Peugeot has a history of conservative styling. Like its French chums Renault, it makes cars for the masses. Its designs are more Champs-Élysées than chanson d’amour. Cars like the 504, the 405, the 306 and the 207 were sound everyday cars. When it tries avant-garde it can have problems. The 1007 with its sensible sliding side doors was an ergonomic delight for customers not willing or able to duck down into the seats of a hatchback. Not enough, though, and it was a commercial flop. The RTZ coupe was, from most angles, a stunning looker but customers were minded to spend a bit more and buy an Audi TT.
That’s a thing about car buyers. They are set in their ways. Step into any forum, say the Smallbore Bar at The Camshaft Arms, and you’ll encounter a well-versed opinionated melee of, mostly, males. There are those who swap between BMW and Mercedes-Benz but not Audi. You’ll find the same loyalty or disinterest with other brands. However, research suggests that customers will switch brands if there is a game-changing model.
Such a model might be the RTZ or a Citroen Cactus or Jeep Renegade. Or it could be a type of vehicle and in recent months, today and in the near future that model is the sports utility vehicle, or its ilk, the cross-over. These are bulkier cars, usually higher-riding and hinting at disdain for tough conditions. Ideal, you could say, for wilder parts of Scotland and coping with snow.
It is the fastest-growing sector, taking sales away from more modest hatchbacks and yawny business saloons like Mondeo and Insignia – which are very good cars and in truth a better drive than most SUVs. But what would your kids and your neighbours think?
An SUV implies a higher standing courtesy of its raised stance. Say hello, now, to one of the best in the genre, the Peugeot 3008, built in its eastern France HQ and in showrooms this month. We were introduced to this handsome and stylish SUV on the moors above Chesterfield, the night of floods when the spired town was awash. Any thoughts of a soothing hot chocolate in the Red Lion was dashed. We were going on a night drive on the roads we had just waded through.
Peugeot has done night moves before, so we expected some nocturnal relevance. In the 3008 it was the i-cockpit, a swirling display of virtual reality dials which change at the turn of a button to show, say, a navigation detail.
We have just sloshed through thigh-high water and are being pushed back in to it – to evaluate a dashboard. Barmy. It was all I could do to spot the road junctions and pitch-black gullies of water. They counted us all out and back. The hot chocolate went on the back burner.
Next day, the dashboard’s magnificence was actually more easily appreciated in daylight when we were not avoiding waterworld. In a post-breakfast briefing Simon from Peugeot had told us how fantastic (he used that word several times) the 3008 was.
Well, Simon gave it the works and I actually believed he meant it, that the 3008 was indeed much better than the last 3008 (which I liked) and at least a match for its peers like the Tiguan and Ateca and Qashqai and Kuga and Sportage and Tucson and Kadjar and carried more kit.
On looks the 3008 scores. It has appealing shapes, a strong face and a back distinguished by lines of three lights at each side. It illustrates the influence of Range Rover’s Evoque – a colossal winner and the default smaller SUV for the middling classes.
On clobber the 3008 scores high again. As well as the now expected air conditioning and powered this and that, all versions have automatic emergency braking for other vehicles and pedestrians, which will bring the car to a halt. There is cruise control which keeps a chosen gap from the car in front. There is the big info-screen on the dashboard and those switchable displays. The car has its own SIM card which guarantees emergency coverage where your phone may fade and obviates depleting your data plan. It has live updates on weather etc through the TomTom navigation which has free updates for three years. Three Isofix locators on the rear seats are a major plus for some families and unique in its class.
What it does not have is 4x4 traction – offered by its rivals. Instead it has grip control, which is Peugeot’s enhanced front wheel traction system, backed up by bespoke four-season tyres. It gives much better grip and steering control in snow and soft ground. This latest version gives speed controlled hill descent. It is a mere £250 option on all models (£150 on the GT). Peugeot’s reasoning is that its system gives enough grip for most circumstances, is much cheaper than 4x4, is lighter and has no fuel penalty or servicing complications. One model has a two-ton braked trailer towing rating. However, in extreme conditions like a muddy field, 4x4 is superior.
Verdict: Peugeot thinks it’s a game-changer for them. There is much competition but it will find buyers.