Need to deal with failed roads? You need an Urban Cross!
We all have crosses to bear, of some description, of varying severity, but, as Iain Robertson highlights, crashing through the urban sprawl, in the right motorcar, might be all the crosses that anyone needs to bear…
Incorporating Americanisms like ‘The Hood’ and even ‘The Ghetto’ is what epitomises the urban jungle. Its grubby streets, its liberally graffiti’d pubic transit systems, denigrated and rusty playgrounds, a decayed industrial sector and the heaving malodorous metropolis are what characterise this environment. It is why people wear Ugg boots and Columbia outdoor clothing. It is a place where heavy-duty Timberlands proliferate and rucksacks predominate in the education system…even though most of its inhabitants have seldom seen a mountain, green fields, a cow, let alone a sheep, and where mutton and pork might as well have been bred in a supermarket chain.
Yet, somewhere in the mists of fairly recent automotive time, although some protagonists did presage it in the mid-1990s, with run-of-the-mill cars masquerading as pseudo off-roaders, what might be termed ‘fashion’ has now become an urbane reality. The vast quantities of mostly business-funded but also retailed SUVs, cross-overs and 4x4s, the capabilities of which are seldom extended beyond mounting the kerbs outside the local Secondary Modern, crashing through the rosebeds at Waitrose, or carrying out the local commute, underscore the confused mix of marketing falsehood and crass stupidity.
Yet, when local authority budgets are being macheteed and the local fabric is being torn to shreds, perhaps ‘urban sprawl’ is an understatement? Judging by the failing conditions of our roads network, which is proving to be unwittingly damaging to the Fiestas, Corsas and Grande Puntos of our urban network, the Urban Cross, with its higher-than-stock ride height, all-weather tyres, ‘Grip Control’ and protective body cladding, warrants a place in our automotive scene. In which case, my heartiest congratulations go to Peugeot for its recognition of the facts manifesting themselves increasingly.
Based on the 2008 model, itself a more practical estate car but no less dynamic version of the popular little 208 hatchback line-up, the Urban Cross variant combines surprisingly good looks with the accoutrements necessary to survive in the urban jungle. To be honest, I did not have to look too far around town to locate potholes on main thoroughfares, or ragged-edged roadsides on local rat-runs, deep enough to swallow a child’s bicycle. Were I the proud owner of this Urban Cross, I would actually be concerned for the scratch resistance of its ever-so-attractive, multi-spoked, black-painted alloy wheels, even with chunkier and more durable all-weather tyres attached.
Finished in a smart blue that I am now calling ‘RAF’, the Urban Cross is made slightly more noticeable with the addition of an orange and grey striped appliqué that runs the full lower length of its body. While it would be facetious for it to also carry the legend ‘GT’, these ‘go faster’ additions create a narrowing effect on the car’s flanks, which makes them look less ‘slabby’, while also accentuating the 2008’s 165mm ground clearance.
Mind you, all of this might be fallacious in some cars but Peugeot manages to promote a purpose to its Urban Cross. It is equipped with the Grip Control system, which proved its validity to me during the introduction of the 2008 model around three years ago, when we were encouraged to drive the front-wheel-driven car up and down an indoor ski slope. At no time did it fail to scale the heights, while remaining easily controllable on descents. Operated by a simple dial control located just behind the 5-speed manual gearlever, it adapts the car’s traction control for snow, off-road, sand and also removes ESP, when conditions dictate it. The simple truth is that Peugeot can demonstrate that its technology can work empathetically with a driver, to provide genuine peace of mind, without penalties. It is a superb device and safety enhancement.
Of course, one of the largest penalties incurred with conventional 4x4s lies in higher than expected fuel usage, especially when indulging in the occasional off-road foray, even though it may only be on a grassy field, or a mucky farm track. Inclement weather also demands more and, with only the brakes being operated to adjust the car’s traction, the 2008 behaves imperceptibly and not unlike a ‘fiddle-braked’ trials competition car…fortunately, without the hassle, or technical know-how. It works impeccably.
The other means by which high costs can be controlled lies with the power unit. Ironically, I found that this installation of PSA Group’s 1.2-litre ‘PureTech’ turbocharged petrol ‘triple’ was easily the best I have driven. Developing 107bhp, which is the same output as the 1.6-litre HDi diesel that powered my long-term test 207 hatchback a few years ago, its delivery is smooth and progressive, helped in no small part by a decent slug of torque (151lbs ft at 2,750rpm) that seems to be never-ending in its potency. It is possible to hang onto higher gears in the Urban Cross than you might believe to be feasible, a factor that helps to rein-in costs.
On my usual 50-miles repeatable test route, I returned an excellent 55.3mpg, driving in fuel-miser mode, which compares very favourably with the stated Official Combined guide figure of 60.1mpg. The unit emits 108g/km of CO2, which means a truly low taxable benefit for business users, while carrying an equally impressive Group 18 rating for insurance purposes. At no time during the test did the car feel strained, or lumbering. Yet, its top speed is given as a wholly respectable 119mph, after despatching the 0-60mph benchmark sprint in a sprightly 9.6 seconds. However, it is the vital mid-range pull that remains the most positive aspect and which makes the driving experience such a genuinely frugal delight.
Tackling the same test route at significantly higher speeds, the 2008 was true to its dialled-in steering input, with a crisp turn-in to bends and a firm but not unpleasant ride quality. Bump suppression is especially good and body roll, despite the greater ride height, is minimal, which imparts a feeling of first-rate stability to occupants. The overriding impression of the Urban Cross is that it is an honest and purposeful family car that will not let you down, regardless of what Mother Nature has in store. Yet, the ‘feel good’ factor might be affected adversely from within the car.
On the trim front, there are some interesting uses of materials and tactile surfaces that add interest, not least on the criss-cross detailing of the soft dashboard. Thanks to dramatically improved ergonomics, the dashboard no longer provides a base for a plethora of confusing buttons, as most functions are now controlled via the touch-screen in the centre. However, the lack of electric windows in the rear seems like penny-pinching from a brand to which ‘bling’ and enhanced specifications are now very much second nature. The flat rear seats are not especially comfortable, despite their roll and tilt facility to increase what is a cavernous boot space (seats up) for such a compact estate car. In fact, they have the appearance of an ‘old school’ station wagon about them, which makes them even less alluring.
Clad in a mix of cloth and ‘neoprene-like’ materials, the front seats are eminently supportive, even though the driving position, enforced by the tiny diameter steering wheel, over the top of which the analogue instrument dials purport to be more legible, I contend is still one design element too far. Due to the lower positioning of the steering column, while the reach adjustment is plentiful, the rake aspect is restricted and unhelpful to drivers possessing longer legs. The lack of rearward movement of the driver’s seat also limits comfort for those of taller stature.
While Peugeot feels clearly that a five-speed manual ’box is ‘adequate’ for this model, despite a 70mph cruise requiring little more than 2,500rpm, I believe that a six-speeder would introduce a slightly improved level of refinement to a fairly well-resolved cabin. However, I do have concerns about the internal build quality. Most modern cars are now so structurally rigid that creaks and rattles are things of the past. Sadly, when driving on a cobbled surface, the 2008 sounds more like a 45 year old 504 estate, so disturbingly noisy is its creaking trim.
Yet, priced at a whisker under £16,500, the Peugeot 2008 Urban Cross does present conspicuously good value for money, especially as a 1.0-litre Fiesta can cost around two thousand Pounds more and it is nowhere near as practical. Against its rivals, only the (Renault) Dacia Sandero offers a markedly lower price tag but at a reduced value level overall.
Conclusion: Peugeot is a respected brand and possibly one of the most respected of the mainstreamers sold in the UK. The 2008 is an effective replacement for the 207SW. Yet, it introduces a raft of premium qualities that more than justify its price tag. It is a good looking machine and it provides an excellent performance envelope. It is unlikely to turn me into an ‘urban warrior’ but I can appreciate its warmer qualities. Now that the company has resolved its long-term warranty issues, a Peugeot 2008 Urban Cross would make a most suitable vehicle to deal with modern day motoring problems.