(Pocket-lint) - The gene pool of the modern crossover derives from the 4x4, yet few have four-wheel drive. Combine this with fat, lower-profile summer tyres and the average crossover is about as much use off-road (or in the snow) as a chocolate fireguard. Which might leave you questioning the point of these cars. Or looking very silly when you get stuck in one in a muddy field or on a snowy hill.
Rather than simply shrugging off this problem, Peugeot has sought a solution with its new 2008. It’s called “grip control” - and is rather pertinent, given the time of year and the impending cold winter.
Down by the Peugeot 2008’s gearstick you’ll find a Land Rover-like rotary knob to select between snow, mud and sand modes. And possibly more importantly, this 2008 comes with a set of Goodyear, Vector 4Seasons tyres. Is it the crossover car to go for?
The attraction of traction
The Goodyears strike a balance between normal, harder compound summer tyres and full so-called winter tyres which function best below 7C, but can perform wonders in snow and ice.
Theoretically, all or four-season tyres will keep you moving in moderately bad winter or off-road conditions without you having to change your tyres over to - and then, of course, back again - winter tyres for half the year.
Did we test out whether this all works? Not really, because during our week with the 2008 it was unseasonably mild.
So instead, we took it to a woodland track. Not that it was a particularly steep or really that muddy. But the Peugeot did haul itself up and out. And you’ll find videos online of the company demoing how well this system can work, by doing things like driving these cars up the ski/snow board hill at Xscape. We weren’t able to do that - not without fear of getting arrested anyway.
Keep on moving
To a qualified degree, if you’re looking for something that’s going to keep you moving this winter then the 2008 could be for you. Particularly if you don’t fancy the expense or faff of changing your car onto full winter tyres every November, and back again in the spring. Others might never truly need such varying performance, either, depending on where you happen to live and the conditions you drive in.
Beyond the rudimentary basic of tyres and grip in bad weather, the Peugeot 2008 still manages to make a fairly convincing case for itself, not least because of this model’s brilliant diesel engine.
Essentially this is the same unit that we tried in the 208 - with which the 2008 shares much of its running gear - the 92 horsepower “e-HDi” diesel. It has a number of positive qualities, not least of which is its ability to return - even under our clod-footed stewardship - 58 mpg over a mixed 600 miles. Of course, that’s nowhere near the official figures, but realistically what car does manage that these days, given how artificial the European fuel economy tests are compared to real world scenarios?
READ: Peugeot 208 GTi review
No, much of that impressive fuel economy we can ascribe to the impressive flexibility of this engine. It rarely labours, and although it almost seems bizarre to find it attached to a gearbox with just five speeds in 2013, it pulls from very low revs, has power right throughout that range and is geared such that it’s not revving like crazy at higher speeds.
Coupled to this is the “e” bit of the e-HDi equation, which we’ve sung the praises of before. Far from being just a regular diesel, this Peugeot is effectively a micro-hybrid, meaning that in traffic you’ve got the engine running far less often than you have even with a diesel that’s fitted with stop-start.
Coast up to some traffic lights or a roundabout, flick the gear lever into neutral - which becomes second nature after a while if that’s not how you drive right now - release the clutch and below 14mph the engine cuts out.
It works so well because if you’re in traffic, it allows you to roll along at low speeds without the engine cutting back in. Keep it below 10 mph and unless you’ve got the clutch dipped or accelerator pressed, it’s more than likely the engine is off. That may sound unnatural, or possibly even unsafe. But it isn’t in practice.
The end result - and you can count the minutes thanks to a handy clock counter to tell you how long the engine’s been off for each journey - is increased economy. An average 25 minute urban commute, for us, sees the engine off for an average of 10 minutes of the journey.
And while we’re not ones to believe you should automatically be plumping for diesel, especially in a small car, here it makes sense because this engine copes very well with the extra weight of the bigger 2008 body style. For a diesel it’s also very refined, not that coarse and is linear in its delivery with reasonable - if not startling - performance.
Less funk, more function
The market for so-called B-segment crossovers - that’s crossovers based on b-segment cars like the 208, Fiesta and Polo - has mushroomed since Nissan got the ball rolling with the Juke around three years ago.
READ: Nissan Juke review
But nearly every product in this segment tries to mix in a dose of Mini-esque fashionability - both in its personalisation options range and its self-consciously lifestyle image.
Problem is, that makes these cars much less the smart family buy than they might otherwise seem because their interior package is often compromised. You wouldn’t likely want to travel very far in the back of a Juke. You’d question whether the luggage for a family of four would go in the boot too.
Peugeot offers you a small range of personalisation and what you might vaguely describe as lifestyle options, but has otherwise very much pitched the 2008 at the function, rather than fun, end of the market.
It’s a very practical car, with more usable space than a car from the sector above had just half a decade ago. In fact, for a growing family it’d probably be more practical than something like the current Ford Focus.
There’s decent rear seat space, one of the biggest boots in the class and that high - and stepping higher - roofline means your passengers could even wear a stovepipe hat in it, should that be their thing. More practically, fling the rear seats down and you’ll get two mountain bikes in no problems; the bin twixt the front passengers seats has swimming pool-levels of deep; and there are numerous oddments pockets all over the cabin which come in handy.
Design over style
We warmed to Peugeot’s design approach too. It doesn’t shout fashion. The 2008 still looks like a high-riding estate - which it effectively is - which marks it out as a more old-fashioned crossover, when most of the competition look like high-riding hatches.
Yet there are some interesting design features. The hooking graphical motif - where a line kinks up or down around an element - carries over from the 208. You can see it in the hooked-line in the bottom of the headlamps, the dipping down of the lower front side window and the kinking-up of that same window line’s upper-rear edge - in what feels like a homage to the Talbot Ranchero.
The stepped roofline translates to some interesting contours inside, which Peugeot accentuate with a unique set of LED lighting tracks in the headlining. These are really quite lovely-looking at night if you’re travelling in the back.
What’s more, while some don’t get on with Peugeot’s new small steering wheel and high instrument gauges driving position, here in the 2008 it feels a lot more natural than in the smaller cars. You sit higher up, the other reference points in the car work better with them, and it just makes more sense. And the wheel itself is still a lovely thing to hold, while the dials are beautifully clear.
The only thing that really stumped us on the style and practicality stakes was the rear load cover. A solid, rather than roller-blind type system, it doesn’t lift up with the boot lid. Nor could we find any way of attaching it such that it would. Which means it stays covered, with a crease point along it meaning you need to flip it back by hand to see or get stuff that’s gone deep into the boot. This often results in craning low into the boot to access things which have moved to the rear of the load area and seems completely at odds with the otherwise sensible, practical design approach.
A system that loses its appeal with each passing moment
We couldn’t work out why our review 2008 only came with one USB port either, whereas both 2008s we had seen previously were equipped with two. A little digging and it turns out it’s a £250 option without satnav, or £400 for satnav which gets you the second port.
We didn’t really miss the dual USB ports, but with a family car potentially full of devices to plug in you might, though, so consider the upgrade - particularly as you can’t play a CD on the media system (so last generation, we know).
Overall it’s fair to say that the more exposure we have to this Peugeot technology system, the less and less we like this touchscreen interface that’s carried across from the 208 into this car.
The positives are that the screen is huge and within easy reach of driver and passenger. We think the design idea - it looks like it’s been slotted into the top of the dash like a tablet - works pretty well too.
But beyond that, the primary control buttons are set up for left hand drive, which constantly irks in the UK model. Many of the on-screen icon buttons are small and hard to press with a single, on-the-move jab. And the core iconography, graphics and layout just looks clunky and old fashioned. You’d probably get used to it if you used it every day. But after what amounts to more than 1,000 miles and three weeks of time between both the 208 and 2008, we’re surprised by how wrong-footed we continue to be by it, and how tricky we still find some functions to select.
Nonetheless, you’ll still get to play device-based media - including from apps such as Spotify - and get Bluetooth connectivity for phone calls as standard on this and most other 2008 trim levels, which can’t be said for all of the competition.
We’re sure their owners love them, but the 207 SW that the 2008 replaces always seemed like an answer to a question that no-one had asked. Whereas the 2008, for all its oh-so-contemporary crossover qualities, genuinely makes lots of sense in many contexts.
The 2008 isn’t fashionable like a Mini Countryman but it is more practical. The brilliant diesel engine is enough to have it justify your consideration alone, but its high levels of specification, good value list price and practical qualities make it even easier to recommend.
It doesn’t quite recapture the pizazz and flair of Peugeots of old, nor their leading dynamic qualities. But it nonetheless follows in the footsteps of greats like the 505 familial, in feeling like a potentially robust, unassuming and highly competent family car that - along with the 208 GTi - is one of the best cars the company currently makes.
Throw in those all-weather tyres and that grip control function, and if you’re looking for a crossover that might actually get you off the drive of your country pad this winter, you could do a lot worse than a 2008.