Why 3008 SUV might, and might not, have got my voteExcellent display sets new Peugeot apart
I often think of my father when I vote - be it in elections, referenda or as a member of the World Car of the Year jury. I remember him saying that a vote, no matter how apparently small, carried a duty to know or to learn as much as possible before deciding.
Only in latter years have I truly come to realise the import of his wisdom. Take this year's European Car of the Year, the Peugeot 3008 SUV. Would I have voted for it over and above other contenders such as the excellent Mercedes E-Class? Would I have voted for is as a World Car of the Year if it were among those on the shortlist (it wasn't for reasons other than worthiness)?
I approached my lengthy test-drive in it on that basis with the ultimate decision one of the toughest I've had to make.
The 3008 used to be a people carrier. Now, with SUV acronym attached, it is a midsize crossover. It used to be straightforward, mid-market and ordinary. Now it is a leading exponent of the crossover class.
I have to confess, my first sampling - abroad - was not memorable. A colleague and I drove a powerful, automatic petrol version that, allied with heavy mist, poor roads and, I think, bad choice of tyres left us unimpressed.
The transformation when we subsequently got into a manual, 1.6-litre diesel was dramatic. Within minutes I came to the conclusion we had something special on our hands.
Yet I was not, initially, much taken with its looks; I thought the front overly muscular. I like it a lot now (always a good sign when design grows rather than fades on you).
But the cabin is where the bit of magic lies; that's what sets aside the good from the worth voting for. And definitively the focus on what is a roomy living area is the i-Cockpit, a brilliantly graphicised combination of a tiny top/bottom-flattened steering wheel which lets you see the info display over the top and, to the right, a large touchscreen.
Underneath this is a set of keys (piano-like) which prompt for radio, heating, etc. You can also use steering-wheel buttons to great effect.
The layout is excellent but it is the manner of the individual items' display - in a car for around €30,000 - that impressed most.
I've no problem comparing it with systems on costlier cars such as Audi's 'Virtual Cockpit' and Mercedes' twin-screen cinematic display. Doing so serves two purposes. It shows what can be done in a mainstream car if application follows inspiration. And it shows how the marque, on its knees a few years ago, has shifted upmarket to a degree few could have foreseen. Of course, it is not a luxury car. But it is no longer middle-mainstream either.
Its mainstream roots are by no means all hidden, however. While the excellent 1.6-litre diesel engine gave diligent and frugal service, I felt there was a degree of wheel travel and poor feedback that detracted from the suspension/chassis being as smooth as its upmarket pretensions might have us expect. A vote or two lost there I think.
Yet I kept coming back to the cabin where, wonderful display/graphics apart, the level of comfort and quality of materials regained ground.
A further, if minor, discordant note in the midst of everything was the absence of a simple little hook in the boot (sizeable) to secure a bag of shopping, though there is a net and anchors.
Equipment is always a good vote catcher and after perusing the different trim levels, I was impressed. There is a logic to that: no point in promising upmarket if equipment doesn't follow.
And so the week slipped by: short, choppy, city drives where it was less impressive than the long sorties for tea/chat with the cousins.
Small things stayed with me; like the solid depth and breadth of the seating, the quietness of the cabin at motorway speeds, the ease of drive generally. It's a car that, against potent competition, would consistently win second and third in the rankings. To my mind, it beats the lot on that display (when you take cost, etc into account). It and the quality of cabin would be its outstanding first place. Areas of criticism were not sufficiently severe to demote it below third place on anything else, including that slightly numb feedback from the drive on occasions. As any canvasser will tell you, it's the second and third rankings that can be cumulatively decisive.
I'm still a bit of an Undecided. I think the E-Class brings greater innovation (autonomous drive, sheer style of interior) and would score highly. But because the Peugeot is within the price ambit of more people, I'd probably have gone for it. Regardless of all that, it is worthy of a decent vote on your mid-sized crossover ballot paper where rivals stretch from the Hyundai Tucson to the Nissan Qashqai.
Facts & figures
Peugeot 3008 SUV Allure, 1.6-litre 6spd auto (120bhp, €190 tax, 4.2l/100km).
Price: €33,355. Range starts €25,995 (Access 1.2, 130bhp petrol); diesels (1.6-litre, 100bhp S&S): €26,515.
Spec includes: i-Cockpit (digital display, 8ins touchscreen, mini steering wheel), cruise control, 17ins wheels (+spare), electric windows, Isofix front passenger/outer rear seats, air-con. Active adds: Euro NCAP pack (advanced emergency braking, video/radar/front collision warning), rear sensors, 17ins alloys, Mirrorscreen, bi-zone air con. Allure (tested): blindspot detect, lane/smartbeam assist, 18ins alloys, front park aid.