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Peugeot has shown dynamic promise of late. Will the Peugeot 208 be a hit?

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The Peugeot 208 has so much to live up to, thanks to Peugeot's successes with its 205 and 306.

With hits like that in its back catalogue, is it any wonder that its latest chart entries fail to scale the same giddy heights? Those heights aren’t necessarily defined by sales, but by lasting affection and identity. In other words, by what they mean to enthusiasts.

The 208 is not quite as new as Peugeot would have us believe

When was the last time that a Peugeot gave you ‘the drive of your life’, as one of the French car maker’s advertising tag lines once promised?

Our guess would be the late 1990s, when Peugeot seemingly handed Ford the right to make the most entertaining ‘normal’ cars in Europe and gave us instead the Peugeot 1007, Peugeot 206 and Peugeot 307. The Peugeot 207, it’s fair to say, was even worse than the 206.

Recently, Peugeot has had better times. So here we are, with a replacement for the 207, on the back of some moderately entertaining, engaging family cars that show genuine promise.

The new Peugeot 208 is based on an overhauled ‘PF1’ platform inherited from the old 207, so although the skin, cabin and many of the engines are all-new, the mechanicals aren’t. Suspension is by MacPherson struts at the front and a torsion beam at the rear, which remains the supermini class standard.

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Peugeot is to be congratulated, however, for having taken more than 100kg of kerb weight out of the 207, which should contribute to the 208's efficiency, performance and handling.

If the 208 can recapture a little of the original spirit, this could be Peugeot’s best small car for a generation. We’ll see.

 

DESIGN & STYLING

Peugeot 208 rear

Despite a fresh face, name and engine line-up, the 208 is not quite as new as Peugeot would have us believe. Beneath the styling garnish resides the same PF1 platform that underpinned the 207 – hence the shared 2538mm wheelbase and the familiar MacPherson strut front and rear torsion beam suspension layout.

Nevertheless, Peugeot insists that much time and effort has been spent on improving ‘architectural performance’ and its stated goal of producing a car smaller on the outside yet larger on the inside than its predecessor should be the aim of every supermini maker.

Leaner materials make the 208 considerably lighter than the 207

The most significant benefactor of the development process is the 208’s kerb weight, which, with the same, now discontinued, 1.4 HDi engine as the 207, is now said to weigh 110kg less.

Peugeot claims the entry-level model, with the three-cylinder petrol engine, clocks in at just 975kg. Our scales recorded a more substantial 1080kg, but if you consider that the 1.4 Sport we tested in 2006 was just shy of 1150kg, it’s clear that some progress has been made.

Much of it can be attributed to the use of leaner materials, including high-strength steel panels and aluminium components, but the all-new three-pot engine alone is 21kg lighter than the four-cylinder unit it replaces.

The 67bhp and 81bhp versions form the bedrock on which the rest of the carried-over range sits. Mated to a five-speed manual gearbox, it provides the 208 with a sub-100g/km starting point.

The car around it has shrunk (marginally) into its rehashed silhouette. The Peugeot 207’s bloated front overhang has been reduced by 60mm and the rear tucks in by another 10mm.

In spite of the reduction in length, Peugeot says it has freed up an extra 50mm of legroom for rear passengers by optimising the design and installing slimmer seat backs. 

INTERIOR

Peugeot 208 interior

There is plentiful room in the Peugeot 208 for four adults. Indeed, it is comfortably commodious by class standards. Even putting three people in the back works, as long as they’re not too large and demanding.

The front seat is widely adjustable. The boot is fine by class standards, too, and the rear seats split and fold adequately. It is even a relatively interestingly designed cabin. At a cursory glance, all is okay.

The 285-litre boot is fine by class standards

The problem is that there are about a dozen superminis whose interiors are ‘okay’. There is nothing inherently wrong with that of a Seat Ibiza or a Fiat Punto, but you wouldn’t find us recommending them on the strength of them (or much else, in their case). And so it goes here.

The 208’s cabin is fine, but if you look deeper you’ll find that it has notable failings, too. The glovebox is pitiful, and if you want to use a cupholder you’ll effectively have to reach behind you.

Other features fall into the ‘good idea, but…’ category. The diddy steering wheel beneath the dials is a novel idea, but set it up for smaller drivers or those who like a low-slung driving position and you’ll remember why every other major manufacturer suggests reading dials through the wheel.

And although the new, ‘floating’ communications, audio and navigation screen on the centre console looks slick, try browsing through radio stations while you’re moving at moderate speed or on a bumpy road and you’ll crave six little preset buttons on the dashboard.

With a little finessing here and there, it all could have been so much better, living up to the promise that its design suggests it will have.

As it is, a Volkswagen Polo’s cabin feels of higher perceived quality. A Honda Jazz’s is considerably more versatile. A Ford Fiesta’s matches it for design and, mostly, material quality, while being easier to work. The 208 is left, in this company, being moderately acceptable.

Choosing a 208 of choice is a tricky affair, as there are four core trims to choose from plus three GTi versions and a further three special edition models. The entry-level Access trim equips the 208 with heated door mirrors, cruise control, air conditioning, Bluetooth and remote central locking as standard, while upgrading to Active adds 15in alloy wheels, LED day-running-lights and a 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system with DAB radio and smartphone integration included.

The mid-range Allure models get a bit more chrome, 16in alloys, rear parking sensors and automatic lights and wipers thrown in, while the range-topping GT Line gains 17in alloys, dual-zone climate control, folding door mirrors and red stitching inside.

Want a bit more power from your 208, then Peugeot has three variants of the GTi, all using the same 205bhp, turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol engine. The standard 208 GTi is adorned with 17in alloys, a rear spoiler, chrome twin exhaust system and leather clad sports seats, while opting for the GTi Prestige adds sat nav, heated front seats and a panoramic sunroof. The final variant sees the Peugeot Sport division tweaking the 208, with it rolling on 18s, with a wider front track, lower suspension, a Torsen differential, specific springs, dampers and wheel alignment set-up compared to the standard GTi, while inside there are Alcantara covered sports seats.

However, if you are pining for something a little bit more exclusive, Peugeot has three limited edition trims to choose from. The Active Design model is based on the standard Active-trimmed 208 and adds front foglights, 16in alloy wheels and numerous exterior detail tweaks, while the Allure Premium is only available on five door models and adds sat nav, a reversing camera and a panoramic sunroof to the package. 

The most exclusive model, is one that has a long-standing association with Peugeot - Roland Garros. This trim is only available on five door models and comes with 16in alloy wheels, tinted rear windows, rear parking sensors, all round electric windows, cruise control and numerous orange details on the outside. Inside the orange theme continues but is joined by a panoramic sunroof and Peugeot's fully-loaded 7.0in touchscreen infotainment set-up.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Driving the Peugeot 208

The entry-level model in Peugeot's 208 range is equipped with a turbocharged 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine. Also on offer is two more powerful iterations of the 1.2-litre petrol, two 1.6-litre petrols, and frugal 1.6-litre diesels. Topping the range is the GTi model, which features a 205bhp turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol engine.

If the Peugeot's advertised weight reduction for the 208 has led you to hope for big strides in its performance, this won’t make easy reading. At best, the mid-range 1.2-litre petrol’s performance is ordinary – mediocre, even. At worst, in some ways it’s downright sub-standard compared with most other superminis of the same capacity and price.

At best, the performance of Peugeot's 1.2 VTi model is ordinary - mediocre, even

That it takes a full 1.5sec longer than a 1.2-litre Suzuki Swift to crack a standing quarter mile, isn’t a massive condemnation, the Suzuki being one of the class’s dynamic over-performers. Owners of the 208 may not seem the type to be concerned by flat-out acceleration, but when the motive force on offer is as limited as in this car, they should be.

More serious is the lack of refinement and flexibility displayed by the engine, which is electronically restrained from a standstill when you open the throttle wide and delivers its torque in an uneven and fairly raucous way through much of the rev range.

Worse still, whether you’re bumbling along in traffic or out on your own between the hedges, the Peugeot 208 isn’t a particularly easy or pleasant car to interact with. Our test car had a troublesome clutch pedal with too much dead travel and a baggy manual gearchange; similar issues have dogged diesel models we've tested, Add a small but detectable dose of driveline shunt and the impression is of a car that feels imprecise and underdeveloped.

As for fuel efficiency, we’ve tested several petrol-powered hatches of the same size as the 208, some with bigger engines, that have returned better than its 40.9mpg as an average, but this is still a decent result. In the more gentle driving that owners are likely to give it, you should expect to see the good side of 45mpg.

In urban driving of the far more congenial 99bhp 1.6-litre e-HDI, we achieved more than 55mpg. Having said this, that version commands a substantial premium, which is a lot to pay for a 10mpg improvement. Similarly, the 118bhp version of the motor, mated to a far superior six-speed manual gearbox, is arguably the pick of the range, but is also only available at its apex. 

Far below it is the entry-level 1.2-litre variant of the three-pot engine, simultaneously appealing for its sub 100g/km CO2 emissions and virtually unpalatable for a 0-62mph time of 14 seconds.

If you're prepared to live with Peugeot's clunky five-speed EGC gearbox, the CO2 emissions can be lowered as far as 87g/km. Alternatively, if running costs are less of a factor, the 160bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine has sufficient grunt to make the 208 agreeably peppy.

Wet conditions skewed the results of our braking tests slightly, with the 208 stopping more quickly on MIRA’s grippier wet surface facility than on its dry handling circuit. The former result, at least, is what we’d expect of a good new supermini.

RIDE & HANDLING

Peugeot 208 cornering

It’s a particular pity that the pedal weights and shunt of the Peugeot 208 should afflict it so, because if you could look beyond the fact that its awkward drivetrain makes progress tiring, you’d find that the rest of the driving experience is far from unpleasant.

Again, sadly, you’ll note that we’re not saying it’s outstanding; a Ford Fiesta has nothing to fear. At least, though, the stodge and heft that afflicted the 207 has, by and large, been banished to history.

We would find a Fiesta, Mazda 2 or Suzuki Swift more entertaining to drive

The 208 continues, to some extent, the promising themes set out by Peugeot’s other ‘08’ models and the RCZ. It rides very well for the most part. It steers relatively accurately – albeit in an overly light fashion that’s largely devoid of feel.

Its refinement is relatively strong, too; one of the most pleasing aspects of the new 208 is that it has been made much lighter than its predecessor without giving much away when it comes to cabin noise.

Is it fun, though? Does it feel agile? Not particularly. It would seem to us that Peugeot, put simply, doesn’t think this sort of thing is important any more. We would find a Ford FiestaMazda 2 or Suzuki Swift more entertaining to drive. Even a Volkswagen Polo, noted for its maturity rather than its brio, is a preferable steer.

All of that is fine, as long as the car you are offering is easy to rub along with. The Vauxhall Corsa and Honda Jazz, for example, are just such cars. Crucially, though, all of the aforementioned and more are easier to drive than the Peugeot because of their driveline compliance.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Peugeot 208

Subjectively, the 208 lags behind its mainstream competition by a significant distance. But thanks mainly to the three-cylinder engine, Peugeot has a statistical foundation on which to plant its price flag. 

Although painfully slow – 62mph requires a 14.5sec wait – the 82bhp 1.2 PureTech engien has its nose tucked under the 100g/km road tax threshold and a particularly appealing price.

The Peugeot 208 does have its plus points but it's still hard to justify over its rivals

Doubtless, the showroom sales staff will point out to bargain hunters that even the value-added Korean manufacturers fail to match that attractive combination. However, with the colour touchscreen gone and electric front windows listed as a comfort feature, the spec verges on destitute and is therefore unlikely to be popular in the UK.

Opt for the none start-stop version of the 82bhp 1.2-litre engine and higher-grade Active trim, and you'll very quickly ramp up the price to a point which lands it among superior offerings from virtually all of Peugeot’s major rivals.

Lower-than-average emissions keep the 208 superficially competitive, but as superminis are rarely run as company cars and all VED bands below 130g/km are comparatively cheap, there’s a definite limit to this advantage. All diesels are road tax exempt, but then as are many of its rivals’ oil-burners.

Peugeot's residual values haven't historically been great, but the 208 should hold its value fairly well thanks to the success and reliability of more recent Peugeots, like the Peugeot 508. It will sell in substantial numbers, however, meaning it'll be a buyer's market. So, you'll have to keep your example in good condition for it to sell easily.

 

VERDICT

Peugeot 208 rear quarter

You’d be right to think that we expected more from the Peugeot 208. We have no quarrel with Peugeot’s retention and update of an earlier platform because, as we’ve said many times before, architecture is so sophisticated that it’s quite possible to build a class leader upon proven technology.

However, in the 208’s case, too many failings seem to have been carried over, and a few of the new features – such as the novel interior touches, which we would have loved to report as being successful – don’t feel polished enough.

An ordinary hatch from a firm whose return to form seems to have stalled

It’s a theme that you could apply to all aspects of the 208; it lacks the class, verve and completeness of the best cars in this sector.

There’s an awful lot of highly capable superminis out there, however, and there are just too few compelling reasons to look at a Peugeot 208 among them. 

Without radically changing the class order, the 208 consolidates Peugeot’s position amongst the makers of  good superminis.

It’s a car to have on your shortlist; for us, it would be hard to choose over a Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Polo or Honda Jazz. But if you don't mind taking style over substance in some respects, it might be up your street. 

 

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Peugeot 208 2012-2019 First drives