Supermini has a great interior and quite a lot of dynamic promise, but Peugeot knows there’s more to do on these prototypes

What is it?

At the first showing of the new Peugeot 208, the French firm brought along a 205 GTi to display alongside it. That was a bold move, given how fondly the old car is remembered.

Similarly bold is Peugeot design director Gilles Vidal saying the new 208 looks like a “sexy little hot hatch” and Peugeot’s new tagline of ‘unboring the future’. None is the sort of thing you’d do unless you were confident you were regaining your mojo.

This is our first chance to find out whether Peugeot is doing so with the new 208 and electric e-208, albeit in prototype form and only on a short route around a test track in France. And there’s more to do before the car’s launch at the end of the year, so no star rating. You can find out a lot in a short space of time, though.

Let’s begin with the architecture. The 208 sits on the PSA Group’s small modular platform, CMP, which will also sit beneath small Citroën and DS models and the Opel/Vauxhall Corsa. It could be that the new 308, Astra and other mid-size PSA cars will use it too, but that’s a choice each manufacturer will make independently. The smaller of PSA’s two platforms has a full battery electric option, the larger one a plug-in hybrid option that can even give four-wheel drive. 

For superminis, front-wheel drive and a full electric option it is, then, with both internal combustion engine (ICE) and electric variants looking much the same, bar some details. The idea is that electricity is just another form of powertrain – you pick diesel, petrol or electric depending on your driving. It’s whatever’s most convenient for you, not a philosophy.

2 Peugeot 208 2020 proto drive hero rear

In the DS 3 Crossback, the only CMP production car we’ve driven so far, it’s hard to see that this has compromised things too much. In some ways, the beauty of a pure EV platform is that you can put mechanicals where you want to and thereby maximise interior space, and this misses out on that opportunity. But PSA’s reckoning makes sense on mass-volume cars: if you want to keep your manufacturing options flexible, putting all your drivetrains on the same architecture means different versions roll down the same production line in the quantities relative to the amount people want each one. 

As is the way of things, then, the engine sits at the front of the 208 and drives the front wheels, with struts up there and a torsion beam at the rear. You’ll be able to choose from 75bhp, 99bhp and 128bhp 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrols, a 1.5-litre 99bhp diesel or a 134bhp battery electric powertrain.

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The e-208 should go on sale at pretty much the same time as the ICE variants. That it shares the same body as the 'regular' car means the hardware has to go in a similar place – the motor and electrickery under the bonnet, filling that space quite easily, with the batteries under the rear seats, where the fuel tank would usually be, plus through what we’d have once called a transmission tunnel and under the front seats in an H-shape. The interior is all but the same, though, so you wouldn’t know you were in one or another until, as a rear passenger, you went to slide your feet under the front seats and couldn’t get your toes so far in.

There’s one electric option for now: a 134bhp motor and a 50kWh battery giving a WLTP range of 211 miles. You plug it in on the left, near the back – the same place as the filler nozzle is on ICE cars. Industrially, this is all perfectly sensible: superminis are meant to be inexpensive but electric cars are currently more costly than ICE alternatives, so differences are kept to a mimimum. The e-208 does need a marginally wider rear axle, however, to accommodate the battery pack, which is wider than the fuel tank, hence it gets wheelarch spats that are otherwise the preserve of higher-grade ICE cars.

2 Peugeot 208 2020 proto drive hero side

What's it like?

Inside, all new 208s are much like another, which is no bad thing, given that they look really very good. The design is slick, material choice is strong and perceived quality is high. The door tops are solid, rather than squidgy, but beyond that you won't find too much that’s better on any other car in the class, although the touchscreen is less intuitive than the best alternatives, and there’s no reason the heating controls should be on it.

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Peugeot’s i-Cockpit design features again, meaning a small steering wheel you set fairly low so you can see the dials over it, but here it doesn’t seem that the wheel obscures the dials as it did on earlier models. An update to it incorporates a 3D element – a kind of head-up display in front of the main dials. Slightly complicated to explain but attractive and effective, it's standard on Allure-grade models and above. The range is Active, Allure and GT Line for what they call ‘thermal’ models, with the EV coming in GT only.

We’ve tried 99bhp six-speed manual and 128bhp eight-speed automatic petrol models. Both engines spin freely and quietly with a little lag at low revs, while the gearshifts are decent – tight if rubbery in the manual, mostly imperceptible in the auto.

For the talk of dynamics and fun to drive, though, the ICE driving experience is less impressive than the interior. It’s good – the ride is reasonably well controlled (the manual thuds less than the heavier auto) and the steering is direct, so there’s a relatively agile feel to it (the lighter car again better) – but the initial roll rate is loose and the steering is overly light, short on self-centring and a touch gloopy. Peugeot’s engineers say they’re aware and still tweaking it. 

The e-208 gets the same lovely interior, apart from some different functionality so you can monitor the electrical systems. The gear selector is the same as the ICE auto's, but pulling back gives you two different deceleration levels – a kind of coasting one or one with more braking force. 

We’ve no weight figures yet, but the e-208 is likely to be heavier than an ICE model. While rolling, you don’t notably feel it. What you do notice is that, conversely, it’s even more willing to turn – presumably because the weight it does have is low and sited more rearwardly. There’s no obvious fluency to the handling, but it’s fun in its way. Acceleration is brisk, while brake pedal feel is currently numb, but the engineers say they know that too.

4 Peugeot 208 2020 proto drive interior

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Should I buy one?

It’s a bit early to tell for certain how good the 208 is, while prices won’t be announced until much closer to the end of the year – and let's not underestimate how important that is in a class like this. 

It’s hard to tell for sure without a back-to-back test on the same roads for some time, but the Seat Ibiza is probably more agile (if more brittle) and the Ford Fiesta just more fluent all round. 

What’s obvious, though, is that the 208’s inherent character is consistent between all models. So, this is a car that will arrive among the best of superminis but not as a guaranteed class leader. We’ll know just how far the mojo has returned once development is finished, but for now, it’s at least evident that it’s on the way.

Peugeot 208 1.2 Puretech 130 GT Line auto specification

Where Mortefontaine, France Price tbc On sale January 2020 Engine 3cyls in line, 1199cc, turbocharged, petrol Power 138bhp at 6000rpm (est) Torque 170lb ft at 2000rpm (est) Gearbox 8-spd automatic Kerb weight 1200kg (est) Top speed 120mph (est) 0-62mph 9.0sec (est) Fuel economy tbc CO2 tbc Rivals Ford Fiesta, Renault Clio

7 Peugeot 208 2020 proto drive otr front

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Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

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Add a comment…
russ13b 15 July 2019


"only" 138bhp? and, you think something built like a 205 would pass modern crash tests? getting in to the back of a 2/3 door car absolutely sucks!

madgwick 14 July 2019

2020 Pug 208

Can't say I find it especially attractive.  Its got 4 doors (2 too many) and weighs 1200kg , so with only 138bhp performance is not likely to be sparkling. Needs another 40 bhp or should lose 150kg.  205Gti weighed under 900kg if my calcs are correct and had 105 Bhp and was a total hooligans car - they don't seem to want to make them like that any more.  Guess Siesta ST would appeal more.

Daniel Joseph 13 July 2019

Big Gob

Nice, but why the huge grille?  The 508 and 308 have similar, and much neater, shallow grilles.  This is a throwback to the ugly 'O7 generation Peugeots. 

Daniel Joseph 13 July 2019


I should have been more specific: I meant the facelifted 307, first 308 and 407 models.  The original, pre-facelift 307 was ok.