PEUGEOT'S 3008 has stolen a march on the competition by being fitted with the first diesel-electric hybrid powertrain to hit showrooms in Europe, marrying the twin benefits of short-term electric-only power with diesel torque and efficiency.
The system works in roughly the same way as the long-established Toyota version seen in several of its models like the Lexus RX450h and Toyota Prius. The 3008 Hybrid4, or HY4 for short, has a complete and fully-integrated hybrid system that never needs plugging in, and has no issues with potential range.
Where this system differs from the existing 'full hybrid' systems is that the electric motor is much smaller it puts out just 27 kilowatts compared to the Prius' 60-kilowatt system, and the motor drives the rear wheels leaving the fronts to the engine.
Peugeot wanted to give the 3008 maximum efficiency and a smaller motor means less friction, which in turn means lower CO2 and big tax benefits across Europe. The base model puts out 99g/km of CO2, making it road tax and congestion charge exempt in Britain.
The mid-range and limited edition range-topping version both emit 104g/km, which puts them in the lowest chargeable road tax band in this country, but significantly for Peugeot that's a crucial marker for 2000 in tax benefits in its home French market. Either way, it's a remarkable figure considering the car's relative size and weight 140kg heavier than the diesel-only 3008.
Fuel economy is equally impressive. On the combined cycle the mid-range model officially returns 70.6mpg (slightly less than the base model), but it's in town where it really shines. During the launch in the northern French town of Dinard I had a chance to drive it on a low-speed urban route around short, narrow streets and it returned 71mpg in all the default driving settings. Astonishing, really.
Cars like this have been tuned to be driven a certain way. In a way the 3008 HY4 is just like the road racer Porsche 911 GT3 RS designed more or less for one thing only, but supremely good at it. The 3008 just needs constant gentle use of the controls to excel.
One of the key benefits that the HY4 system offers is the ability to choose one of four driving modes, making it more versatile than you'd expect. The ZEV Zero Emissions Vehicle mode biases the car towards using the electric motor, which is great for in-town driving but not so good for inclines. The small motor struggles to pull the car's mass uphill, but on the up-side the motors help recharge the battery on downhill stretches.
Sport mode biases the system the other way, using the diesel engine almost all the time and giving the full 200bhp, 332lb.ft thrust. In this mode the 3008 HY4 is actually pretty good to drive, and although it shows quite a lot of body roll it suits the character of the car and allows it to ride very well. It's a surprisingly comfortable car all round.
The other two modes are 4x4 and Auto. While 4x4 hardly turns the 3008 into a Land Rover Defender, it does give valuable extra traction in sticky situations, like if you need to drive the car uphill out of soft, wet sand. That exact situation was set up on the launch and the system worked, albeit less impressively than that of a 'proper' 4x4.
Auto is the default setting and it takes care of almost everything. It's a low power mode designed to give maximum fuel economy, and reflects how most people will drive. It does need a consciously light right foot to help it do its best work, but 71mpg in town or more is the kind of reward owners can expect if they tow the eco-driving line.
The only thing Auto doesn't do is switch automatically to Sport mode. Even pushing the accelerator into the carpet doesn't, which means you have to select Sport manually if you want to overtake quickly. It's a bit clumsy, but it's a relatively small area of compromise.
One question on potential buyers' lips might be whether the system is refined or not. It is, and very much so as long as you work the pedals gently. The engine and motor cut in and out with no clues whatsoever beyond the helpful active diagram on the central screen. Get more insistent with the accelerator and the system becomes a little jerkier as it does its thing.
All in all, the 3008 HY4 is an excellent car, and good value compared to its diesel-only counterparts. It offers more performance, more prestige and much better fuel economy, especially in urban environments. It's a very convincing package that deserves to do well.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Peugeot 3008 Hybrid4, £26,995 on the road.
Engine: Diesel-electric hybrid; 2.0-litre 163bhp diesel engine with 37bhp electric motor, creating a total of 200bhp and 332lb.ft of torque.
Transmission: Electronically-operated manual gearbox attached to the engine and driving front wheels; electric motor driving rear wheels.
Performance: Top speed 118mph (limited), 0-62mph in 8.5 seconds.
Fuel economy: 74.4mpg.
CO2 rating: 99g/km.