From £11,3496
Super-frugal hybrid Peugeot 208 is a credible alternative to the Volkswagen XL1, but it's far from ready

What is it?

This is the Peugeot 208 Hybrid FE concept, which made its public debut at the Frankfurt show in September.

Based on the standard-issue supermini, the FE (‘Fun’ and ‘Economy’) is a showcase for a range of new technologies and new ideas that have created a car  with emissions officially rated at just 46g/km on the NEDC driving cycle; it's also capable of reaching 62mph in eight seconds from a standing start.

Peugeot engineers (of whom around ten were drafted in from Peugeot Sport) and Total worked together on the concept, which has been taken from a clean sheet of paper to two running mules in just 16 months.

Engineers say that the major engineering work on the standard Peugeot 208 centred on four areas: improving aerodynamics, reducing overall weight, improving the economy of the petrol engine and adding an electric hybrid system.

‘Improving aerodynamics’ has meant a significant – and very clever – change to the rear of the 208. The FE gets a new tail section, which slots onto the rear of the body, in place of the factory tailgate and bumper. The underneath of the FE is also completely flat and the radiator grille is 40 per cent smaller. The width of the rear end of the car has also been narrowed by 40mm. The upshot is a Cd of 0.25, a 25 per cent reduction in drag.

Peugeot also worked with Total’s polymers division and subsidiaries CCP Composites and Hutchinson to develop lightweight composite panels for the 208 factory bodyshell, replacing the skin panels and the floor pressings.

The 20kg outer skin is made in one piece; the bonnet weights 5kg and the wings 2.1kg. The interior mouldings have been made from a mix of polypropylene and natural fibres, saving a remarkable 15kg. The body’s weight is reduced from 295kg to 227kg. Polycarbonate windows (doors aside) save another 5kg.

Peugeot and Hutchison have also completely re-thought the suspension system, replacing the McPherson struts and rear beam axle with two large transverse leaf springs.

Made from a glass-fibre resin, the stiffness and flexibility of the ‘leaf’ is tuned along its length. They replace the beam axle at the rear and the lower wishbones and anti-roll bars at the front, as well as the springs front and rear. The new set-up is 20kg lighter.

The 208 FE’s engine is based on the company’s new three-cylinder 1.0-litre unit, but it has undergone extensive re-engineering. Increased in capacity to 1.2-litres, and running on a Miller Cycle, the compression ratio has been increased from 11:1 to 16:1. Power stays the same, at 68bhp, but torque rises by 25 per cent.

Peugeot's FE engine also features conrods made from titanium and pistons made from an aluminium-copper alloy. Peugeot engineers say that internal friction can consume as much as 20 per cent of an engine’s power, so the camshafts, crankshaft, pistons, piston rings and camshaft followers are coated in a ‘diamond-like carbon coating’.

Total has also developed a new 0W12 ‘bio-sourced’ oil that is much less ‘sticky’ when cold. Overall, the engine weighs just 50kg; 10kg less than the production unit. Because the coolant capacity of the engine is some seven times smaller than the production engine, the radiator is also much smaller, further helping aerodynamic performance. The engine also runs on a new Total-developed high-octane petrol.

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The new hybrid system is quite unusual. It couples a relatively small 30kW electric motor (weighing just 7kg) with the Peugeot's automated manual gearbox, using a series of gears, onto the differential. The electric motor not only drives the car in pure-electric mode, it also has the role of providing reverse gear as well as acting as the alternator and starter motor.

The battery pack is pretty small, just 0.56kWh and 25kg, and sits under the rear seat alongside the shrunken 20-litre fuel tank. The car rolls on 19in wheels with very narrow section 145/16 tyres.

What's it like?

Nowhere near to be being completed, but an extremely intriguing piece of engineering.

First off, there’s no doubt that the aerodynamic re-styling and extended rear end have been a huge success. The FE looks much more upmarket and assured than the standard Peugeot 208 and anything but an experimental one-off.

Inside, everything looks normal - except for the rear-view mirror, which holds two images, side by side, from the door mounted rear-view cameras. A large laptop was connected to the dash and there were a bank of small switches mounted low down on the centre console.

Part of the centre console display was a read-out that showed how the power supply to the wheels was divided between the engine and electric motor.

The car sets off on electric power, accompanied by a loud science-fiction whine. On this experimental model, the engine didn’t kick in until above 15mph, which it then did with something of a thump as it engaged the transmission.

In truth, this 208 Hybrid FE is a long way from being even halfway finished, so you just have to ignore the engine’s throbbing, loud exhaust and the whining motor.

However, it is not hard to see the massive potential in all of the FE’s innovations. The unassisted steering was remarkable assured and easy to manipulate.

More impressive was the fact that it didn’t load up at low speeds with full lock applied. VW’s XL1 is much worse and I wondered if the FE’s super-clever transverse leaf suspension doesn’t go through the same geometry changes as a conventional McPherson strut set-up.

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The suspension also seemed to provide a surprisingly good ride, despite the fact that the set-up has not yet been tuned, even on 19in wheels. Other impressive areas included the slickness of ratio shifting (once the engine had engaged) and the very settled straight-running feel on what admittedly was a short drive on a test track on the outskirts of Paris.

Refinement of the drivetrain aside (and a next-gen system would probably couple the electric motor to the transmission via a conventional drive belt), the FE brings the principles of the VW XL1 back down to earth and manages to pull it off with some highly intelligent, cost-effective engineering.

Peugeot's 208 Hybrid FE clearly has huge potential as a real world, super-economical five-seat car.

Should I buy one?

You can’t. And you won’t be able to for the foreseeable future. Peugeot-Citroën is currently in a seriously cash-strapped position until it finally secures its future (most of the industry is expecting some kind of joint venture with Chinese maker Dongfeng).

However, Peugeot is suggesting that part of its future pitch will be “Total Cost of Ownership” and that could mean a super-economical 208 could well be possible in three years or so.

While it wouldn’t have the hybrid system (something too expensive for a supermini), much of the rest of the engineering innovation could deliver a car to market that was good for over 90mpg.

The combination of a low-emissions EU6 petrol engine (saving 11g/km of CO2 over the base 1.0-litre 208), weight reduction and much-improved aerodynamics (together saving 21g/km of CO2, the same reduction offered by the hybrid drivetrain) could offer lower CO2 emissions than a conventional electric vehicle recharged at the mains – and at less than half the showroom price.

Peugeot 208 Hybrid FE concept

Price N/A; Top speed N/A; 0-62mph 8.0sec; Economy 142mpg; CO2 46g/km; Engine 1.2-litre, three-cylinder petrol and 30kW electric motor; Power 68bhp; Torque 88lb ft; Gearbox 5-spd automated manual

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Join the debate

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JIMBOB 1 November 2013

Got to get the tailgate!

This is cracking, the tailgate arrangement is ingenious, well worth making available as an option and would look even better if the chrome detailing was matt black. Is there a 'Max Economy' magazine yet? Styling mods for economy and CO2 reduction could be getting 'cool' one thinks...
Big S 30 October 2013

some of the ideas

should be possible to apply relatively quickly even to a facelift version of the current car. That tailgate for example - neat idea; beautiful design. Plastic body panels - yep, why not. Engine mods - for sure. Great stuff Peugeot!

fadyady 30 October 2013

Clever car

by the sound of it and a practical car too instead of the experimental shell like VW's XL1.