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

Another week, another feature that opens with the line ‘another week, another compact crossover’. A further opportunity will come in January. But this week it’s the Peugeot 2008, the taller small Peugeot that is not quite as small as the last one. At 4.3m long, it’s 15cm longer than the 2008 it replaces, so is now longer than a Volkswagen Golf.

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). Plug-in hybridisation is saved for bigger Peugeots and Citroëns and DSs now, Vauxhalls later and who knows what beyond that, once parent company PSA Group merges with Fiat Chrysler as is planned next year. 

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 new 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.

In the UK, most 2008s will be powered by a 1.2-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine that comes in 99bhp (manual only), 129bhp (manual or automatic) and 153bhp (auto only) flavours. The 134bhp electric version will make up a double-digit percentage of sales, considerably more than the 99bhp manual-only diesel, which thanks to 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, Peugeot CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato tells us, but “nobody’s listening”.

Prices for combusted 2008s start at around £20,000 and rise to £31,000, with electric variants £28,000 to £34,000 after government grant, 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, three-quarters of the way up 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. 

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Adults will be able to get seated behind adults easily - you’d hope so too, in a car 4.3m long - and behind that there’s a 360-litre boot that Peugeot says is a very strong loadspace for the class. Depending on which class you pop it in, I suppose.

At this trim grade, the 2008 gets a large central touchscreen that’s nice to look at but sometimes fiddly to use - the temperature control, at least, ought to be separated from it. And there’s a new, fancier 3D take on Peugeot’s i-Cockpit, which as usual features a small steering wheel that’ll probably obscure part of the instrument pack, unless you set it very low and giving yourself a karty driving position. The instrument pack now has several distinct layers, with a speedo, for example, reflected onto a screen from beneath - a bit like a head-up display, just in the usual instrument position. The idea is that, thanks to a projector and mirrors various, 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 I noticed that, but it is a particularly attractive, customisable display.

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 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.

We spent most time in the 129bhp petrol manual (103g/km, 27% benefit-in-kind tax and £27,650), but also a little in the higher-powered 153bhp auto (113g/km and full ‘GT’ trim only, at £31,575). In either output, the 1.2-litre engine is a quiet thing, only making a muted thrum when you work it hard. Some display options don’t include a rev counter but you hardly miss it, even with a manual, because the power is broadly spread. Both transmissions are easygoing, the manual much more so than Peugeots usually are. Maybe that’s a result of pulling Vauxhall/Opel, which traditionally have had a better shift action, into the PSA Group; they 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 easy. The steering’s light, but adding cornering force or speed adds weight convincingly naturally - things don’t suddenly get unreasonably heavier. And the ride quality, on 17in wheels (215/60 R17 Michelin Primacy tyres), is pliant enough. 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 17in wheels, at least. On 18in rims (despite still relatively generous 215/55 R18 tyres), and with the auto gearbox, it’s more brittle. Either way, there’s roll and pitch, inevitably given some slack in the rolling comfort, but that’s preferable to tying it down and making it rock hard. If you want dynamism, a 2008 isn’t for you, but if you cared that much, you probably wouldn’t be looking at a compact SUV anyway.

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To my eyes, the combusted 2008 is probably at its best in 129bhp form and in, maybe, Allure trim (one from bottom, £23,550). That brings the cool 3D cockpit and while there’s a smaller touchscreen, there’s phone mirroring, without the price looking too gulpsome (although, sure, I know it’s the monthly price that matters to most buyers). 

I 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 bar raiser, though? Still waiting for that one.

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