Peugeot 208 First Drive (2012)
Once upon a time the lion went from strength to strength, then it got a bit lazy and chilled out on the savannah for a while. Sadly for the lion it realised too late that its prey had spent the time getting fitter and stronger and survival became a struggle. Now the lion has decided that it’s had enough and, if my recent experience is anything to go by, it’s about to stage a big comeback.
The lion, if you hadn’t guessed, is Peugeot’s mascot. In the 80s and 90s it was a constant presence in the supermini sales charts with its iconic 205 and hugely popular 206. Then came the 207 and sales started to drop, not necessarily because the 207 was a bad car but because its competition had got a lot better.
Now, with their new 208 supermini, Peugeot are keen to talk about regeneration. The hope is that the 208 will recapture the magic ingredients that made the 205 and 206 so popular and propel them back to the top of the sales charts, battling with the Fiesta and Polo for supremacy.
Fresh New Design
First impressions count for a lot and in this respect the new 208 scores very highly. The design is a deliberate step away from the 207, with a fresh and interesting approach that makes it much more distinctive. Gone is the wide mouthed front grille, replaced by a smaller opening lined with chrome trim. The large swept back headlights are carried over but are now a more complex shape with a set of daytime running lights across the top.
At the rear sit a pair of lights incorporating three LED strips that mimic the slash of a lion’s claws. The 208′s flanks intersect into the light cluster to give a distinctive and easily recognisable shape.
The 208 is only available as a 3 or 5-door hatchback and the side profiles of each are subtly different. The more practical 5-door has a gently sloping crease that runs from the front door into the rear lights, whereas the 3-door has a much bolder scoop. Also, in a nod to the classic 205 GTI, a chrome strip trails from the rear window of the 3-door into the rear pillar.
Smaller And Leaner
The overall effect is to create a softer looking car, less chunky than the 207 and with more design features to entertain the eyes. Some might describe it as petite and they would be closer to the truth then they might realise – the 208 is smaller than the car it replaces in every dimension.
It loses 6cm from the front and 1cm from the rear overhangs while at the same time shrinking 1cm in height and 2cm in width. Despite those reduced dimensions the interior space is 5cm wider and the boot is 15 litres bigger. The last time someone pulled off a trick like that he immediately disappeared in a blue Police box.
Not only is the 208 smaller, it is also lighter. Significantly lighter. On average it shaves over 100kg from the weight of the 207, the equivalent of carrying a generously proportioned passenger. For example, the Allure model I drove that was fitted with one of Peugeot’s new 3-cylinder petrol engines weighs just 975kg. Yes, that’s less than a tonne. You can imagine how that benefits the handling.
The 208′s cabin is a big step forward. The quality of materials is improved and, while they might not be enough to trouble an Audi A1, they are certainly the equal of the 208′s closest competitors. The centre console is dominated by a seven-inch colour touchscreen display that controls the multimedia system, fitted as standard to the mid-range Active model and above. It brings USB and Bluetooth connectivity into a system that’s a delight to use thanks to the large, bright screen. Peugeot are expecting the Active model to account for 80% of sales so expect to see a lot of 208s using this system.
Above the Active model sits the Allure, one of the models I was able to drive. This comes with 16-inch alloys, tinted windows, LED running lights, auto lights and wipers and auto-dimming rear view mirror, and dual zone climate control.
The other model I drove was the range-topping Feline trim which is very nicely appointed indeed. Part-leather sports seats and gloss black with brushed chrome trim add a feeling of luxury to the cabin while the panoramic sunroof (standard fit, complete with LED lighting for night-time ambience) makes the cabin seem bigger and more open. The outside benefits from 17-inch wheels, all-electric mirrors and a rear spoiler.
On The Move
All of these improvements are for nothing if the 208 is a dud to drive, but things got off to a good start as I settled behind the 208′s steering wheel.
|Peugeot 208 1.2VTi Allure|
|Engine:||1,199cc Petrol 3-cyl|
|CO2 Emissions:||104g/km (Band B)|
|Price:||£13,495 (3 door), £13,895 (5 door)|
|Peugeot 208 1.6 e-HDI Feline|
|Engine:||1,560cc Turbodiesel 4-cyl|
|CO2 Emissions:||99g/km (Band A)|
|Price:||£17,445 (3 door), £17,845 (5 door)|
The first thing to notice about the wheel is that it is smaller than fashion dictates and slightly oval in shape (I couldn’t help but think of the Austin Allegro when I first saw it). The second is that it can be adjusted so low that it can almost be in your lap. It’s a position that seems odd but in practice it works really, really well. The instrument cluster sits high and further back so you’re looking at it over the top of the wheel, rather than through it. The instruments are very clear and easy to read, particularly the LCD screen that displays the various bits of information offered by the trip computer.
At low speeds the steering is light and very responsive. As the speed builds the steering takes on a weightier feel, helping the 208 to avoid the edgy, nervous feeling of some of its overly-assisted rivals.
The nose responds eagerly to direction changes and the car feels keen to tackle corners. It flows well with a decent amount of grip from the front end and good control of body roll. This is one of the benefits of that reduced mass but credit also goes to Peugeot’s chassis engineers who have added a bit of extra sparkle.
The 208 rides well with good damping but the low profile tyres fitted to the two cars I drove transmitted a few sharp thumps and bumps into the cabin. Other drivers noted that the more generously proportioned rubber fitted to some of the other cars improved things.
One of the big problems for the 207 was that its smallest petrol engine was a 1.4-litre. In a world where a 1.0-litre can comfortably power a car as big as a Ford Focus this was a problem and sales of the petrol-powered 207 suffered as a result. Now Peugeot are fighting back with a pair of three cylinder engines that are economical, characterful and, in the case of the smaller 1.0-litre, qualify for free road tax (as do all of the diesel engines).
The 1.2-litre VTi engine I drove is rated at 82bhp. That doesn’t sound like much and when setting off from a standstill it can feel a little slow but once it’s up into third gear the 208 becomes much more lively. The 975kg kerb weight allows it to make the most of that power and it can be hustled along at an entertaining pace, with a cheeky three-cylinder hum that adds to the fun factor. Not only is it fun to drive, it is also rated at 62.7mpg and only 104g/km of CO2.
The only criticism I have of the 1.2 VTi is that the gear change on the five-speed manual is a bit vague with a long throw, but the six-speed box fitted to the 1.6 eHDi was much better. Peugeot diesels have always been good and this one continues that tradition. Quiet, refined, torquey and economical, it makes the 208 seem much more grown up. It also comes with Stop/Start as standard to help keep the official CO2 emissions below the 100g/km barrier.
The e-HDI is the better engine if running costs are a concern but it can’t match the character of the 3-cylinder VTi. The extra weight of the diesel engine (115kg) also robs the nose of a little of the eagerness shown by the lighter petrol unit.
Ideal For Young Drivers
One very enticing part of the 208 package is that it is included in Peugeot’s popular ‘Just Add Fuel’ program. If you’ve not heard of it, ‘Just Add Fuel’ is a finance package that allows owners to do exactly that. You fill the car when it needs it and Peugeot takes care of the road tax, servicing and insurance for three years.
In the case of the 208 a 21-year old could get behind the wheel for under £250 per month. Don’t forget that includes insurance, a huge expense for a novice driver. That’s going to make the 208 popular with young drivers and parents alike, particularly when you consider that the 208 scored a maximum five-star rating in the Euro NCAP tests.
What About A Hot 208?
If you’re after a hot 208 there is only one choice at the moment. The 1.6 THP, available in 3-door Feline trim, uses a turbocharger to massage 155bhp from its 1,598cc petrol engine. That might not seem like a huge amount of power in comparison to the likes of the 178bhp Polo GTI and Fabia vRS but the lighter 208 is almost as quick to 60mph (just 7.3 seconds).
The good news is that there is a much quicker version of the 208 waiting in the wings. The 208 GTI concept was shown recently and it is still on the cards. Specifications are uncertain but it is expected to use the 1.6 THP engine boosted to at least 200bhp. Combine that with the 208′s new found sense of fun and it could turn out to be the best hot Peugeot since … no, I won’t say it.
My time with the 208 was limited but it made a big impression. I really like the fresh new design. The quirkiness of the new wheel and driving position are great. Fit and finish are much improved and equipment levels are good. The biggest result for me was finding out that the 208 now drives with a sparkle that has been missing for some time. Add to that a much better engine range and you have a supermini that deserves to do very well.
Early signs indicate that customers are also keen on the 208. With some clever marketing, including big campaigns online and public displays of the car, Peugeot have managed to secure 3,000 orders before it officially went on sale this month. Expect that number to grow as the television adverts begin.
Peugeot are onto a clear winner with the 208. The lion is back, fitter, leaner and with a confident swagger in its stride. The other animals had better watch out.