Small Peugeots have always been popular in the UK, and with over 20,000 examples already sold since its launch in June last year, the 208 looks to continue that trend.
Next to competitors though, the last few generations of Peugeot supermini have been oddly bland and dissatisfying. As the 208 takes the same leap in perceived quality as others in the Peugeot range, can the new car compete on more than simply sales numbers?
Visually, the 208
works pretty well. Much of it feels quite familiar from its predecessors, the 207
and 206. Proportionally it's very similar, and the back end in particular feels very much like the 206 - but with an air of greater expense.
We’re still not sold on the front grille, though it’s a better effort than previous Peugeots, and in top-end Feline spec and vivid Virtual Blue metallic paint (a £495 option), it brings out the best in the small Peugeot’s lines.
The 17-inch ‘Oxygen’ alloy wheels look great, and subtle strips of chrome below the windows, around the fog lights and lining the grille give it the same pseudo-boutique look as its Citroen DS3 cousin, if less overtly. Feline-spec cars like our test car also feature a panoramic glass roof as standard.
That glass roof sheds welcome light on the 208’s interior. Much has been made of the relatively unusual interior layout, which places the dials high on the dashboard and puts a small-diameter steering wheel lower down.
In theory, this should allow drivers to more easily see all of the instruments, while also putting them closer to your line of sight out of the windscreen - a safety feature to reduce the time your eyes spend away from the road. Some have complained they can’t find a comfortable seating position, but at 5’9”, we found it fairly comfortable - particularly in the well-bolstered Sports seats. You quickly get used to the small steering wheel and the dashboard layout makes the interior feel quite airy.
There’s decent space in the back too, so four modestly-sized adults, or two larger adults and a trio of children should fit comfortably. Boot space is also good, with a usable 285 litres (just 10 litres down on a Ford Fiesta). One minor irritation in our three-door car is that the front seat backs don’t return to the same place they were before letting people into the rear. Another niggle is the tiny glovebox, though in general the interior isn’t bad for little storage spaces.
Quality in modern Peugeots is far better than previously, and the 208 feels well-made. Interior materials are good, and there are some neat details - blue ambient lighting around the glass roof, plenty of metallic and piano black trim, and that central touchscreen display.
We’ve been critical of Peugeot’s infotainment systems in the past, but the 208’s is a vast improvement. It now speaks to iPods and iPhones, its navigation system isn’t completely unfathomable, and the touchscreen menus are all intuitive to use. It isn’t just the preserve of the Feline either - Active models and above all get the 7” screen. Navigation is a £400 option.
It’s popular to compare cars like the 208 to the Ford Fiesta, generally held as a pinnacle for ride and handling in the class. The 208 doesn’t quite communicate like the Fiesta and none of the controls feel quite as well-judged, but it’s still an excellent product and one that many would be more than happy to drive day-in, day-out.
The 208 has a sporty feel to it, particularly on the larger wheels and tyres of Feline spec. The small steering wheel helps too, letting you dart through corners with ease. Steering feel isn’t at Fiesta levels, but it’s accurate, and relatively light too which makes town driving a doddle. All the pedals are light too, as is the gearshift. The action of the gear lever is a bit clunky, but you’ll never struggle to find a gear.
Refinement is good at most speeds. Ride quality varies on the 17-inch alloys, occasionally clonking and shuddering over bumps, but importantly the car feels like it can take it - rattles are kept to a minimum. We suspect smaller wheel and tyre combos may handle poorly surfaced roads a little better, however. The 208 is fun to flick through twisty roads and there’s plenty of grip on offer. There’s good balance too - it won’t snap on you like Peugeots of old, but find yourself pushing wide and a little lift of the throttle brings the nose neatly back in line. Stability control and ABS, naturally, are standard fitment.
Under the bonnet, our car featured a 1.6-litre, eight-valve turbocharged diesel engine, given the e-HDi tag. It develops 115 horsepower at 4,000rpm, and a useful 270 Nm of torque from only 1,750rpm.
In such a light car - the 208 has shed plenty of weight compared to its predecessor, tipping the scales at 1,090kg - performance is quite sprightly. The 10.8-second official 0-62mph time doesn’t really do it justice, as in-gear performance feels more than adequate for swift progress. At the same time, there’s enough punch to sit at typical motorway speeds and still have a little urge in reserve.
At all speeds the engine feels refined, and in sixth gear at 70mph the engine is turning over a few revs short of 2,000rpm. You’ll never be in doubt about the fuel powering it, but in most situations the engine is unobtrusive enough as not to be a concern.
Value for money
At £17,445, the 208 Feline HDi isn’t a cheap car for its size, and our test example featured a few options too, bumping up the price further. In some ways, the Feline HDi sits in limbo in the class, with few rivals offering similar power and spec - the most powerful Fiesta
and Volkswagen Polo
diesels put out less than 100bhp, the most powerful Vauxhall Corsa
diesel as much as 130. Next to these, the price seems about right - cheaper than the Vauxhall and the semi-premium VW, a little more than the Ford.
Equipment levels are good too, on the Feline - electric, folding, heated mirrors, panoramic sunroof, leather wheel, auto headlights and wipers, dual-zone aircon - the list goes on. It also gets 5 Euro NCAP crash test stars.
Running costs should be low too. At 99g/km of CO2, the 208 e-HDi 115 gets free road tax and congestion charge exemption (for the time being…). Official combined economy is 74.3 mpg.
We didn’t get close to that figure on our test. In the end, the trip computer showed an average of 56 mpg, which took in a few hundred miles of motorway cruising, and another hundred or so mixed miles of city, town and country driving. Standard stop-start technology does help to keep city consumption low.
So does the Peugeot 208 have more to offer than familiarity? If you’ve been reading the test, you’ll be unsurprised to find the answer is “yes”. Large steps up in quality - both actual and perceived - styling, and driving appeal mean the 208 is a car you can choose entirely on merit.
The unusual interior layout may put off some, so we advise you try before you buy - but we suspect you’d quickly adapt. With a lofty price we’d also suggest you carefully consider exactly what you need from the car, as city-bound drivers may be better off with one of the cheaper petrol models and a slightly less comprehensive spec. But next to the Fiesta
et al, the 208 is a talented, interesting alternative.
What the press think
Reviews for the 208 are positive, and our buzzScore shows it just a few tenths behind the class-leading Ford Fiesta
Testers praise interior space though some aren’t fond of the driving position. Refinement ranks highly, while most like the way the 208 drives too - even if it’s not quite up to Fiesta levels of ride and handling. Generally, the 208 is rated as one of the best cars in the class.
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