Yes, yes, yes oh, yes! Tasteful design inside and out, fuel efficient, good quality throughout.
Oh dear me, no: four-speed auto, five-speed manual, lack of get-up-and-go (please sir may I have a turbo), horrible handbrake lever.
I have oft pondered the wisdom of SUVs. They are big and hard to see around, 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’ve 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 off road.
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 grill 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.
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.
The various surfaces have a myriad of treatments that 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. 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.
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.
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 small. Trying to hit a small area while on the move can be harder than it sounds. It’s high time that all infotainment systems were fully user-customisable. Although the 2008 system is fairly easy to use though I still found myself using Siri to perform the phone functions.
The drive is more rewarding with the diesel up front and it 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 four-speed auto which, while very smooth, appears to be missing a few cogs and a five-speed manual is similarly sans the sixth cog. Why oh why oh why? With all but the very bottom of the market, the minimum is six speeds for both auto and manual. Some of the posh models have 10 speeds, so four and five 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 were, I’d prefer to be using at least four 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 two wheel drive. It saves weight and cost but also means you could never really go far off the bitumen.
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-cylinderpetrol 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