (with which the 2008 shares around two thirds of its mechanical parts) will polarise opinion. I like it, you may not. Either way, the cabin is comfy, well-made and as long as you avoid the very basic spec model, well-equipped with a big touch-screen for the radio and optional sat-nav and some nice trim options such as neon-blue mood lighting and some very fancy leather seats. Space is good, and if the 422-litre boot doesn’t look quite big enough when you start loading it up, then at least it’s square and has a low loading lip.
There is a wide range of engines on offer, from a basic 1.2-litre petrol to a 120bhp 1.6 petrol but, of course, the diesel versions will deservedly be the most popular. There are three oil-burners; a 1.4-litre with 70bhp and two 1.6-litres with 92bhp or 115bhp. Of the three, the 115bhp engine, with its slick-shifting six-speed gearbox is the pick of the litter, but obviously will also be the most expensive. The 1.4 diesel is fine in performance terms, but it’s a touch too noisy so unless it’s a lot more expensive, go for the mid-range 1.6 diesel. Its 230Nm of torque is enough to keep things moving while its 104g/km Co2 emissions figure will keep your tax bill suitably low.
The 2008’s dynamic performance is probably its strongest card. On the twisty, smooth roads that wind through the flat, contented farmlands near Strasbourg, where Peugeot brought us to test the car, it’s really rather good to drive, resisting roll well (unless you’re driving the basic 1.2 version which rolls over on to its door handles in a very classically French fashion) and steering with precision and no little verve. The ride quality though is very variable and depends on both the engine you choose and the wheels and tyres you specify. A 1.2 or 1.6 petrol on small wheels is remarkably smooth and supple, albeit at the expense of that body roll in corners. A heavier diesel, on bigger wheels, is more satisfying to steer but the ride quality can get choppy on poor surfaces. Try carefully before you buy.
Surprisingly, it will tackle some serious off-roading. Peugeot’s electronic ‘Grip Control’ system is an optional extra, and comes packaged with chunky mud and snow tyres. Thus equipped, the 2008 can cope with muddy, rutted conditions with far more aplomb than you would expect of a car that shares its DNA with a small hatchback. In fairness, we reckon that most of the performance is down to the tyres not the system (it seemed to cope more or less as well with the Grip Control switched off) but it’s pleasing to know that this is at least a small SUV that can play in the mud with the big boys, if you really want it to.
Really the only thing that the 2008 lacks is a sense of out-and-out star quality. It does many things well, and against its direct rivals, it scores on some notable points. It’s easier on the eyes than a Juke, has a nicer cabin than a Captur and a much better diesel engine offering than an Opel Mokka. It will also be affordable, with the expected €18,000 price tag for the basic version undercutting most rivals. Almost by default, it moves to the head of the compact crossover class, but it’s not quite the knockout star of the segment we were hoping it might be.
A car with French style and German quality should be very appealing, and Peugeot will be hoping that the 2008’s fashionable nature will draw European buyers back just as it draws Chinese and South American buyers for the first time. If the mix of cultures is right, perhaps for the first time in a century, Alsace’s byzantine history will play to France’s (or at least Peugeot’s) advantage.
Facts & Figures:
Model tested: Peugeot 2008 1.6 eHDI
Pricing: TBC but should start at around €18,995 for the 1.2 petrol
Engine: 1,598cc four-cylinder turbo diesel
Transmission: Front-wheel-drive, six-speed manual
Body style: five-door crossover
CO2 emissions: 104g/km (Band A3, €190 per annum)
Combined economy: 37.6mpg (7.5 litres/100km)
Top speed: 180km/h
0-62mph: 11.5 seconds
Power: 92hp at 4,000rpm
Torque: 230Nm at 1,750rpm