One unappreciated distinction is that the Volkswagen will retain its name when a new generation is introduced whereas the Peugeot won’t. The first Polo arrived in 1975 and you can still buy ‘a Polo’ today. Peugeot gave us the tiny 104 hatch in 1976 but, since then, the same basic recipe has variously gone by the numbers 205, 206, 207 and, most recently, 208. For the casual observer, that’s a bit confusing, and if you’re Peugeot, it’s not great for brand building.
That’s why we now have another 208. Peugeot thinks continuity and familiarity might help its supermini better challenge the Ford Fiesta, Renault Clio and Polo, so the 208 moniker gets an encore, even though the car itself is almost entirely new, or at least heavily refreshed.
There’s a lot to get stuck into. The design is radically different from that of the outgoing model, which now looks meek by comparison. The new car is fractionally longer and wider but lower than before. It also gets aggressive-looking lighting cues and the windscreen has been slid back to create a longer snout and better-defined proportions. Higher-trim levels are then fitted with sleek, gloss-black wheel-arch extensions that tie in with a tail-light graphic stretching the entire width of the bootlid.
From the front, you might argue there’s a touch of Audi A1 going on but, from behind, the 208 looks like a masked superhero come to vanquish boring design in the B-segment. In the metal, it’s a very good-looking car, even though there’s no three-door option.
The engine line-up is less exciting but arguably more interesting. The overhauled 208 is the first supermini to offer petrol, diesel and pure-electric powertrain options all under one bodyshell – something enabled by the PSA Group’s new modular CMP platform for small cars.
Peugeot’s 1.2-litre Puretech three-cylinder petrol engine is offered in a trio of tunes ranging from 75bhp to 128bhp and you can also get an economical 99bhp 1.5-litre four-cylinder diesel or the 134bhp all-electric e-208 with its 211 miles of WLTP-certified range.
The platform is clever because whichever the engine or motor, it slots into the same structural nook, so all three versions can be built on the same production line. That matters because while only one in 20 buyers will go for diesel, Peugeot expects as many as one in five UK buyers to pick the electric e-208.