Peugeot 208 review
by David Finlay (21 June 2012)
Peugeot has been building small hatchbacks for just short of thirty years, though its record in this field could fairly be described as patchy. The 205, launched in 1983, remains one of the best-loved cars that Peugeot, or indeed anyone else, has ever devised. It was followed by the 206, which ten years ago was more popular among UK buyers than even the Ford Fiesta. And then came the 207, which was the one that came after the 206.
It has been clear in the last few years that Peugeot needs to take a step back up the supermini ladder, and the 208, which goes on sale in the UK next week, represents just that. Part of its remit is to attract younger buyers, and one sign of the efforts to do that is the central touchscreen, whose design is super-modern and, to use what is starting to feel like a very old-fashioned word, funky. No other mainstream manufacturer has gone to quite such lengths to make operation of a system like this so relevant to a new generation of car buyers.
The only slight flaw here is that the touchscreen is available only with the top three trim levels. Peugeot reckons that these will account for 80% of UK sales, but I make so bold as to suggest that the remaining 20% will include the majority of the people who will most appreciate it.
From the outside, the 208 doesn't look quite as radical, and in fact much of its design could have been predicted by anyone familiar with the 207. Still, it's quite attractive, but it doesn't address the visibility problem which has bedevilled the motor industry for the whole of the century so far. If anything, it has taken it to new depths.
To take just one example, five-door superminis generally have enormous rear three-quarter blind spots, but Ford, Vauxhall, Renault and the rest at least pretend they're trying to do something about by adding tiny little rear side windows (not the ones in the doors, but the ones behind them). They are generally pitiful, but at least they're there. The five-door 208 has no rear side windows at all.
Peugeot has, on the other hand, done a good job of addressing another industry problem, this time concerning vehicle weight. Very few manufacturers replace one model with a lighter one, but that's what Peugeot has done here. The 208 is not only much lighter than the 207, it also weighs about the same as the 206.
This is good news for many reasons, not least CO2 emissions. The 208 is very impressive when it comes to those. Every single diesel model in the range is rated at under 100g/km (making them exempt from Vehicle Excise Duty and the London congestion charge) and so too are those fitted with the 68bhp one-litre and 82bhp 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol units which, while by no means as impressive as the similar EcoBoost recently fitted to the Ford Focus, are welcome newcomers all the same.
We'll get round to sampling the more exciting models - such as the 156bhp 1.6 THP turbo - sooner or later, but for the media launch event I concentrated on the 92bhp 1.6 e-HDi diesel and the 1.2 petrol three-cylinder. The diesel is better, with a surprising amount of get-up-and-go about it for something with such a relatively modest power output. The 1.2 petrol needs to be revved a lot harder to produce anything like the same performance, but it's impressively quiet (not often being identifiable as a three-cylinder at all) and, assuming the same trim level and number of doors, nearly £2000 cheaper.
Both cars gave less impression of quality than a Fiesta, but more than a Clio or Corsa. The gearchange is rather floppy, the clutch pedal has to be brought nearly to the top of its travel before anything much happens, and there seems to be too much play in the brake pedal. These are very early cars, of course, so perhaps such matters will be attended to.
There's nothing wrong with the steering, but I know that some reviewers are appalled by the size of the wheel, which is smaller than normal so that the driver can see over it to get an uninterrupted view of the high-mounted instrument panel. Personally I think this is one of the 208's best features, since I like small steering wheels and can almost never see all of a car's instruments without having to lean my head one way or the other.
The rear of the 208 looks cramped, but there's more space than there appears to be, and there shouldn't be much difficulty in transporting four six-foot adults. Luggage capacity is competitive for the supermini class, though the load sill is high and the design of the rear lights has forced the designers to make the tailgate narrower than I think it needs to be.
The range starts with the Access, which comes only with the one-litre petrol engine and is, in three-door form, the only 208 to cost less than £10,000. It's fairly basic but does have six airbags, ABS, ESP and cruise control. The Access+ has a wider range of engines and gets heated door mirrors, manual air-conditioning and a cooled glovebox.
Active models, which start at £11,695, are the first with alloy rather than steel wheels, and they also get front foglights, the touchscreen mentioned earlier, a USB port, Bluetooth connectivity and a split-folding rear seat. There's then a jump to Allure, starting at £13,495, which offers different levels of equipment depending on the number of doors. Either way, though, you get 16" alloy wheels, privacy glass, LED daytime running lights, sports seats (with height adjustment for the passenger), a leather steering wheel, automatic lights and wipers, a self-dimming interior mirror and automatic dual-zone air-conditioning.
At the top of the regular range is the Feline, the only trim level to include the 156bhp 1.6 THP (and then only as a three-door). Now the wheels are 17" in diameter, and a panoramic sunroof, folding door mirrors and directional front foglights are all included as standard.
In 115bhp 1.6 diesel five-door form the Feline costs £17,845, but even this amount is eclipsed by the £18,495 is asking for the three-door limited edition 120bhp 1.6 petrol Ice Velvet, which among other things is the only 208 fitted with satellite navigation as standard. All models with the touchscreen can, however, be specified with satnav for the modest extra cost of £400.
The 208 hasn't entirely killed off the 207, since that will continue to be available as a CC (convertible) and SW (estate). There probably won't be 208 equivalents for those, but do expect to see a compact SUV along the lines of the Nissan Juke based on this platform.