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The e-208 was once top of the small EV class. Can the facelift help it beat the Chinese competition?

Anyone who has been to mainland Europe in the past few years will have seen a 208. They’re everywhere. Officially the best-selling car in Europe last year, in fact. This new Peugeot e-208 has an awful lot to live up to then.

Electric cars have been gaining traction in other market niches over the past decade, but increasingly tough legislation and the rapid reduction in technology costs mean that electric power is no longer purely the preserve of bigger, faster and more expensive machines.

Closely related to the Vauxhall Corsa Electric, it goes toe-to-toe with the BYD Dolphin and MG 4. The e-208 offers rapid charging, the range and usability to convert those buyers who have thus far been EV sceptics and a posh-ish interior. But is it good enough to be classed among the best small electric cars you can buy?

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DESIGN & STYLING

Peugeot e-208 profile static

This facelifted model is more of a mid-life collagen injection rather than an out-and-out BBL. Up front there’s a new face with a larger grille and a three-claw light signature that mirrors the 9X8 Le Mans hypercar that came eighth at La Sarthe in 2023.

Overall, it’s a handsome and well-proportioned machine – arguably the French firm’s best small car effort for years.

The e-208’s CMP (Compact Modular Platform) underpinnings have been carefully conceived to accommodate an electric motor and substantial battery pack without significant re-engineering.

The car’s lithium ion battery pack is housed beneath the floor in what is effectively an ‘H’ pattern and comes in two varieties, 50kWh and 51kWh. The former is the old set-up and comes with a 134bhp motor and a WLTP range of 225 miles.

Meanwhile, the latter is new and borrowed from the Peugoet e-308. This brings with it a 156bhp motor and an official range of 248 miles.

Overall, the battery packs adds an extra 300kg to the 208 compared with a typical piston-engined model, but efforts have been made to locate the extra mass as low as possible and to keep it within the wheelbase.

The car’s single-speed transmission features both standard Drive and Brake modes, the latter instantly reversing the polarity of the motor for a powerful regenerative braking effect when you lift off the accelerator.

A further neat touch is the addition of a heat pump for the air conditioning and heating system, which helps reduce energy use by up to one-third over a traditional resistive set-up.

INTERIOR

Peugeot e-208 steering wheel

Peugeot has been on a premium push over the past few years, challenging established upmarket brands for both finish and eye-catching design, and with the 208 it has certainly succeeded in the latter, the slick dashboard design being a particular highlight.

Featuring the latest evolution of the now familiar i-Cockpit layout, the e-208 gets a high-set instrument cluster that sits above a small-diameter steering wheel – although, as with other similarly equipped Peugeots, some drivers might find that the wheel rim still obscures some of the dials.

The 10.0in infotainment screen that sits centrally and is angled towards the driver. Below this is a line of neatly arranged and easy-to-reach piano keys that provide shortcuts for the various audio, nav and climate controls.

Yet while soft plastics are used for the major touch points and the switchgear features a pleasing mix of gloss black and brushed metal finishes, there are still too many low-rent materials in evidence around the cabin for the car to strike a consistently high impression of perceived quality.

Peugeot’s commitment to packaging the EV running gear as unobtrusively as possible has made the most of what’s available when it comes to space and practicality but, in some areas, that’s still not a great deal. Low-set front seating provides reasonable leg and head room, although passenger space in the rear isn’t as good as in other superminis.

There are plenty of handy stowage spaces around the car plus four USB (including USB-C) ports. But the boot is actually smaller than in the ICE car and there's nowhere to store your charging cables.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Peugeot e-208 charging port

That familiar EV calling card of instant, torque-rich acceleration is present and correct in the e-208, its smart step-off making it a particularly effective performer in town driving. And with just a single-speed reduction gear transmission, acceleration is delivered in a seamless surge, with no pause for clutch take-up from standstill or for any gearchanges.

The Peugeot’s ability to zap away from traffic lights has the potential to leave its driver, and those of other, piston-engined cars in the vicinity, a little bamboozled.

Like similarly powerful electrified rivals, the e-208 is at its best at low to medium speeds, where the car feels almost hot hatch quick. Above 50mph or so, acceleration tails off fairly sharply, at which point it feels no more potent than a mid-range naturally aspirated petrol equivalent.

The Peugeot will cruise comfortably at the motorway limit, but it requires surprisingly large throttle openings to do so and that has the expected negative knock-on effect on the range. Energy delivery massively depends on which drive mode you’re in.

Sport gives you access to full power and it picks up quickly with about two-thirds throttle. Normal mode dials things back and increases the amount of throttle required to achieve overtaking speeds. Eco really dilutes the power delivery. Fast and Furious-style right-foot mashing is needed to perform any overtaking move in this mode.

Pull the stubby gearlever back from the ‘D’ position into ‘B’ and you engage that more aggressive regenerative braking mode, with full off-throttle delivering enough retardation to trigger the brake lights and allow true ‘one-pedal’ driving. Get your anticipation right and you should only need to touch the brake pedal in the last few metres before slowing to a stop. 

The brakes are superb. Lots of feel, firm without being too strenuous and consistent no matter what the regen is up to.

One area where the Peugeot scores against rivals is in its refined performance, helping it to take full advantage of the near-silent power delivery of electric motors.

Often these hushed mechanicals highlight other noises in the car, but not so with the e-208, which does a fine job of isolating occupants from wind and road noise. (There’s an acoustically tuned windscreen as standard.)

RIDE & HANDLING

Peugeot e-208 rear dynamic

You sit pleasingly low in the e-208, which always helps when trying to foster a connection between car and driver. Like the standard version, there’s some springiness to the steering off the straight-ahead, but there’s decent weight and the combination of the small-diameter rim and relatively quick rack means the Peugeot responds promptly and accurately to your inputs.

The softness of the suspension is what you’ll notice first, the car exhibiting a fair degree of roll on turn-in yet quickly controlling the movement and then taking a neutral, four-square stance through corners as that torsion beam rear axle takes its share of the lateral burden. Driven briskly, there’s a fluidity to the way the Peugeot goes down the road that’s reminiscent of French hatchbacks of a decade or so ago.

Drive a little harder and that extra mass starts to tell more punitively. The e-208 pushes wide in corners as the 195-section tyres lose out in the battle to stop nearly 1500kg travelling straight on. Lifting the throttle restores order, but it’s a fairly lazy response as the nose tucks back into line. There’s no real handling adjustability here, just safety and predictability.

Body control is compromised, too. The soft damping causes some float over undulating surfaces and, when really pressing on, mid-corner bumps set in motion a noticeable corkscrew effect. The e-208 is a capable steer, then, but not one that rewards like, say, the Mini Electric.

On the plus side, the combination of mass and suppleness gives the Peugeot a remarkably grown-up ride for this size of car, the e-208 smothering bumps with surprising plushness. It also does so quietly, with nothing more than a muffled thump reserved for the biggest potholes and interventions.

As with the handling, it lacks ultimate control, getting floaty over bigger crests, but somehow this sensation is in keeping with the car’s rather laid-back everyday character.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Peugeot e-208 cornering

Like-for-like the 51kWh e-208 is around £10,000 more expensive than a petrol model. Of course, potentially much lower running costs will help to offset the higher purchase price and, for business users, there is currently just 2% benefit-in-kind taxation to pay.

At a rate of around 27 pence per kWh, charging the e-208 using a domestic power source from flat should set you back around £14.

Peugeot claims a full charge of the 50kWh car will deliver up to 225 miles of range, although we found between 170 and 190 miles is more realistic. We've yet to thoroughly benchmark the 51kWh model, but our initial testing would point to it not quite achieving the car's 248-mile WLTP testing results. We reckon 200-215 miles is more likely.

That’s still a useful level of autonomy, though, plus the range is rarely affected by the use of ancillaries such as the air-con. It’s also worth noting that the e-208 is one of the few small EVs available with 100kW rapid charge potential, which allows an 80% charge in just half an hour from a compatible public charging point.

VERDICT

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Peugeot e-208 front static

Judged purely as a supermini, the regular Peugeot 208 on which this car is based isn’t in the top echelons of the class: it looks great but we’d like it to be more practical and its chassis to have a little more sparkle.

As a small electric car, though, the e-208 is certainly good enough to fight for a silver or bronze medal, thanks to its blend of style, performance, refinement, drivability and that all-important range.

However, the MG 4 does most of what the e-208 does for a lot less money. The BYD Seal is a bit more practical and the Vauxhall Corsa Electric broadly does the same job.

Murray Scullion

Murray Scullion
Title: Digital editor

Murray has been a journalist for more than a decade. During that time he’s written for magazines, newspapers and websites, but he now finds himself as Autocar’s digital editor.

He leads the output of the website and contributes to all other digital aspects, including the social media channels, podcasts and videos. During his time he has reviewed cars ranging from £50 - £500,000, including Austin Allegros and Ferrari 812 Superfasts. He has also interviewed F1 megastars, knows his PCPs from his HPs and has written, researched and experimented with behavioural surplus and driverless technology.

Murray graduated from the University of Derby with a BA in Journalism in 2014 and has previously written for Classic Car Weekly, Modern Classics Magazine, buyacar.co.uk, parkers.co.uk and CAR Magazine, as well as carmagazine.co.uk.

Peugeot e-208 First drives