Peugeot has been around for two hundred years now and their car range has included an unbroken run of 2-series cars for the past 83 of them and classics such as the 205 of the 80s helped to define the French marque as the king of small sporty hatchbacks.
Recent years have seen a loss of form though and few will mourn the passing of the forgettable 207, an ill-judged car that missed the mark completely: 40 percent of buyers in the supermini market plump for a car with an engine smaller than 1.4-litre engines, something that Peugeot couldnt offer.
The new 208 remedies that mistake, so it was with interest that I made my way to Manchesters Media City to find out for myself whether Peugeot were in a position to reclaim their crown.
Looks might be subjective but few would disagree that the Peugeot 208 is a very good-looking car. Interestingly, its 7cm shorter than the old 207, yet 5cm larger inside as well as 110kgs lighter. This is very Good News and a welcome sign that car makers are looking to their roots to improve performance and fuel-efficiency through clever design.
The corporate face works well, even in this smaller shell, with the double-bubble roof echoing that of the RCZ. Both three- and five-door versions are neat, conservative and considered designs with some very clever flourishes: the floating Peugeot badge on the front grille is one example, as is the spine that glides the length of the car. The most distinctive elements are probably the front and rear lights that are genuinely jewel-like and beautifully finsihed.
The interior feels like that of a bigger car and few drivers will find the cabin cramped with plenty of head-, shoulder, and foot-room. Rear seat space is pretty generous too as is the boot.
The dash features the highest instruments youve ever seen, along with the smallest steering wheel. As a result the dials are placed just below the drivers eyeline, which means that they can be seen easily without having to glance down too far. The drawback, and its a considerable one, is the small steering wheel that feels like something from a Wii games console. It does endow the 208 with a sportiness to the steering that isnt unattractive but if youve got big hands it just feels and looks peculiar. My co-driver claimed the wheel gave the optical illusion of my having comedy-sized jazz hands
The rest of the interior is much better having a premium feel that is several degrees better than most cars in this class. The shiny plastic that Peugeot dots about the place is a bit of a love-it-or-loathe-it feature but otherwise its all rather good.
The are five trim levels: Access, Access+, Active, Allure, and Feline. The middle-of-the-range Active is expected to be the best selling version with standard equipment that includes a 7 colour multi-media touchscreen with Bluetooth, 15 alloy wheels, a split rear seat, electric windows and air-con.
The lightweight 208 feels every inch the lithe city car that Peugeot hoped for. In 1.0-form it zips and zings along with the engine thrumming its off-beat note. It darts about with enthusiasm and is great fun, if a bit lively.
The larger diesel engied-model is more refined and grown-up. It also rides much better than the smaller petrol-engined car and has a heft to it that the other car lacks. This should be a good thing but Im not convinced that it suits the cars character and intended use; I liked the vim and vigour of the three-cylinder car a lot.
There are five petrol and three diesel variants available: the petrol range encompasses a 1.0-litre VTi with 68bhp, a 1.2 with 82bhp, a 1.4 with 958bhp, a 1.6 with 120, and finally a 1.6 THP with 156. The diesel range spans a 1.4 HDi with 70bhp with and without stop/start (called the e-HDi with it) and a 1.6 e-HDi with 92bhp or 115bhp.
I drove a 1.2 VTi 3-cylinder first that develops just 82bhp and 87lb ft of torque but dont be misled; this is a feisty engine that thrives on being driven hard and is more than capable of keeping up with traffic, even on the motorway. This does mean that it isnt the most relaxing engine option but there is an off-beat honesty to it that I liked, even if it isnt quite as good as Fords smaller-capacity EcoBoost.
Itll reach a top speed of 109mph after passing 62mph in a leisurely 14 seconds but it feels much quicker and I was never left feeling that I was being short-changed. The official fuel consumption is 62.8mpg with 104g/km of CO2; expect to see stop/start soon, which will bring this down below the magic 100 figure.
The larger 1.6-litre e-HDi diesel engine is a very different animal feeling more muscular and civilised, even if its performance isnt actually that much faster (0-62mph in 12.2 seconds and a top speed of 115mph). The 208 feels much more grown-up with the diesel under the bonnet and Im not sure that this is necessarily a good thing. Fuel consumption is staggering, though: 98g/km of CO2 and up to 74.3mpg.
Value for Money
The Peugeot 208 range starts at 9,995 for the 1.0-litre Access and goes all the way to 18,495 for the 1.6-litre VTi Ice Velvet. Prices for the diesel engine start at 12,645 for the three-door and 13,245 for the five-door.
The real appeal of the 208 range is Peugeots Just Add Fuel scheme, which lumps together the cost of the car along with that of insurance, road tax, servicing, and roadside recovery. Prices start at 285 for a 21-year-old, which is very good value indeed. Prices will vary of course, but the rising cost of car insurance for younger drivers makes this a very attractive offer.
The Peugeot 208 is a well-rounded car that spans a wide variety of drivers needs. Peugeots Just Add Fuel is a very attractive offer that gives the canny motorist three years fuss-free for one inclusive monthly payment.
As with so many small cars the best value and driving experience is provided by the cheapest in the range and providing you dont cover 20,000 motorway miles a year few will need anything larger than the clever 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine.
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