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Say bonjour to the new Peugeot 2008, the little high-rider that’s riding high on the growing popularity of the B-segment crossover market in Europe. Reports of late say production in Mulhouse, France is set to double and analyst IHS Automotive is expecting it to lead the class in terms of sales, ahead of the Nissan Juke, Renault Captur and Opel/Vauxhall Mokka.

How it’ll fare in Malaysia, though, is an interesting matter, given that it’s the first of this new breed of supermini-based SUVs to arrive here. Set to join it are the Ford EcoSport and perhaps even the Honda Vezel further down the line, which should make the game even more exciting to play.

But that’s a story for another day. You’ve seen it up close at KLIMS13. You know its specs, equipment and price. And now that it’s officially on sale in Malaysia, there isn’t a more opportune time to tell you how much motion and emotion it has to offer behind the wheel. We take you to the eastern French region of Alsace, where the Peugeot 2008 international press drive took place.

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Of course, the 2008 is based on the 208 hatch‘s platform, but there’s more than enough differentiation where looks are concerned. Uniquely-shaped headlamps with LED DRL ‘eyebrows’ and incisions at the bottom flank the new double-bar Peugeot corporate grille also seen on the new 308. Below it, a neat black front apron holds fog lamps with a wide chrome surround and a contrasting skid plate under the lower intake.

The side profile would no doubt raise an eyebrow or two (as it did mine), with its strange ‘humps’ at the base of the A-pillar and roofline. But, out-of-place though they may seem, I think they add a dose of funk to what would otherwise be a rather prosaic design. Certainly makes it more visually recognisable and memorable.

These things should look a bit hipster, anyway; think of the Juke, Captur and the sort of people they’re aimed at. The way the C-shaped tail lamps cup the body bulge above the back wheels is pretty interesting – this stands out best on a darker-coloured car. Wheels are 15-inch steel, 16-inch steel, 16-inch ‘Hydre’ alloys (Malaysia gets these) or 17-inch ‘Eridan’ alloys depending on the variant.

The raised ride height, roof rails, black cladding along the lower part of the body and protruding rear bumper lend a bit of rugged, outdoorsy appeal – but make no mistake, the Peugeot 2008 is, like its classmates, an urban dweller first and foremost.

Time to break out the tape measure. At 4,159 mm long, 2,004 mm wide (including wing mirrors) and 1,556 mm tall, the Peugeot 2008 is almost 200 mm longer and 96 mm taller than the 208 hatch, with a 25-mm higher ground clearance at 165 mm. Width and a 2,538-mm wheelbase are unchanged from the 208, but front and rear tracks are wider by 12 and 20 mm respectively.

Now for the bathroom scales. The 208 is already a lightweight car, ranging from 975 to 1,160 kg (including the 208 GTi) – not a bad starting point. The new crossover weighs between 1,045 and 1,180 kg, making it one of, if not the lightest, in its class.

The boot can hold 360 litres of luggage with the back seats up and 1,194 litres with them folded down (compared to 311 and 1,152 litres respectively on the 208). More brownie points for practicality come courtesy of one-touch-foldable 60:40-split back seats that fold flat, a boot sill that’s just 600 mm off the ground and a boot opening that’s over a metre wide.

A strong sense of déjà vu awaits 208 owners inside – besides an aviation-style handbrake and a sliding-lid centre console box in place of the 208′s armrest, the cockpit is pretty much a carry-over. There’s that small steering wheel, the instrument panel that ‘floats’ above it and the seven-inch touch-screen with USB and Bluetooth (good graphics, not so intuitive interface). A 12V power socket and two USB inputs reside in the console tray; at the back of the centre console is a second 12V socket for use by rear-seat occupants.

I do like the way the interior looks – it’s a refreshing and creative departure from the mostly grey sea we’re so used to swimming in these days. Piano black and satin chrome trim help elevate the cabin’s ambience and are good to the touch, but the age-old concept of ‘premium’ plays second fiddle to flash and flamboyance on higher-spec variants, which rely on LEDs to provide the ‘wow’ factor.

On these higher trim levels, the instrument dials get a blue LED surround (otherwise satin chrome-bordered) and the headlining boasts what’s called LED Track – laser-cut lines that emit blue or white light. As Malaysia’s 2008 is fitted with a panoramic glass roof (which comes with mood lighting and an electric sunblind), sadly, we don’t get the cool LED Track.

What we do get, though, are cruise control, Park Assist (auto parallel parking, entry and exit), front and rear parking aid with audio and visual assistance, Arkamys 3D sound piped through six speakers, auto headlamps and wipers, directional fog lamps and semi-bucket ‘Oxford’ seats in a mix of leather and fabric. Six airbags, ESP, ASR, EBA, EBD, stability control and Isofix are standard across the range. See the Malaysian brochure here.

Globally, the Peugeot 2008 can be specified with an impressive variety of powerplants. Petrols come in 1.2 VTi 82 three-cylinder and 1.6 VTi 120 four-cylinder forms; diesels are a 1.4 HDi 70 four-cylinder and a 1.6 e-HDi four-cylinder in 92 and 115 hp states of tune. A new 1.2 e-THP three-cylinder petrol in 110 and 130 hp states of tune is set to join the engine menu soon.

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The two powertrains I managed to sample over the course of the drive were the 1.6 VTi 120 with a five-speed manual and the 1.6 e-HDi 115 with a six-speed manual – both range-topping engines. Unfortunately, no automatics were present that day – our upcoming local test drive report will reveal our musings on the four-speed auto’s suitability and performance in the Peugeot 2008.

First, the petrol, which is the one we get. You know this engine from the 208 – output numbers are a familiar 120 hp at 6,000 rpm and 160 Nm of torque at 4,250 rpm. Where the 2008 is concerned, combined fuel economy is a claimed 5.9 litres per 100 km for the manual and 6.5 for the auto.

It may develop the most horsepower of any engine in the current line-up, but if you don’t pile on the revs to look for those horses, progress in the low- to mid-ranges is relatively leisurely, but at least linear. The mill spins freely and smoothly, and throttle response is good – drop a cog or two and the Peugeot 2008 1.6 VTi executes overtaking manoeuvres and tackles gradients with adequate ease.

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It does tend to make its presence known on the motorway, though. At 110 km/h in overdrive, the engine spins at around 3,000 rpm – an extra gear would’ve been ideal. Working to counter this are the levels of refinement and stability at speed, which are pretty high for a car such as this.

Equipped with the five-speed manual, the 1,080-kg VTi-engined crossover can do the century sprint in a respectable 9.5 seconds. In comparison, the automatic version is 60 kg heavier, has one gear less and gets to 100 km/h in a claimed 11.2 seconds.

A bit about the diesel, even though we’re not getting it. The 1.6 e-HDi 115 produces 115 hp at 3,600 rpm and a healthy 270 Nm of twist at 1,750 rpm. As you can surmise, there’s considerably more shove to be had here at lower revs, and because it’s not as rev-happy or as responsive as the petrol, the push mostly comes in one big lump a little bit after you ask for it.

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Suffice to say, the very accessible torque reserves make it a more able climber than the VTi – especially welcome on the mountain roads, where I could practically stay in third and fourth. The diesel feels the faster of the two, but in a flat straight line to 100 km/h, it isn’t. The 1,180-kg e-HDi manual takes 10.4 seconds here; still faster than the VTi auto on paper but nearly a full second down on the VTi manual.

While being considerably more audible than the petrol engine throughout the rev range (clatter included), the diesel’s six speeds meant the corresponding revs in top gear at 110 km/h were a more relaxed 2,000 rpm. This, coupled with a rather seamless start-stop system, allows the Peugeot 2008 1.6 e-HDi 115 manual to claim an impressive combined fuel economy of 4.0 litres per 100 km.

Show the crossover some corners and it complies with more grip and agility than you’d expect, but body roll could be better damped, particularly on rebound and through mid-corner bumps. The all-round disc brakes provide good, predictable stopping power, with apparent but not excessive nose-dive.

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The suspension – made up of MacPherson struts with stabiliser up front and a trailing arm with deformable cross-member axle out back – is softly sprung, which makes for good ride comfort overall, so long as you aren’t overly enthusiastic in the bends. Both clutch pedal and gearchange have quite a long travel, and the clutch’s biting point is high.

The electric power steering is on the weighty side, but enough feel and feedback is communicated to the driver through the small-diameter, thick-rimmed wheel. What took a bit of getting used to was looking at the instrument panel above the wheel instead of through it; also the aviation-style handbrake, with its release button located under the handle. But quirks like these sometimes lend a certain je ne sais quoi to driving, don’t they?

You sit quite high on semi-buckets that offer particularly good thigh support, with a good view of the road ahead, although the thick rear pillars impede rear-three-quarter visibility somewhat. However, the panoramic glass roof does wonders for airiness, and there’s quite a bit of window area too, thanks to a low belt line.

At RM120k, it’s not what you’d deem a dime a dozen, but that’s because it isn’t – the Peugeot 2008 brings with it French flair that you don’t see everyday. It’s neither the most dynamic nor ergonomic SUV in town, but it’s special in a way that transcends spec sheets and equipment lists. Put simply, it’s a vehicle of decent motion, but a whole lot more emotion.