The success of the Peugeot DKR race machine in two Dakar events prompted some off-road enthusiasts to suggest that there may be a place for a 2WD to challenge the accepted ability of a 4WD for off-road touring. It’s not that simple.
For a start, racing vehicles are always built as lightly as possible, because the only payload capacity they need is for two crew, a couple of mounted spare tyres and enough fuel.
Peugeot hasn’t published an all-up weight figure for the DKR race vehicle, but it’s certainly a lot less than that of a loaded bush-touring vehicle
In the case of the Dakar event there were also important concessions granted to 2WD vehicles, compared with 4WD entrants. Peugeot Sport was able to fit the DKR with suspension offering way more wheel travel: 460mm, compared with only 250mm for 4WD competitors.
Larger wheels and tyres were also permitted, along with a tyre-inflation system that allowed the DKR machines to vary tyre pressures on the move.
The mid-mounted V6 twin-turbo diesel engine was upgraded, with outputs around 270kW and 800Nm.
However, there was a great gap in specification between race and production Peugeots.
The DKR’s model designation ‘2008’ was shared by a Peugeot production hatch that was in its second iteration.
We had a play in the mud in both models and we reckoned that soft-roader buyers should have a good look at the 2008.
The production 2008 shared its 2WD description with the DKR 2008, but that’s where the similarity ended. The race vehicle was mid-engined and rear wheel drive, where the production vehicle was front engined and front wheel drive.
Also, the race vehicle didn’t have the equipment levels of the production vehicle: trip computer; USB and Bluetooth connectivity; Arkamys digital sound processing; Mirror Screen connectivity, including MirrorLink and Apple CarPlay; aluminium wheels with a proper spare wheel (steel); two-zone aircon; rear parking sensors; reverse camera; electric door mirrors with folding function; front and rear fog light; cruise control and speed limited; leather steering wheel with audio controls; cooled centre console compartment; Park Assist (self-parking); satellite navigation; active city brake; Grip Control; fog light cornering function; automatic wipers; automatic headlamps; electro-chromatic rear view mirror and rear privacy glass
The former engine choices – petrol 1.3-litre and 1.6-litre and 1.6-litre diesel – were replaced by an award-winning, Euro 6 compliant, three-cylinder, 1.2-litre, 81kW/205Nm turbo petrol engine, driving through a six-speed Aisin torque converter automatic. Being a European vehicle it obviously sipped 95-octane fuel frugally – we averaged under 7.0L/100km in town and country driving – and handled like a sports car.
The little diesel, we think, was a casualty of tightening emissions law testing in Europe, but it wasn’t missed. The petrol engine had ample torque to propel the one-tonne five-seater and could leave many larger vehicles breathless from a standing start. It was rated to tow just under one tonne, so a small camper trailer bobbing along behind was a possibility.
In moderate off-road conditions the 2WD 2008 could embarrass many AWD soft-roaders, thanks to its modulated traction control system, called Grip Control. The driver could select from ‘snow’ ‘mud’ and ‘sand’ models and could also switch off ESP if required.
The little Peugeot couldn’t match the ability of the Suzuki Grand Vitara – a compact ‘real’ 4WD with centre diff lock and proper low range gearing – but the 2008 could mix it with all the other non-low-range-equipped soft-roaders.
Battle conditions comparison
The relative abilities of 2WD or 4WD four-seat vehicles were compared in the European battlefields of World War II. The Germans had the 2WD Kubelwagen and the Americans had the Jeep.
The Kubelwagen was a derivative of the rear-wheel-drive VW ‘Beetle’, with an open, lightweight body and 19-inch wheels, and the Jeep was a purpose-designed, military quarter-ton 4WD machine.
Changes to the early Type 62 Kubelwagens included a stronger platform frame and reduction gears in portal hubs on the rear axle shafts.
The Type 82’s reduction gears provided crawling speed that matched foot-soldiers’ marching pace and the ‘drop-box’ hubs increased ground clearance that was matched by front suspension mounting changes.
The Kubelwagen featured the first production-vehicle application of a self-locking differential, giving it much better tractive ability off road, and its flat belly allowed it to slide over sand, snow or mud. In some ditch-crossing manoeuvres it was more capable than a 4WD Jeep that could get hung up with diagonal wheel spin.
The locking diff design was first fitted to the mid-engined 1930s Auto Union racing cars, after Ferry Porsche commissioned ZF to build it.
While the one-litre, air-cooled, 22.5hp VW engine couldn’t perform or tow like a 60hp Jeep could, it was inherently more stable, on and off road, and had much better ride and handling, thanks to its independent, long-travel suspension.
There are conflicting stories about what the Americans thought of the VW. In the middle of the War official US military tests concluded that the German vehicle was simpler, easier to manufacture and maintain, faster, and more comfortable for four passengers than the Jeep.
However, by War’s end the opinion was: “The Volkswagen, the German equivalent of the US Jeep, is inferior in every way except in the comfort of its seating accommodation”.
The VW’s configuration made it easy to convert to four wheel drive, by extending the output shaft through the front of the transmission and to the front axle via a propshaft running in a central tunnel in the floor pan.
A limited number of Kübelwagen, including the amphibious version, were built with that system, but the extra expense and weight proved unjustifiable for the bulk of Kubelwagen applications.
It’s obvious that lightweight 4WD-equivalent vehicles can be built using rear wheel drive only and in some cases these 2WD machines can match 4WDs. The last of such machines was the rear-engined VW commercial, popularly called ‘Kombi’.
Like the Kubelwagen the Kombi had portal rear axle hubs that gave it ample ground clearance for off-road driving.
Allan Whiting spent a year in a camper version in Europe many years ago and did a fair amount of off-bitumen exploring without drama. A well-driven old Kombi can still match it with some 4WD vehicles!
However, most 2WD machines are found wanting. The Grip Control equipped Peugeot 2008 was an obvious exception, as was the Oilfield Dodge that the dodge Brothers featured in the 1920s. We suspect this 2WD sedan was fitted with a welded-up rear axle: a cheap form of rear diff lock!