Mind-boggling grip control helps Peugeot give competitors the slip
One week it is three big men in the back of a small car. Another it is two grown men in the front of another small car, the Peugeot 2008 'crossover' – but in the middle of a squelchy bog.
All part of the fascinating search for the little differences that distinguish and separate so many cars today.
Yes, the margins can be that fine.
You see, just like people, cars are becoming 'smart' in different ways.
Some are 'intelligent', others have it in looks, others with loads of bling.
This one has bits and pieces of each – including a Park Assist (optional extra) that more or less parks the car for you. But I was far more interested in another piece of technology which could save you a lot of money.
Before getting on to that, let me step back a moment and explain the hows and whys of the 2008 at a time when motors like it represent one of the few areas of expansion.
This is a big-brother take on the excellent Peugeot 208 supermini hatch. It shares 65pc of the parts, but is longer, taller, more muscular looking, roomier and is significantly more versatile. It is the sort of compact motor that gives you a better driving position and just feels comfy.
In this era of the 'crossover', where nearly anything but the ordinary goes i,t is adroit at ticking the must-have boxes – sturdy looks, nice interior, good boot etc. I think it looks the part: snub nose, roof bars, body depth. A car that a family could live with, easily. However, I would have preferred easier and more open access to the driver's seat. I had to bend the head a fair bit and felt it a bit of a squeeze.
My test version had the 1.6-litre diesel engine (there is a smaller 1.4-litre) and you have to say it makes sense at €190 a year road tax. We've got to encourage people to buy cars that use less fuel and this is an example of prudence and a nice bit of power.
Another thing it has that might interest you in the 2008 (also shared with the 208) is the small, some would say tiny, steering wheel.
Now initially I thought it was a gimmick. In this I've warmed to the idea; I think it is a driving aid. I could see what speed I was doing (or I could change what I wanted to see) without having to peer or crane my neck over the top – something I'd normally do with a conventionally sized wheel. Maybe that was because I am reasonably tall and smaller drivers wouldn't. Frankly I don't know, but I have it down as a plus.
So apart from a few criticisms, the 2008 is a really decent package.
Which brings me back to the item that really piqued my interest. It is called Grip Control. It is a clever manipulation of technologies that basically gives maximum traction on slippery, muddy or, in the test car's case, pure boggy conditions.
The most important thing is that it worked. Really well. My passenger insisted that any other two-wheel-drive car would have gone to its armpits and would have had to be pulled out. This kept going. Even allowing for the fact it had mud and snow tyres on (they come as part of the package costing €225) and the car's 165mm ground clearance, it was remarkable.
The reason I highlight it is that while you are unlikely to encounter such underfoot conditions, if you need a bit more traction and grip in winter because of where you live or have to drive, this is money far better spent than on an expensive 4x4. Well worth thinking about.
My main criticism is that it is available only on the higher, more expensive Allure spec. This is a great piece of driver help and I'd love to see it across the range.
Strange isn't it how an urban, urbane even, crossover can end up doing things only tractors could do years ago? That's modern motoring for you – the smart and the practical that can take you from suburban tarmac to the land of peat.