European drives of the 208 have suggested that the biggest gains relative to the 207 have been made on desirability, quality and driving dynamics. The car is certainly a much more attractive prospect than both the 207 and 206. On this evidence, though, all those dynamic comparisons with the excellent 205, and suggestions that Peugeot has created a class-leading hatchback here, may both have been premature.
Our ‘Allure’ spec test car looked handsome, and does justice to Peugeot’s status as a maker of mature and sophisticated European cars much better than the 207 ever did. Loaded with satin-finished brightwork inside and out and, for the most part, well finished, the 208 is a car you could really want.
But on close inspection, it doesn’t match the material quality standards of the best superminis on the block. You won’t find hard, rough cabin plastics like those on the Peugeot’s interior door cards, around its steering column and at the foot of its centre console in the likes of the VW Polo or Honda Jazz. Still, if you can forgive that much, the car’s cabin is very pleasant. Its instruments, aligned to be viewed over the top of the steering wheel, didn’t cause a problem for this tester.
During typical town motoring, there’s a similar story to tell: the 208 is good, but not without fault. High, upright pedals, a baggy gearshift and a slightly troublesome clutch don’t instantly make driving the car a pleasure, while a power steering setup that can feel sticky at the straight ahead, and overly elastic off centre, doesn’t at first inspire much fun.
But handling is taut, grip is well balanced, and our test car’s engine was at once punchy, refined and economical, returning better than 55mpg in urban use. The 208’s ride lacks the absorbency to deal with medium-sized bumps in the road with as much class as the very best compact hatchbacks, but its ride is generally quiet and liveable, and its handling more involving than some.