The first time you see a new Peugeot 3008 on the road, we guarantee you'll look twice. This is not a car you'd call beautiful. But it does nail that modern SUV crossover thing - a complex piece of automotive sculpture which is decked out with interesting and occasionally awkward details.

But whichever way you cut it, the new 3008 is a massive improvement over the awkward, bulbous MPV style of the last one. This is a very graphic design - it works better in light, bright colours to contrast with the chrome and black clad (so don't go ordering the dull khaki green of our car) - but it's when you step inside that things get really interesting...

As part of the morph from awkward MPV to modern crossover, the 3008's gained a new interior - which Peugeot calls i-cockpit. If you can get over the fact that car marketing departments seem desperate to jump onto the bandwagon of anything modern and remotely techy, it could actually be the reason to buy a 3008.

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This is the first production car Peugeot has made with an interior that reflects what it has been showing with its concept car architecture and interface design over the past three years. So you get a dashboard that's chopped up - with a top layer and then a lower section which protrudes slightly, and then an upward-wrapping console, piano-key style menu buttons and an 8-inch touchscreen. Jump aboard and it certainly nails the "cockpit" part of the name.

So the 3008 feels very different to other cars on first acquaintance, but not in an off-putting way because the crossover ride height and relative positioning of stuff means the driving position doesn't feel unnatural like it can on a 208 or 308. There's still that small and squared-off steering wheel and the gauge cluster is shoved right up under the windscreen, but the wheel will no longer obscures the gauges, or won't for most drivers.

The pièce-de-résistance is a 12.3-inch, digital gauge cluster, which does a lot more than just show you boring old speed and revs.

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Rather like Audi's Virtual Cockpit - which we've covered extensively as it's been rolled out - Peugeot's fully digital dashboard display can be reconfigured into different modes, depending on what you want to see and how you want to see it.

There are 5 modes: Minimum, Navigation, Personal, Dials and Assistance. Minimum junks all info except speed; Navigation turns over more than half of the display window to the map and turn-by-turn instructions; Dials give you a fake, digital versions of your typical car dials; Personal and Assistance use a cool new UI design - with the dials turned through 90 degrees so that they turn longitudinally into the screen - and the steering wheel controls allow you to make on the fly adjustments like radio station selection using a neat piece of digital display animation.

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The display appears to be lower-resolution and less colour-rich than Audi's Virtual Cockpit. But this has its benefits: it's less vivid and this makes it less distracting, in particular at night. The biggest news, though, is that while Audi always makes you pay more for its Virtual Cockpit, on this mid-spec Allure THP 165 Auto specification (and those trim levels that sit above it) it comes as standard.

Other digital elements in the cabin look familiar to recent Peugeots, but they've actually received quite a significant hardware upgrade. The 8-inch centre screen now has capacitive touch technology and is way more responsive than what you'll find in the 308 hatch. You're still forced through the screen to do things like adjust the air-con, but because it works, you no longer risk ploughing into the back of someone every time you want to turn the temperature down.

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And instead of digital menu shortcuts, Peugeot has fitted a set of physical "piano keys" below the screen which provide shortcuts into all the important stuff: Climate, Nav, Radio, Media, Car, and so forth.

These buttons are really nice to use, and cut out a layer of screen menu-touching, which makes the whole unit much easier to get along with. It's not perfect - the graphics are still on the Sega Game Gear end of things - and a rotary knob would, we think, be safer because your eyes are off the road less in order to use it. That said, this is all a big improvement to what's gone before from the French brand.

That digital cluster isn't the only thing reminiscent of Audi. The whole Peugeot brand is on a push upmarket and that means that materials, trim and overall quality has received a significant upward shove.

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When the 3008 launched at last year's Paris Motor Show, many designers were in awe of this interior and the materials Peugeot is using. That played out for us on the road - with everyone who rode in our review 3008 commenting on just how nice a place it was to sit and, yes, several people comparing it to an Audi.

Our mid-level trim Allure car features grey cloth inlays on the dash, doors and seats - which is a very natural, high-quality and modern wool-cotton trim that again connects back to some of Peugeot's concept experiments.

One area you see this material quality most closely is on the passenger side of the dash, which steps down and out, unfortunately creating the impression of it encroaching into the passenger's leg space. It's a visual trick, really, but a shame that in such a chunky-sized car passengers feel they've got less room than they actually have.

Beyond that issue, though, the Peugeot accommodates a pair of child seats in the back better than the expressly family-orientated Renault Scenic, and the boot (at 520-litres) is way more capacious than your typical family hatch. It bests a Nissan Qashqai too.

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Our review car also came with an electrically-powered tailgate, which is opened with a swing of the leg below the bumper. Useful if you've got arms full of baby or shopping and - credit to Peugeot - it did actually work nine times out of 10.

The 3008 is well-equipped too. As standard you get sat nav, all the i-cockpit stuff, a safety pack including blind-spot and lane-keep assist and rear view cameras. The next level of trim, the GT Line, throws in smartphone wireless charging and LED lamps, while the top-spec GT fits an electric/kick open boot, panoramic roof, keyless entry and electric seats. That last one's only available with the biggest diesel engine though.

Growing up, we remember Peugeot's slogan used to be "the drive of your life". While it sounds twee, if you're old enough to have driven a 205 or 405 in anger, those are words that will ring true. Peugeots were always fun cars that felt eager, light and rode very fluidly on crummy UK roads.

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It's a bit much to expect a mid-sized crossover to replicate those thrills, but the 3008 is a real mixed bag with respect to how it drives. You'll have got the impression by this point that we really rate much of what Peugeot's done here. So it's fair to say that the only thing that's stopped this particular 3008 getting a Pocket-Lint Recommended Badge is the way it drives. Humph.

Part of that is to do with this specific model. We're always advocating people look beyond diesel in the current climate and if you're doing low mileage. Unfortunately mated to this automatic gearbox the whole car seems dim-witted and slow, not to mention noisy and jerky in the way it changes gear - especially when you're trying to get a move on. The engine itself might be liveable, but in concert with the gearbox it is just too old-school in its delivery and makes the car seem quite unrefined.

So the 1.6 THP petrol (156bhp) cold be just the answer. For clarity, the 1.6 petrol is only available with the auto box. So our recommendation would be to try the 1.2 petrol - its 130bhp should be enough to move the 3008 along quickly enough and it won't be hobbled by the silly gearbox, and probably delivers better fuel economy than the 31mpg we got here (we weren't able to test that model, however, so it's assumption we're afraid).

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Still, beyond that and the 3008 isn't too bad. That small steering wheel makes it feel quite darty and responsive on the road. It's artificial, yes, but preferable to the disconnected mush of most of its competitors. And on 18-inch wheels, it rides reasonably well too.

Verdict

Peugeot has been on an upward trajectory for a few years now. We've been impressed by many of its recent efforts. And the 3008 is the best yet.

Well designed, interesting, easy to live with and containing a certain amount of in-built flair, it manages that rare feat of translating some of the ideas Peugeot has experimented with in concept cars onto the real road. And they really work. The experience is different to others - and most of the time it's better too.

The price is not cheap, however, but then these days nothing is. For what you get included, the Peugeot undercuts anything from Volkswagen, BMW, Merc or Audi. For the equivalent money, you get more space, more kit, more tech and a much more interesting piece of design.

Only the engine and gearbox combination found in this specific model truly let things down. With a different powertrain the 3008 could genuinely be a shining star. As it is, however, it's still a winner.