Johannesburg - If South Africa’s car market were likened to the Oscars, Peugeot would probably compete in something like the ‘best foreign cartoon’ category. A cruel metaphor perhaps, but in terms of sales and brand awareness the French brand plays a minor supporting role to some of the big players.
Peugeot’s modest sales in this country don’t really gel with its product line up, which has some very appealing cars. The 2008 subcompact SUV is one such shining star, and it’s now received a mid-life update, four years into its life cycle, with tweaks to the exterior styling. At the same time, the interior has been upgraded to match the new 308 hatchback. The i-Cockpit includes a generous 17.8cm colour touch-screen display, with latest-generation connectivity and ergonomics.
At the bottom of the range is a 1.6-litre HDi turbodiesel with outputs of 68kW and 230Nm, mated to a five-speed manual gearbox. The petrol choice is now a 1.2-litre turbo engine with 81kW/205Nm, slightly down in power from the old normally-aspirated 1.6 petrol (88kW/160Nm) but representing a big hike in torque.
Peugeot has also introduced a sporty GT Line trim level to augment the Active and Allure packages. It’s available on the new flagship 2008 GT Line 1.2 PureTech auto model selling for R349 900, on test here.
On the exterior, unique to the GT Line is the black detailing on the exterior mirrors, roof rails, window surrounds and fog light detailing, giving the car a more assertive vibe. The 2008 looks more rugged with a more upright grille design and raised bonnet, complemented by black and chrome-masked headlights, and the front fog lights have a cornering function.
My favourite part about this vehicle is the interior design. Peugeot has brightened up the cabin’s black surfaces with some subtly-applied chrome and red detailing that adds character without garishness. The red rings around the instrument panel and the red-infused leather/cloth seats create a subdued sporting ambience, and the dashboard is pleasingly textured too. All round one of the more appealingly-designed interiors in the class.
Space-wise there’s less to brag about and rear-seat passengers will find the legroom cramped in this subcompact car, which is just over four metres long. The boot’s a fairly useful size though (410-1400 litres), and contains a full-sized spare wheel.
Common to all 2008 derivatives is Peugeot’s latest iteration of the i-Cockpit concept, which combines a small steering wheel with the instrument panel above it. After initially disliking it in earlier Peugeots, I’m getting used to this odd layout which has you peering at the instrument cluster over the wheel rather than through it. It seems to be better resolved than before, and I was able to see the instruments without having to set the steering column unnaturally low.
The infotainment system includes integrated support for Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink, which allow selected smartphone features to be displayed on the touchscreen display. The touchscreen also displays the reverse parking camera and the satnav system, which are both standard in the GT Line.
Equipment levels are comprehensive across all four 2008 models, with the likes of remote central locking, electrically operated windows and mirrors, air-conditioning (full climate control on Allure and GT Line versions), rear park distance control, and hill start assistance.
The active and passive safety features are well represented too, with ABS, stability control, and six airbags. The price includes a three-year or 100 000km warranty, a three-year or 45 000km service plan and roadside assistance.
The vehicle is front-wheel driven (no all-wheel drive is available in the 2008 range) and the ground clearance is a slightly elevated 165mm. In this range-topping GT Line, a Grip Control system offers four drive modes to suit different kinds of road surfaces (normal, snow, all-terrain and sand). The car also has all-terrain tyres suitable for gravel munching.
You’re not really aware of sitting higher up than usual, and it feels like a normal hatch to drive with slick cornering agility and no sense of top-heaviness.
The 1.2 turbo three-cylinder engine makes adequate power without ever feeling particularly frisky, but it gets going nice and cleanly, without any noticeable lag. It’s also fairly easygoing on the freeway, and the new six-speed auto transmission manages the power efficiently, without constantly hunting for gears. Peugeot quotes a 10.3 second 0-100km/h figure and a 188km/h top speed.
The engine makes a distinctive three-cylinder sound that, depending on how your ears are tuned, can be quite charismatic.
A blot on this Peugeot’s sheet is that it’s quite thirsty. Our test car averaged 7.8 litres per 100km, which is high for an engine this size and nowhere close to the factory’s 5.2 litre claim.
The Peugeot 2008 sold just 154 units in South Africa’s subcompact SUV market in 2016, way behind the segment-leading Ford Ecosport with its 11 441 sales.
This has more to do with perceptions than any shortcomings in Peugeot’s product, although the French brand’s relatively small dealer footprint also plays a role.
The 2008 is a likeable little car. It’s nice to drive, has trendy styling, and its interior deserves an award - though the fuel thirst is quite high and it’s also on the pricey side.