The previous Peugeot 2008 was demure almost to the point of invisibility. Looking just a touch like a shrunken-down Series 1 Land Rover Discovery, it was a reasonably practical, reasonably handsome, reasonably good-to-drive small crossover. No reasonable person could have spoken much against it, but equally there were few utterly compelling reasons for buying one. Nevertheless, it was a storming success for Peugeot, which at one point had to add an extra shift at its factory in Mulhouse, France to keep up with demand.
At a time when rivals such as Renault and Nissan are taking an almost sub-Darwinian approach to the evolution of their compact crossovers (the Captur and Juke, respectively), you might have assumed that Peugeot would do the same: gently massage the 2008, but make no major changes.
Well, no, that’s not what’s happened at all. In fact, Peugeot has performed a massive volte face with the new 2008, giving it a jarring, angular look that draws from the new 208 hatchback (the two models share much under the skin) but which one could hardly – reasonably – describe as pretty.
In fact, compared to the rather gorgeous 208, the 2008 seems almost wilfully dramatic, akin to having a party guest who drapes themselves in multiple feather boas and a large hat before sweeping in and exclaiming: “My, is that the time already?” From the massive, toothy grille to the sharp angles of the rear, and the way that the rear bumper juts out in the manner of 1970s American federal impact bumpers, it’s certainly striking, but you couldn’t imagine it sitting alongside the perfectly proportioned Pininfarina Peugeots of the 1980s.
There's no mistaking it for something else, but perhaps a little more decorum would have been welcome
Inside, there’s more jarring to be done. The cabin is lifted, more or less wholesale, from the 208 hatch and that’s both a good thing and a bad thing. In the good column, overall quality is excellent, and the styling of the cabin – from the heavily scalloped area in front of the passenger, to the pod-like digital instrument pack with its intriguing layered “3D” display, to the big touchscreen with its physical “hot-keys”, to the small hexagonal steering wheel – is distinctively, occasionally maddeningly, different to anything else out there.
While that’s undoubtedly good (distinctiveness is always a good thing, to my mind) there’s also rather a lot for the eye to take in, from the abutting angles of all the surfaces involved, to touches such as our car’s lime-green contrast stitching and the vast slabs of pretend carbon-fibre. Again, there’s no hope of mistaking it for something else, but perhaps a little more decorum would have been welcome.
I'll tell you what else would have been welcome: some physical switches. While the hot-keys help you navigate more quickly through the various menus and functions of the touchscreen, there's no getting away from the fact that having such things as heating and air-conditioning controls on a screen, rather than on actual buttons, is a needless, fashion-following faff. Peugeot's cousin, Opel, still uses proper switches for such functions and it's a much better way of doing things. Amid all the avant garde on show, some conservatism would actually be a good thing.
Again, though, the fundamentals of the 2008’s cabin are right: decent legroom in the rear, and a useful 434-litre boot behind. By previous standards of the compact crossover class, that makes the 2008 almost astonishingly practical, and you can start to see why cars such as this are so rapidly eroding the sales of conventional five-door hatchbacks.
Our test 2008, in top-spec GT form, can be had as an electric car, using the same 50kWh battery pack as the e-208 hatchback, and boasting a claimed one-charge range of 310km. It’s not officially on sale here just yet, though (the price tag for all e-2008 electric models is still TBC), so that means that the range-topper for the 2008 right now is this 1.2-litre PureTech petrol version. For GT duties, Peugeot has boosted the engine’s power, up from a previous high of 130hp to 155hp. Remember how we said that the cabin’s distinctiveness was both good and bad? Yeah, same thing here...
We struggled to do better than 7.0 litres per 100km with this 2008, which is a bit daft
With 155hp and 250Nm of torque, the 2008 GT fairly shifts along. It’ll crack 100km/h in just under nine seconds, which is pretty brisk, but it feels quicker than that through the mid-range. Put your foot down hard at anything above urban pace and there’s an entertaining growl from the little three-cylinder engine (we’ve previously seen these engines being built and it’s physically small enough to fit into a decent suitcase) and a succession of smooth shifts from the eight-speed automatic gearbox.
Retreat in economy
That’s great, but the advance in power has meant a retreat in economy. In more normal 110hp and 130hp outputs, this 1.2 petrol has an enticing mix of decent performance with quasi-diesel-like economy. Not here. The price for the performance is thirst. We struggled to do better than 7.0 litres per 100km with this 2008, which is a bit daft. Daft too is the price tag: at €34,950 for this GT model, this 2008 is well outside its comfort zone.
Handling is good, and the 2008's sense of agility is heightened by the tiny steering wheel, which makes it feel more darty at the front end than it might. It's quite good fun to chuck around, actually, although hobbled both by the fact that the optional 18-inch wheels cripple the ride quality, and the fact that the new Ford Puma is a much better steer.
The good news is that prices start from a much more reasonable €23,900 and that the more frugal PureTech petrol engines are still available (alongside a single diesel offering, a 100hp 1.5-litre BlueHDI engine). Keep the price and spec down to a sane level and this is one of the more appealing choices in a segment whose talent levels are growing exponentially. It just depends on how much drama you actually enjoy.
The lowdown: Peugeot 2008 1.2 PureTech 155 GT
Power: 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine with 155hp and 250Nm of torque, eight-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel drive.
Fuel economy: 5.2 litres per 100km.
Emissions: 102g/km (27mg/km NOx).
0-100km/h: 8.7 seconds.
Price: €34,950 as tested (starting at €23,900).
Verdict: This one's too expensive and thirsty, but the 2008 as a whole is a decent crossover choice.