Peugeot 2008 Feline e-HDi 115

Can attractive looks and a satisfying driving experience make up for its rivals’ head start?

There’s lots to like about the Peugeot 2008. It’s distinctively styled and well equipped, and the strong engine and composed handling give a decent driving experience. But while the interior is roomy, it lacks rivals’ family-friendly touches.

Peugeot is on a roll at the moment. Its sleek RCZ coupe still sets the style standard, the 3008 crossover has been flying out of UK showrooms and the 208 was named the best supermini at Auto Express’ New Car Awards in 2012.

Now it’s the turn of the 2008 to continue this success story. Based on the 208, the rugged crossover model promises to deliver family-car space, MPV versatility and low supermini running costs – all wrapped up in a distinctively styled package.

The newcomer attracts plenty of attention. Some of the detailing is a little fussy, but the combination of bold, swept-back headlamps, lots of chrome trim and rugged plastic body cladding helps it stand out. Our Feline-spec test car also benefits from a set of stylish, two-tone 17-inch Eridan alloy wheels.

Anyone who’s driven a 208 will feel right at home behind the wheel, as the supermini’s dashboard has been carried over more or less unchanged. Unfortunately, that means you get the same controversial high-set dials that a number of our testers found were obscured by the steering wheel rim.

Still, the rest of the cabin is well designed, plus there are some neat touches – such as the blue-illuminated LED strips that surround the speedo and rev counter, and the stitched fake leather dashboard covering. Overall quality is good, with plenty of soft-touch plastics and solid build.

However, some of the materials feel fragile, such as the brittle sliding cover for the centre console’s storage bin.

There’ll be very few complaints about the amount of standard kit on offer, though. Dual-zone climate control, touchscreen sat-nav and automatic lights and wipers are all included, as is cruise control and a panoramic glass roof. Add this desirable kit to the MINI, and you’d have to pay a whopping £1,990 extra.

Yet while the Peugeot comes crammed full of gadgets, it can’t match its rivals for family-friendly practicality. Not only is there fractionally less legroom for passengers in the back, this is also the only car of our trio to make do without a sliding and reclining rear seat – although you do at least get a traditional 60:40 split folding function.

The 2008 also offers less storage for odds and ends, as the door bins are small and most of the glovebox is taken up by the fusebox.

It’s a similar story in the 360-litre boot, where you’ll find there are no useful shopping bag hooks, or even a 12V power supply. On the plus side, the load area is well shaped and has a low loading lip plus a wide opening.

And what the Peugeot lacks in outright practicality, it makes up for in performance. Its 113bhp 1.6-litre diesel is incredibly refined and responds eagerly to the throttle, helping to make the 2008 comfortably the fastest car on test. It was particularly impressive in gear, racing from 50-70mph in sixth in nine seconds flat – 3.4 seconds up on the MINI.

Away from the track, it’s clear that Peugeot has rediscovered its flair for fine ride and handling. You’d struggle to call the 2008 fun, but its direct steering, decent grip and strong body control inspire confidence.

In addition, the supple suspension soaks up bumps that send a shudder through the cabins of the Yeti and MINI, while wind and road noise are well suppressed. In fact, the only black marks are reserved for the six-speed manual gearbox’s stiff and clunky shift action and the unusually shaped handbrake lever.

Our top-spec Feline also has the neat Grip Control set-up, which allows the front-wheel-drive 2008 to do some light off-roading. This lets you fine-tune the traction control for different surfaces – like sand, snow and mud – by using a rotary dial between the front seats. However, it’s not as effective as the 4x4 transmissions available as pricey options on the 2008’s rivals.

At £18,995, the Peugeot falls between the Skoda and MINI on price. Yet it’s far better equipped as standard than these cars – and indeed most rivals in this class. Plus, it emits the least CO2 on test, at 105g/km, so it’s an attractive company car choice.

We also returned a respectable 47.8mpg fuel economy on our test, thanks in part to the 2008’s smooth and effective stop-start system, which shuts off the engine as you’re coasting to a halt. Yet there’s no escaping the fact that the interior is smaller than and not as versatile as its rivals’ here, and the bold looks won’t be to all tastes, either.

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