Published on Sunday 1 February 2015 18:08
Ten Second Review
The 208 hatchback sees Peugeot build yet more sophistication and style into its supermini line. With some extremely economical engines and a focus on making the car better to drive and better to sit in, this could well be one to watch. Especially in frugal but responsive 1.6 e-HDi diesel form.
Popularity contests are rarely edifying processes and the monster sales figures of Peugeot's 206 demonstrated that perhaps British buyers weren't quite as savvy as they liked to think. Although it was pretty and well priced, the 206 was never a good car to drive, suffered a number of reliability woes and probably did as much as any car in Peugeot's history to turn well-intentioned buyers off the brand.
Its successor, the 207, wasn't at all bad, but it was always playing catch up, trying to score sales at a time when the rest of the Peugeot range was increasingly plagued by ungainly styling. While some of this might sound a rather harsh review, it's key to understand how far Peugeot has come from the mediocre 206 through the credible but slightly unresolved 207 to the far more sophisticated and measured 208 we see before us here. Has Peugeot's supermini been fully rehabilitated? Let's find out, at the wheel of the frugal 1.6-litre e-HDi variant.
The best thing about the 207 was its engine technology and the 208 carries on where the 207 left off with probably the most impressive range of efficient engines in the whole supermini class. Arguably the cleverest units are reserved for the diesel line-up, with the 'e-HDi' micro-hybrid technology that's already been widely used across Peugeot's larger models.
There are two units from which to choose, a 68bhp 1.4 and a 92bhp 1.6, with or without the Gallic brand's rather jerky EGC semi-automatic transmission. We elected to try a manual 1.4, valuing the extra potential performance that sees this variant reach sixty from rest in 10.8s on the way to 118mph. And on the move, it feels fun to drive, helped by the tiny steering wheel, above which you must look to see instrumentation that's been raised up near the windscreen like an MPV.
True, the electric power steering could do with a little more feel and you get a slightly notchy manual transmission. Otherwise though, there's enough in the 208's repertoire to see off the Clios, Puntos and Corsas that many buyers will be trading up from and there's a quality of ride and chassis balance that seems impossible when you learn that this car's suspension set-up has been carried over largely unchanged from the stodgy old 207.
Design and Build
The 208 represents a new design direction for Peugeot in this class. Many of the styling cues are directly attributable to the SR1 show car which debuted at the 2010 Geneva Show and while the basic silhouette could be accused of being a little more generic than its predecessors, the detailing is crisp, the surfacing neat and the overall shape is extremely cohesive. A fat-arched GTI version would look fantastic.
The cabin is a big step ahead too and there's some novel thinking afoot. Rather than peer through the steering wheel at the gauges, Peugeot has instead made the wheel smaller and lower so that drivers will be able to look over it for an unobstructed view of the main instrument binnacle. Higher quality finishes and a very neat infotainment system feature, while both three and five door models offer plenty more occupant space. Not only do rear seat occupants get 5cm more knee room, they do so in a car that is 7cm shorter and 1cm lower than the 207 it replaces. That increased passenger space doesn't come at the expense of luggage capacity either, with the 208 offering an additional 1.5 cubic litres in which to stow your gear.
Market and Model
Pricing for this 208 1.6 e-HDi starts from just over the £14,000 mark and doesn't represent much of a premium over the feebler 1.4-litre e-HDi variant. There's a choice of either manual or EGC automatic transmission with either three or five-door bodystyles. All variants are decently kitted out with cruise control and a speed limiter to help you keep your licence in urban areas, a stereo with an AUX-in jack and wheel-mounted controls, remote central locking and electric front windows.
Perhaps the biggest draw though, will be the colour touchscreen system. You're going to need to know a little bit this 7-inch high resolution monitor if you're a potential 208 buyer, for all but very basic entry-level models get it. In its basic form, the high-resolution screen offers access to radio, a Bluetooth hands-free kit and will play music files via a USB connection or audio streaming but many owners will want to pay a few hundred pounds extra to add satellite navigation to it.
Beyond that, it's really down to your choice from a whole library of downloadable 'Peugeot Connect Apps' which can do almost anything from warning you of traffic jams to locating a fuel station, from finding you a car park to locating a restaurant. You can also check the weather, search for tourist locations, find entertainment venues - even search for a trader via a 'Yellow Pages' function. Very clever.
Cost of Ownership
Running a 208 is not going to break even the most modest bank. A lot of weight-saving has gone on in the design process and the result is that on average, this car weighs about 114kgs less, model-for-model, than its 207 predecessor. Greater efficiency is therefore almost guaranteed. On top of that, plenty of eco-minded high-technology has been thrown at this Peugeot to drive its running costs down, but as usual, you won't find all of it across the range.
Most of the eco-features are reserved for e-HDi diesel models like the one we've been testing here, cars that feature what Peugeot likes to call a 'micro-hybrid' system. Don't be confused by that: we're not talking here of a Prius-like hybrid. Instead, the terminology refers to a 5V super capacitator which stores electric power and, along with a reversible alternator, helps the car's regular battery to restart the engine when the standard Stop/Start system cuts it when not needed in urban traffic or at the lights - at which point a soothing blue 'Eco' light illuminates on the dash.
Along with regenerative braking, that helps this car achieve substantial fuel savings and you'll not harm these if you specify your 208 diesel with the EGC automatic gearbox, a transmission which takes a bit of getting used to. Whichever transmission you choose for your 208 in 1.6-litre e-HDi guise, the car will be capable of 74.3mpg on the combined cycle and a CO2 return that just dips under the magic 100g/km mark.
While the Peugeot 207 was a reasonably competent and perfectly inoffensive thing, it was always a tough car to recommend over a bunch of very talented rivals. Peugeot certainly doesn't want the 208 to follow that path and has equipped it to challenge for class honours, especially in the 1.6-litre e-HDi diesel guise we've been looking at here. This engine is one of the picks in the line-up, still frugal but with enough performance for longer trips.
It's a key part of a 208 line-up that confirms the way that Peugeot as a brand appears to have rediscovered its mojo. Anybody who loves small, fun cars will raise a glass to that fact.