Getting a grip on Alpine goat tracks thanks to Peugeot’s new crossover

The French firm’s new 3008 demonstrates how far traction control systems have come in recent years

 

Peugeot’s order book for the new 3008 SUV would suggest the French brand’s attempt to move more upmarket is starting to bear fruit. Following the second generation 3008’s debut at the Paris motor show last September, more than 60,000 orders were place up to December 2016. And with five trim grades available, over 82 per cent of the orders have been for three higher specified versions.

We will wait and see if a similar trend emerges in Ireland when the five-seat SUV launches in Ireland in February, but the distributor here is reporting an increase in sales of well-equipped models across its entire range. The options list seems to be the first port of call for new car buyers in a recovering economy. But will they buy into the idea of Peugeot as a posh French brand?

Prior to the front wheel drive’s Irish launch we went deep in to the French Alps to test the 3008’s winter driving capabilities, in particular the optional Advanced Grip Control (AGC) driving aid. In a nutshell this is an enhanced traction control system. In a two-wheel drive car, AGC claims to deliver near four-wheel drive ability.

Dial in the grip

The real boon is, they claim, that you get the extra grip without all the extra weight from the four-wheel drive running gear. Selected via a rotary dial near the gear lever AGC allows the user select one of five driving modes to suit the type of surface they are on. This latest generation of the French firm’s system helps keep the car moving without the driver needing Bear Grylls’ survival skills. With temperatures dipping as low as -10 degrees centigrade, colder with wind chill, I was confident that if I drove like a total idiot I would surely catch out the electronic driving aid.

Fitted to a 3008 1.6-litre 120bhp BlueHDI diesel automatic, we managed to haul three passengers, plus a boot full of luggage, effortlessly up the mountain roads.

The main roads were clear but the French Police had advised – in other words told – Peugeot to fit winter tyres on the front wheels of our test cars as the roads were particularly treacherous in places. And we were about to encounter much tougher conditions.

Follow the goats

The first “special challenge” for the 3008 was a steep mountainside descent on a track normally reserved for goats. Here we got the change to test the system’s hill assist descent control.

At the top of the snow covered slope I engaged Drive and pressed the small HADC button in front of the gear selector.

Next a gentle touch on the accelerator to release the electronic parking brake and move forward. Then you simply lift your feet off the pedals and let gravity – and the system take over. All I had to do was steer. The speed range available is anywhere between 8km/h and 30km/h, slow enough to keep control but fast enough to keep your nerves on edge, at least the first time you do it. This is the side of a snowy mountain after all.

You can hear all sorts of grinding and grumbling from underneath as the wheels maintain grip. On hairpin turns, the 3008 went where I steered, whereas a regular SUV would have run wide and off the track.

Next challenge was a 50-metre drag race in first gear on an ice track with a nice dusting of snow to give a bit more grip.

Gripping history

Most Irish motorists are familiar with electronic traction control at this stage. It was originally developed after the advent of anti locking brakes (ABS) in the late 1970s.

Traction control made use of the clever little ABS wheel sensors to deliver information to a control unit that could then either apply brakes to a slipping wheel in an effort to regain grip or cut engine power, or a combination of both methods.

Rear wheel drive German saloons were the first to benefit, but early systems were a little brutish.

The AGC system exemplifies how far traction control systems have come in recent years. On the Peugeot it allows each of the front wheels to seek out surface grip in a much freer way. Ultimately, these systems make drivers seem much better than many actually are. A little yellow light that flickers is usually the only giveaway that the car is effectively saving the driver’s blushes and keeping him or her out of the bushes.

In many ways comparing Advanced Grip Control to early traction control systems is akin to comparing a smartphone to a pair of tin cans joined by string.

The system is an option on all but the range-topping 2-litre diesel GT version. Prices range from €320, depending on the tax band of the car. Which raises a thorny issue for Irish motorists: the government continues to apply both a 20 per cent VAT rate and the requisite Vehicle Registration Tax rate to safety features like this. VAT, for example, is charged on motorcycle helmets here, whereas a zero rate applies in the UK. Should safety features that clearly save lives be treated to the same tax treatment as a funky car stereo or an optional rear spoiler?

Despite the tax implications, Peugeot’s latest grip control proved its worth on the Alpine goat paths and ice-clad back roads. It’s a worthy investment we would strongly recommend for buyers.

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