The Peugeot 208 XY is a softer take on the full-fat 208 GTI and, surprisingly, it's oddly appealing

What is it?

Peugeot has declared its intention to move its image upmarket, and this, the Peugeot 208 XY is the first attempt at something overtly 'premium'. Already shown as a concept, the XY reaches the showrooms priced from £16,545 (a 118bhp 1.6) to £18,045 (113bhp 1.6 e-HDI). The turbo petrol 1.6 THP tested here, with 154bhp, costs £17,495, which is £1400 less than a 208 GTI.

These are big tickets for plush versions of a mainstream supermini, but the rich, dark metallic paints – 'Purple Night' is the signature shade – and the lush interior trim might help justify the cost. It's also available in white.

There's also the fact that the XY shares its widened track, 17in wheels, slender wheelarch trims, rear spoiler (THP only, on account of its pace) and lower-body addenda with the 208 GTI, so it has more road presence than a humbler 208. Body style is three-door only and a panoramic glass roof is standard.

As for the name, it represents the male and female chromosomes, apparently, to make the point that this car is intended to appeal across the gender divide.

What's it like?

From the outside it looks an expensive little car with handsome wheels and metallic detailing in bright or satin chrome, even if the front end is an almost ludicrously busy collection of embellishments. Inside, the satin-chrome look continues on the door pulls, dashboard garnishes and gearlever knob, the tiny steering wheel is thickly leather-clad, the instruments are outlined by white illumination, and purple stitching edges the leather-look facings on doors, dash and elsewhere.

The front seats are the same heftily bolstered chairs as found in the GTI, but with different coverings. Alcantara facings are standard and full 'Club Nappa' leather is optional, as is a leather version with quilted Alcantara inserts – all with purple stitching. It would be the lap of decadent luxury in here were it not for the fact that the tops of the door trims are still in hard plastic. "I lost that argument," says XY (and GTI) designer Anna Costamagna, ruefully. Too expensive, is why.

To drive, the XY THP is exactly as you'd expect: a plusher, meatier-feeling variation of the existing 208 THP Feline, or a gentler, calmer GTI, depending on your point of view. It's lively enough to give a good time, very quiet unless roused, and comfortable both in seats and suspension. It feels as sophisticated as the looks promise it to be.

And you can get used to the driving position with its high dials and low-set steering wheel beneath. As Costamagna points out, the bottom of the steering wheel is no lower than normal even when set so you can actually read the dials.

Should I buy one?

As a piece of automotive urban chic the XY works well in an understated way and it has the advantage of being less obvious than a Mini or a DS3. Or you could think of it as a softer, calmer GTI; either way it's an oddly appealing car even if the 'premiumness' is a bit superficial.

Remember the Peugeot 205 Gentry, effectively an automatic GTI with gentler suspension, more grown-up wheels, pastel colours and a luxury ambience? The GTI is back. So, it seems, is its softer sibling.

John Simister

Peugeot 208 XY THP 156

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Price £17,495; 0-62mph 7.3sec; Top speed 134mph; Economy 48.7mpg; CO2 135g/km; Engine 4 cyls, 1598cc, turbocharged, petrol; Kerb weight 1090kg; Power 154bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 192lb ft at 1750-4000rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual

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MikeSpencer 6 April 2013

Undeniable luxury, questionable colour

Agree with previous comments, I saw this and immediately thought of old luxury-spec superminis like the Renault 5 Baccara and Peugeot 205 Roland Garros. Hmmm... showing my age there a bit. No question about that purple colour though, it's questionable at best. Glad to read that it's also available in white (but black would be more suitable, I feel). I'm not sure this one will be a hit for Peugeot, it looks too pricey. Each to their own, but the XY's not for me.

fadyady 3 April 2013

Wicked paint

This human chromosomes inspired Peugeot does look better than the standard 208. It might as well. After all it costs nearly twice as much as the entry level car. I agree with the comments that it is a clever idea and arguably 'tis well executed.

Big S 3 April 2013

At last!

A manufacturer recognizing that some people want a small car but with some of the luxuries more normally associated only with a big car.  Riley did it a long time ago; more recently Renault had it with their Monaco versions - even Peugeot themselves nearly got there with Roland Garros specials.  There has to be a market for grown-up boy racers (like me) who still want a turn of speed but in a package with osteopath-friendly suspension, a few sybaritic gizmos and without the embarrassing after-market add-on look