3008 HDi GT: Standing out from the crowd

The medium SUV sector is a maelstrom. How well-equipped is the new Peugeot to survive this storm?


WHEN the concept was new and there were few, most medium streetwise sports utilities suffered from being rather samey.

Now there are many – more than 60 choices within this most fired up category within a boom sector – and yet, for all that incredible proliferation it’s potentially less easy to nail down even a pair of exact-matches in styling, drivetrain choice, specification and price alignment.

Everyone’s out filling niches, Peugeot being no exception. It’s new 3008 is, in some ways, as different from the rest as it is to its own like-designated predecessor.

This is just the second generation of the double-zero mid-sizer but, if there’s a fan club, it’s just been split in two; with potentially disparate interest bases, given that the old model was basically a minivan and the new is something altogether different again.

Peugeot had to make this change. When the previous 3008 was signed off, tastes in Europe especially were trending toward people-friendly load-all-style enlarged hatchbacks, but no sooner had it settled in and the tide went out … everyone suddenly discovered crossovers and SUVs and the French marque was left stranded.

So now, its back in chunkier, elevated format with far more of a bigfoot appearance to meet our new desire for all-round vehicle tailored for an adventurous lifestyle.

At least, that’s the visual impression. Peugeot touts it as an SUV yet others might argue it's more a crossover; strictly speaking, under the rules of the game, four-wheel-drive is a key ingredient to winning SUV accreditation.

All-wheel-drive is definitely coming, but with a twist in that it’ll be coupled to a new petrol-electric plug-in hybrid powertrain coming in production next year. That derivative will deliver power to the rear wheels via an electric motor while the front wheels will be driven by an internal combustion engine. The first-generation 3008 diesel hybrid variant had a similar HYbrid4 arrangement. The previous Peugeot distributor dabbled with it, but didn’t gain any tangible ground.

For now, the most help the 3008 gets when venturing off formed roads comes from an electronic system called Advanced Grip Control, which while not designed to be a full all-paw substitute is nonetheless good enough to enhance traction in tricky situations. There are Normal, Snow, Mud, Sand and ESP Off modes controlled by a central knob, plus a hill descent function.

With the cheapest of the three trim lines here, the $39,990 Active, with a turbopetrol 1.6-litre creating 121kW/240Nm, missing out on the traction-enhancing feature, realistically the adventuring starts with a mid-grade Allure - at $44,490 with the same powerplant or $2500 more with a 1.6-litre turbodiesel making 88kW and 300Nm – and peaks with the test model, a range-topping GT, with a 133kW/400Nm 2.0-litre turbodiesel.

A diesel dominant lineup is very French, but nowadays swims against the flow in that a lot of buyers in this segment are gravitating back to petrol. Not just here but also back in France, where the diesel tradition has also taken a hammering. Peugeot is resisting the change; it says diesel still makes good sense for this kind of car and has given the 3008 several oil-burners to demonstrate an ongoing commitment to the powertrain despite rising pressure from legislators to discourage its use. The brand accepts environmental concern about diesel per se but also reinforces that the dirt doesn’t stick here. Every engine in the range is Euro 6-compliant.

The argument about diesel running costs not being as attractive they used to be struggles to hold water, too: claimed optimum economies for the diesels are respectively 4.4 and 4.8 litres per 100km, whereas the base petrol is good for 7.0L/100km. Bascially, then, you’ll go hundreds of kilometres further on a tank of diesel.

The diesel also doesn’t seem to peg back the GT in a performance sense, either. Even though, with the factory claiming 8.9 seconds and 207kmh respectively, it’s not quite a fast lane hog, this edition nonetheless befits its badge within the immediate group by having the quickest 0-100kmh pace and also the highest top speed.

Peugeot is unashamedly positioning this car as being an upmarket treat; it NZ it has the badge credibility to achieve this and the bordering-on-prestige pricing strategy also reflects in the specification.

The Active has six air bags, ESP with trailer stability control, LED daytime running lamps, speed limit sign recognition, lane departure warning, a reversing camera and front and rear parking sensors. It rides on 17-inch alloys and has aluminium roof bars. The i-Cockpit includes a customisable heads-up screen, dual zone climate control air conditioning and automatic lights and wipers. An eight-inch capacitive screen includes 3D satellite navigation and mirror screen technology with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto along with Bluetooth.

The Allure adds auto high beam assist, a driver attention alert system, active lane departure warning, and blind spot detection. It features 18-inch diamond finish alloys, stainless steel door sill protectors, privacy glass, metallic grey bumper accents and also.

This edition also has keyless access and start, Blue Mood ambient cabin lighting, a wireless charging pad and the versatile fold-down passenger seat.

The GT model gains LED headlights with a cornering function, adaptive cruise control, a forward collision warning with advanced emergency braking and 360-degree, bird’s eye view camera. There are 19-inch alloys, chrome plated mirror caps and wider wheel arches on the exterior while the interior features Alcantara trim including dash detailing, 8-way electric driver’s seat with memory, a five mode massage function and heating. There’s also a powered tailgate with a hands free opening function.

For an extra $1750 Allure buyers can have a factory-fitted Safety Pack that adds the 360-degree camera, active cruise and emergency braking function. The distinctive CoupeFranche two-tone paint is available, but only with the GT.

Becoming a soft-roader of sorts brings the 3008 back to sense of convention, but there’s nothing too conventional about how it looks save for the basics of five doors and four wheels.

As a forceful representation of Peugeot’s intent to claim back its mojo as the most avante garde mainstream Euro brand, it’s not outright quirky – but only because that would see this brand slip into Citroen territory – but neither is it prudish.

Whereas the old 3008 had a dumpy, guinea-piggish silhouette, this one is all about sharper edged, boldness, with plenty of detailing and barely restrained flamboyance, best evidenced, perhaps, by the willfully oversized parking brake and undersized steering wheel.

As the most expensive version, the GT takes the most jewellery, but even with the extra chrome and roof bars this shape is a stand-out stunner.

Those interesting looks are carried over to the interior, with a digital-heavy dashboard and central display screen, which offers a decent dollop of connectivity and configurability, though both also takes a bit of learning. The first lesson is to become familiar with that bank of switches under the central screen, because, while some functions are wholly touchscreen-related, others are not.

In saying that, some actions that could be better catered to by a traditional control are, vexingly, wholly restricted to the screen. Peugeot's quest to be bold and different is all very well, but good design practice also has to apply. So having to, for instance, alter the ventilation by prodding at the screen rather than simply turning a knob does seem a bit unnecessarily convoluted.

Another lesson is to be patient, not least when using the sub-menus, because some of the smaller icons are tricky to hit on the move, and also because there’s often a delay while the system processes your commands.

The  i-Cockpit dashboard design demands a layout that brand newbies might find strange. Instead of looking at the instruments through the steering wheel, as you do in most cars, the dials are high up on the dashboard with a small steering wheel below. In some other Peugeot models the steering wheel can block the instruments, but in the 3008 this doesn’t appear to be an issue.

Even so, it’s a very different set-up to that which all other mainstream car brands provide and, despite Peugeot’s thought that it’s ergonomic for all body types and heights, as a tall person I find it a bit awkward having a steering wheel that looks as if it was nabbed from a video game console virtually set in my lap. Then again, my wife, perhaps through being somewhat more regular in height, quite liked it. From either perspective, you definitely are untroubled seeing the major instruments but whether you can fully argue it’s a better way is debatable given that, in this car, the cruise control buttons are completely hidden behind the steering wheel.

Space and practicality should be primary considerations when looking at this type of vehicle. Even though it is slighter shorter than the class king Mazda CX-5, the 3008 presents impression of being a roomier, airier car, a feat that is all to do with the massive panoramic sunroof. While it has a big, laidback windscreen, the side glass and back window are quite small.

The cabin is family-sized; plenty of head and leg room to accommodate taller adults, and there’s enough space between the front chairs to avoid elbow clashing. That sunroof does eat into rear headroom, but shoulder and leg room is reasonable for adults and the flat floor gives the middle passenger plenty of foot space.

Folding rear seats are standard, but these are split 60/40 rather than the more convenient 40/20/40 arrangement that some rivals get. It’s easy to fold the backrests down thanks to handy quick-release levers next to the tailgate opening, and, once down, they lie completely flat. Also, there’s no awkward loading lip when the rear seats are folded down.

While the boot isn’t quite the biggest in the class, it’s a useable space with no awkward intrusions and you get an adjustable boot floor that can raise to create a separate space beneath. That’s a cool convenience, but one reflected elsewhere in a cabin loaded with decent-sized cubbies. The tailgate can be raised or lowered via kicking your foot under the rear bumper and this is good, because it can be tardy to react to a key fob press.

The driving? That curious driving position makes it feel a bit van-like, yet never the body actions; there’s enough of an assertiveness in cornering and ride to seem as true to the GT badge as the 19-inch wheels that come at this level. But, overall, it definitely isn’t a sporty-sport. Grip is quite high, and you do hear and feel some surface texture and the steering feels rather artificial. But there’s comfort here, too; enough to take the edge off ripples and ruts without it becoming so boat-like as to make it necessary to keep Sea Legs aboard. Think family-first with a touch of fun.

Peugeot’s diesel expertise is long-standing, so unsurprisingly the top engine is pretty decent. Start-up clatter evidences, and it can get a bit chatty again when revving hard, but is nicely smooth even when labouring off boost at low revs, there’s no shortage of oomph once in its power and torque band and it’s very soot-free. The GT includes a Sport button that enlivens the engine’s alacrity and reduces steering assistance, while also pipping some surely artificial engine noise into the cabin via the sound system. With so much torque, and despite the traction aides, it is possible to load up something the four-wheel-drive crowd never experience - wheelspin. We didn’t find any condition where the grip control wasn’t challenged. But, then again, we didn’t think it prudent to try it out in extra-challenging situations, either.

The long-slung driving position and the car’s shape, not least those thick windscreen pillars, add to the close-quarter manoeuvrability challenge in around-town driving, but though at least the front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera and blind spot warning are all sensibly tuned.

How good is the 3008? Good enough to become the first SUV to win the European of the Year is a pretty impressive feat.

Despite diminished interest in diesel here, it would have been plain odd for Peugeot not to have played to that strength here – and, to be sure, the 2.0-litre HDi is easy to like. The only challenge is that diesel performs optimally not just for long-distance driving (for which the 3008 would be a good choice) but also off-roading … which, in this case, with an essentially front-drive setup, it has to be considered in a different light to more robust alternates for the same money.

Despite the proliferation of choice in this sector, the 3008 is a welcome addition. For sure, it’s defiantly different, but that’s hardly surprising – and is not necessarily an issue.

The limitations that define its SUV potential are obvious, but not such a big problem. Plenty of buyers in this sector are happy to buy into a robust look with no expectation of ever having an actual beyond-seal experience. That it’ll likely be niche might elevate its status.

In practical terms, the 3008 is an elevated super-hatch. Beyond that, it’s an artform: A remarkably modernist interior, a bodyshape whose angular lines, floating roof and long, wide stance is especially eye-catching and a ddcent dollop of cool, chic technology.