First Drive: Peugeot 208
Key features: New look, smaller shell with more space, new eco-friendly engines
Our view: Been driving some years? Bit of a hot hatch enthusiast? You will quite possibly have happy memories of Peugeot’s 205, especially in GTI form.
The 205 GTI was every bit as iconic a hot hatch as Volkswagen’s Golf GTI, and a flag waver for a hugely successful range of superminis. It’s true to say that Peugeot has been trying to make a supermini to repeat the table-topping form of the 205 ever since.
The 206 was an able successor to the icon, but the 207 just wasn’t. So now Peugeot is trying harder than ever before, according to the car’s designers throwing the rulebook out of the window to “regenerate” the principles on which the brand’s previous superminis were built. It sounds good, but has it worked?
Well first impressions invite optimism. The new 208 scores on initial sight, being one stylish supermini, with all the curves in the right places and bold creases along the sides. We’re told smoothness and flush fits were the byword, and it shows – the 208 looks good, and especially from a following car, the rear lights caressing the wheelarches in highly attractive fashion.
Step inside and the optimism feels rewarded. Peugeot is targeting a bigger slice of young buyers for its new baby, and the cabin will help draw them in. It feels light, airy, bang up to date, and with some very natty tech to play with.
Topping the latter is the central touchscreen, a big seven inches mounted high on the centre console and making access to various functions – radio, Bluetooth, music files through the USB socket, navigation if fitted – very easy indeed. And you can download a range of 10 specially-designed Apps (does everything electronic have to have Apps now?) to it, ranging across such aids as a fuel station locater and travel guides.
No doubt the Apps will appeal to today’s bright young things, so it is a shame, then, that this screen does not come with the lower-spec models, particularly as they are more likely to be bought by young drivers.
Those less impressed by new tech will be pleased by the sheer quality of everything. Build standards have certainly stepped up a notch, with tight joins and excellent soft-touch surfaces.
The designers have also addressed such basics as the driving position. A smaller steering wheel (a controversial move) and a higher instrument panel makes seeing the vital gauges easier while keeping the eyes on the road. Generally visibility is good though three-quarter rear vision can be restrictive.
Going against recent trends, the 208 is smaller than its predecessor, 7cm shorter and 1cm lower. Yet the wheelbase remains the same so paradoxically there is more room inside, some 5cm extra knee space in the rear, and a bigger boot. Whether you have your 208 in three or five-door form you won’t struggle to get in and out of it.
Smaller dimensions help towards weight saving, and the 208 has been on a pretty significant diet, losing on average 114kg and on one model 173! This of course means savings in fuel and emissions, but should also result in a somewhat agile machine…
Depending on the power of course. Currently your engine options extend to eight, ranging up to 1.6 litres, five petrol and a trio of diesels, with the most potency supplied by a petrol unit of 156 horses. At the launch event, however, CarandVanNews concentrated on less extravagant fare, the 1.2 petrol of 82bhp and the 1.4 diesel with 91 horses on offer.
The petrol unit is not the smallest in the range – that’s a new 1-litre three-cylinder unit offering a tax-busting 99g/km emissions figure. But the 1.2, also of three cylinders, feels somewhat strangled, with much use of the right foot needed to get the most out of it. It’s highly refined though, especially for a three cylinder, traditionally harder to damp vibrations out of.
The diesel is much more fun – the extra nine hp is of course useful, but almost twice as much torque makes it a strong puller, with plenty of get up and go. It’s quicker, but also much more fun to drive.
Being an e-HDI model with such fuel-saving additions as stop-start, this engine also comes with 98g/km emissions and a seriously impressive 74mpg combined figure. The downside – adds exactly £2,000 to the price you pay compared to the 1.2 petrol.
Whichever engine you choose for it, the new 208 is great fun to drive. The lack of weight makes for impressive agility (just like the marketing men said). It’s easy to place into corners and there is lots of useful feel through that small steering wheel.
All of which leaves us wondering, when are we going to get a GTI? The makeup of this car suggests it could be turned into a hot hatch every bit as good as the epoch-making 205 GTI, and a 208 GTI concept is being displayed by Peugeot at events such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed – please make it…
Meanwhile you have eight engines and five trim levels to choose from, along with the desirable extra of Peugeot’s ‘Just Add Fuel’ promotion which is a very effective way of buying a car. Based on the first drive, we reckon plenty will be buying a 208…
Model Tested: Peugeot 208 1.2 VTi 82, 1.6 e-HDi 92
On Sale: June 2012
Engines: Petrol 1.0, 1.2, 1.4, 1.6 (2). Diesel 1.4, 1.6 (2)
Power (bhp): 68, 82, 95, 120/156. 68, 92/115.
Torque (lb/ft): 70, 87, 100, 118/177. 118, 170/210
0-62mph (sec): 14, 12.2, 10.5, 9.9/7.3. 13.5, 10.9/9.7
Top speed (mph): 101, 108, 116, 118/133. 101, 114/118
CO2 emissions (g/km): 99, 104, 129, 134, 135. 98*, 98/99
Key rivals: Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa, VW Polo
Test date: June 2012
* = also Eco stop/start with 83.1mpg, 87g/km
Words by: Andrew Charman