Peu­geot 3008 GT puts the ‘‘swish’’ into SUV

Christchurch Mail - - MOTORING -

Can the Euro­pean Car of the Year cut it in New Zealand? By

wheels busy in the damp weather we ex­pe­ri­enced for much of our test-drive time. It’s pos­si­bly a bit much for the chas­sis at times, which can feel abrupt in its re­sponses un­less you re­ally con­cen­trate on keep­ing it smooth.

The 3008 can’t match a Mazda CX-5 or Volk­swa­gen Tiguan for han­dling prow­ess and that’s fine with us when we’re talk­ing about such a stylish fam­ily SUV. But it would have nice to put even more em­pha­sis on com­fort and dy­namic flu­id­ity.

In fact, may we di­gress for a mo­ment? We went straight from this GT diesel to an Al­lure petrol and it’s much closer to the mark. The 1.6-litre mill is smooth with­out over-stress­ing the driven wheels and the smaller 18-inch al­loys, with high­er­pro­file tyres, give the ride and han­dling a level of pro­gres­sion that’s not quite there in the more ag­gres­sive GT.

The GT in­te­rior is stun­ning – plenty of pre­mium ma­te­ri­als and de­signed around the sec­ond­gen­er­a­tion of Peu­geot’s ‘‘i-Cock­pit’’ tem­plate, with the tiny steer­ing wheel set low and the main in­stru­ment panel mounted high. The idio­syn­cratic driv­ing po­si­tion still won’t be for ev­ery­body, but it works much bet­ter in an SUV than a small hatch be­cause you’re sit­ting higher over the dash­board any­way.

Not sure how well the GT’s Al­can­tara dash­board trim will wear over time, but it does feel aw­fully nice; lesser mod­els have more durable fin­ish.

Peu­geot is fi­nally see­ing the er­ror of its ways in ban­ish­ing phys­i­cal switchgear on ear­lier ver­sions of i-Cock­pit. The 3008 has a plen­ti­ful ar­ray of short­cut but­tons, ar­ranged as a gor­geous­look­ing row of ‘‘piano keys’’. The main screen is An­droid Auto/Ap­ple CarPlay com­pat­i­ble – although the Peu­geot-spe­cific touch-menus are still a tad con­fus­ing.

But once you learn your way around there are some gems to be found, like the GT’s i-Cock­pit Am­plify func­tion: it al­lows you to con­fig­ure the mood of the cabin (in­clud­ing light­ing and fra­grance) be­tween Re­lax and Boost set­tings. You can even choose the type of driver-seat mas­sage you get. I rec­om­mend the lit­tle-and-of­ten ‘‘cat paw’’, which is slightly creepy but brand-ap­pro­pri­ate.

The main in­stru­ment panel is com­pletely dig­i­tal and highly con­fig­urable – ev­ery­thing from a con­ven­tional-look­ing lay­out with large (vir­tual) speedome­ter and tachome­ter, to a sat-nav mode that gives over most of the dis­play area to the dig­i­tal map.

Ev­ery time you change mode the tran­si­tion comes via a se­ries of in­tri­cate an­i­ma­tions. It might all be a bit gee-whizz for some, but the at­ten­tion to de­tail is real sur­prise-and-de­light stuff. Although the left-hand but­ton on the steer­ing wheel-boss con­trols the right side of the in­stru­ment panel, while the right-hand but­ton on the wheel con­trols the cen­tre-con­sole screen . . . which is on your left. Makes per­fect sense in left-hand drive. So you can see what they’ve done (or haven’t both­ered to do) there.

The boot’s a de­cent size at 520 litres and while the rear seat only splits 60/40, the front­pas­sen­ger chair can also be folded flat to give po­ten­tial load length of three me­tres. Not a new idea, but still a bril­liant one that’s not used by many SUV­mak­ers. So while the 3008 is pretty flashy, the prac­ti­cal­ity is also im­pres­sive.

There are dis­ap­point­ments. Lane de­par­ture alert and au­tonomous brak­ing is standard on all 3008s, but our flag­ship GT is the only model to have the cam­era/radar combo of ad­vanced emer­gency brak­ing (it’s oth­er­wise part of a $1750 op­tion pack that also in­cludes GT-standard stuff like adap­tive cruise and 360-de­gree cam­era).

While FWD is en­tirely ac­cept­able for an SUV these days, it’d be nice to at least have the op­tion of AWD for Kiwi con­di­tions; in­stead, the best Peu­geot can do is a Grip Con­trol trac­tion sys­tem with dif­fer­ent tyres and hill de­scent con­trol, which is still a $500 op­tion on the GT but standard on the Al­lure mod­els.

And let’s face it: an or­nate French SUV will still be con­sid­ered a risky pur­chase for many Kiwi buy­ers, com­pared with main­stream fare from Hyundai, Mazda or Toy­ota.

But in many re­spects, the 3008 is an ac­com­plished and de­sir­able ve­hi­cle that makes so much of the com­pe­ti­tion seem des­per­ately or­di­nary and unimag­i­na­tive. In a mar­ket so clut­tered with medium-sized SUVs, that’s quite an achieve­ment.

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