IF YOU are of a certain age you’ll know how revered the Peugeot 205 was. The little motor transformed the supermini segment when it was introduced back in 1983 and went on to become something of an icon. Peugeot is hoping its new 208 model can recapture its success.
Unlike its 206 and 207 predecessors – which never quite managed to match the brilliance of the 205 – this 208 is excellent. I was driving the five-door model in Allure trim, powered by an 82bhp, three-cylinder 1.2-litre petrol engine. It’s fantastically stylish, thanks to reduced front and rear overhangs (which also maximize interior space). Who says a little car can’t look elegant?
It’s also chic and modern on the inside. The small leather steering wheel, narrow instrument display and piano-black trim elements add up to a surprisingly young-feeling, sophisticated interior. The aluminium and blue cloth finish proves that you don’t need leather seats when an interior is designed well. It is also roomier than you might expect, and the spacious feel is enhanced by the optional panoramic roof that goes (almost) all the way back to the to the rear C-pillars. We sat four adults in genuine comfort; something that cannot be taken for granted in a supermini.
What struck me most was the steering wheel and instrumentation. You barely have to drop your eyes to read the beautifully clear, elevated dash instruments. The steering wheel is a revelation and feels great in your hands. I’ve been grumbling for ages that Peugeot steering wheels are just too big – but not the new 208; the reduction in size makes you feel more connected to the road, adding a whole new element to the driving experience (think go-cart).
The interior has a remarkably simple layout and everything is very easy to operate. There are just three buttons and three dials for the air conditioning, for example, and the rest is taken care of by the in-dash display. It’s something you’ll realize you’ve missed once you give it a go.
Driving the 208 is a pleasure. The excellent view is enhanced by front quarter windows. The turning circle is good and nippy city manouvres can be completed with ease. Sure, a 1.2-litre, three-cylinder engine was never going to be fast, but I found the engine to be enthusiastic and fun. These three-cylinder engines are becoming increasingly popular – a good compromise between fun and frugality – and so it is in this Peugeot. There were a few occasions when the 208 was stretched and I needed to change down for a bit of extra oomph but on the motorway it sat at speed quite comfortably – helped by its cruise control system. On the back-roads it felt light and agile thanks to some significant weight loss compared to its 207 predecessor.
If you’re looking for faults, there is quite considerable wind and road noise at motorway speeds, but given that most miles in this car will be driven more slowly around town, I doubt this will put many buyers off. Personally, I wouldn’t want to trade this 208’s excellent fuel economy for better performance.
All in all, I found it a charming little car – it may not beat class-leading rivals but it’s an interesting and stylish alternative and, as far as I’m concerned, a return to form for Peugeot.
THE FACTS: PEUGEOT 208
0-62MPH: 12.2 secs
TOP SPEED: 109mph
CO2 G/KM: 104g/km
MPG COMBINED: 62.8mpg
VALUE FOR MONEY ****