Johannesburg - Perceptions can be fascinating things, and changing them can be like trying to handbrake-turn a cruise ship. In other words not a quick and easy thing.

Like the perceptions about French cars being unreliable and having expensive parts - a fact borne out from the experiences of countless second-cousins or friends-of-uncles who’ve owned one.

No matter how good their reputations overseas, Peugeots have battled to gain a foothold here and tend to trickle slowly out of local dealerships. The new Peugeot 3008, despite being voted Europe’s 2017 Car of the Year, sells around 40 units a month in South Africa compared to around 400-500 a month for rivals like the Hyundai Tucson and Toyota Rav4.

I’m not here to make the case for Peugeot; it’s their job to market their brand better. All I can do is methodically review the 3008 on test here, and after a week-long evaluation I can’t find any reason, except for the perception thing, why it should sell ten times less than its competitors.

Compared to the previous-generation 3008 it has much more visual street cred, for starters. It’s a striking looking car that made quite an impact on onlookers wherever we drove it. It looks less bloated than the average SUV and boasts some refreshingly imaginative styling in its front and rear lights. Those triple LED tail lights, by the way, are meant to resemble a lion’s claw marks (to match the Lion in Peugeot’s badge), and a nice touch is that this lion logo is projected onto the floor when you lock or unlock the car.

That same attention to detail’s evident in the cabin. Peugeot’s doing some fine interior decoration these days and the 3008’s passenger quarters radiate a premium feel, including some of the most artfully-stitched leather seats I’ve seen in this price range. It’s garnished by lots of chrome; perhaps a little too much in fact, as sunlight sometimes glares distractingly off the shiny surfaces.

As per the modern trend which is rendering analogue clocks passe, it’s a digital instrument panel that appears before the driver, and it’s one that can be personalised for different views including a panoramic navigation screen.

It all adds to the smart and high-tech vibe inside this Peugeot’s cabin.

The infotainment system employs a large, tablet-like 20.3cm touch screen which I’m happy to say is complemented by elegant piano-key toggle switches giving direct access to the main control functions. Some of the functions were easier to use than others, and I battled at first to figure out how to preset radio stations, but in general I didn’t have a problem with the infotainment’s user-friendliness.

The smart cabin has increased in size and it comfortably takes four or five adult passengers. The boot’s grown nearly 90 litres to offer a very sizeable 520 litres (and that’s with a full-sized spare wheel). The back seats fold flat to open up 1670 litres which swallows some pretty hefty appliances.

Despite all this extra room the new 3008 is about 100kg lighter than the previous generation, which benefits driveability and fuel economy. This SUV doesn’t quite handle with the sharpness of a hatchback, but neither does it wallow excessively and gets through corners neatly. The 3008 has a plush ride that floats over bumps and ripples particularly well.

All five versions of the 3008 are powered by a 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine paired with a six-speed automatic gearbox. With outputs of 121kW and 240Nm it isn’t the most muscular 1.6 turbo around but there’s sufficient power here to ward off any suggestions of sluggishness, especially when you select the transmission’s Sport mode. It’s perky around town, cruises easily, and hushed in its operation. Quite friendly to the budget too, and our test car averaged an economical 8.1 litres per 100km.

There is no all-wheel drive available and the front-wheel drive 3008 makes no pretense at being a mud-sloshing 4x4. Rather, its elevated 219mm ground clearance and high-profile tyres help it cruise over rough gravel more comfortably than the average car.

For more adventurous clientele, some versions of the 3008 come with Advanced Grip Control which adjusts the traction control to one of five grip levels (normal, snow, mud, sand, Esp off) all controlled from a switch on the centre console. These derivatives also come with Hill Descent Control.

Peugeot’s controversial i-Cockpit sees the instrument panel positioned above a small steering wheel. I can’t see any benefit to this design and at first this kart-sized, low-mounted steering wheel seems like it’s almost sitting in your lap. But the steering position starts feeling more natural after a couple of days, and so does its shape, with the wheel flattened on top and bottom like a racing car’s. My beef is that the buttons for the cruise control are completely hidden behind the wheel and you have to learn to memorise them by touch.

On test here is the 3008 1.6T GT-Line, which is priced at R519 900 and comes with a bountiful spec sheet including leather upholstery, heated and massaging front seats, full LED lights with a cornering function at the front, automatic wipers, navigation, and my personal favourite: wireless smartphone charging.

The GT-Line also gets driver-assist features like lane departure warning, speed sign detection, and blind spot monitoring. Active cruise control was included too but the test car’s wasn’t working, and wouldn’t keep a set distance to the car in front.

Peugeot’s four-year/60 000km Service Plan and three-year/100 000km warranty includes roadside assistance, and there’s an optional five-year/100 000km full maintenance plan.

As for the parts pricing issue, the Kinsey Report doesn’t list the new 3008 but its smaller brother, the Peugeot 2008, has the cheapest parts basket in its category.

Verdict

Peugeot’s compact SUV is an impressive effort with one of the most appealing interiors in the game, eye-catching styling, and good versatility. It’s on the pricey side but offers a very high level of spec.

Apart from its European Car of the Year title the 3008 has also been selected as a finalist in South Africa’s 2018 Car of the Year award. Deservingly, methinks.

3008 vs compact SUV rivals

Ford Kuga 1.5T Trend auto 132kW/240Nm R427 900
Kia Sportage 2.0 EX Plus 114kW/192Nm R459 995
Subaru Forester 2.5 XS 126kW/235Nm R475 000
Honda CRV 2.0 Elegance 113kW/189Nm R477 900
VW Tiguan 1.4 TSi Comfortline 110kW/250Nm R479 900
Mazda CX-5 2.5 Individual 143kW/257Nm R495 600
Hyundai Tucson 1.6 Turbo Sport 150kW/295Nm R499 900
Toyota Rav4 2.5 AWD VX 132kW/233NmR518 200
Peugeot 3008 1.6T GT-Line 121kW/240Nm R519 900

Drive360