From £11,349
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.


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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.

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.

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.

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. 

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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

Join the debate


12 July 2019
The rivals mentioned are European made. What about Japanese?

12 July 2019
sabre wrote:

The rivals mentioned are European made. What about Japanese?

The Yaris? The Jazz? Both existing models are very dated. 

12 July 2019

it looks great for a small car , Peugeot seem to be doing a good job style-wise these days. Makes the Fiesta look dull. 

12 July 2019

 It’s a nice looking car inside and out, not many cars at any price can say this nowadays......

12 July 2019

Not too keen on the rear view but the side and front views are good. Shame there isn't a more powerful engine at the moment.  Where is the GTi?

13 July 2019
StuM82 wrote:

Not too keen on the rear view but the side and front views are good. Shame there isn't a more powerful engine at the moment.  Where is the GTi?

You sure are impatient, car not due on sale until next year. Betting you won't be buying anyway, so what does it matter to you?.

12 July 2019

I like it, inside and out. That c-pillar is pure 205.

12 July 2019

The 208 II 'class leading' yes or no? By whose standard? Not a single B segment car 'rulez'. They all have strenghts and 'weaknesses'.  Might very well be the Clio V offers the best allround package but other than that, it's all a matter of preferences.  

12 July 2019

Will be a great to see this car pop up left and right. It's quite a looker. 

12 July 2019

You go all that effort of designing an attractive car and then stick that awful gearlever on it. Just a lump of dark grey plastic. Surely you can do better. And can we have proper climate controls, not just ones on the touchscreen.


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