There is always a buzz of excitement that comes with the announcement of a new Peugeot supermini. Despite the 206 and 207 being disappointing also-rans in this competitive sector, there is always some hope that the French marque will revive the glory days of the 205 and launch a car that is not only practical and economical, but offer a drive that is fun in a way that appeals to the most uninterested of drivers.
Peugeot’s newest supermini, the 208, which arrived with an equal mix of high expectations and an advertising campaign promising another fresh start. That suggestion is not quite true however, as beneath the new body the platform is the same as its predecessor, the 207. However the 208 is lighter and more rigid than the car it replaces and by a sizeable amount – Peugeot claiming a weight loss of around 200kg for most models.
We have with us a five-door, 1.2-litre petrol model with the manual gearbox. The engine gives 82bhp and its downsized three-cylinder design aims to give improved fuel economy.
Other engine choices include a 1.0-litre petrol engine carried over from other Peugeot models, with sportier 1.4 and 1.6-litre petrol engines and a range of diesels available too.
Average. The 208 isn’t terrible, or great, or extraordinary in anyway, aside from the canny way they have managed to hide the dials behind the steering wheel no matter how tall or short the driver is.
Other problems include poorly set up controls, such as over sensitive brakes and a clutch with an exceedingly unmanageable biting point. We haven’t kangarooed away from junctions like we did in the 208 since our learner driver days, and there was even the occasional accidental (and embarrassing) wheel-spin in town.
Once you get it up to speed, however, it feels much better – the ride is pliant, and cabin refinement much improved over the car it replaces. On the motorway it proves surprisingly relaxing. In more spirited driving the 208 exhibits a fair bit of body roll but it hangs on gamely round corners. It is a big improvement on the leaden 207 it replaces.
The cabin design is fine, though it looks a tad drab with so much grey plastic on show. Quality is much improved, however, and there are a handful of glittery details such as piano black detailing, offset by a touchscreen system which is awkward to use when driving. Separate buttons for the stereo and controls for the air conditioning would work much better. As it is, it’s preferable (and safer) to set a radio station and destination before you get going.
In the Active spec we tested it in, the 208 comes with plenty of useful toys such as a self-dimming mirror, cruise control, touchscreen stereo and rear parking sensors, and interior space is acceptable for both front and rear passengers. The boot has a capacity of 285-litres, about the same as a Ford Fiesta, and the body is available in three or five door form. Despite the relatively svelte looks rear passengers get a decent amount of headroom, but the swept back windscreen does contribute to some gargantuan windscreen pillars, big enough to hide entire cars behind when negotiating junctions and roundabouts.
Overall the 208 has lots of niggles, which distract from what is essentially a good car underneath. Rivals such as the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo feel more polished but the Peugeot definitely has some appeal thanks to its looks, comfy high-speed ride and standard kit. Peugeot’s useful Just Add Fuel deal means younger buyers can also save on insurance costs as well as covering servicing and tax in their monthly payments.
However as far as challenging the class leaders is concerned, the 208 just falls behind thanks to its irritating quirks.
Search for a used Peugeot here.
Peugeot 208 1.2 VTI Active five-door
List price: £12,995
Engine: 1.2-litre, petrol
Top speed: 109mph
0-62mph: 12.2 seconds
Fuel economy: 51.4mpg (urban), 72.4mpg (extra-urban) 62.8mpg (combined)
Emissions: 104g/km CO2
Euro NCAP rating: Five stars
May 17, 2013