For a long time now French hatchbacks have been a big part of British life. Through the 80s and 90s Citroen, Renault and Peugeot enjoyed great success and our roads were awash with various AXs, Saxos, 5s, Clios, 205s and 206s. Some of us will have enjoyed them new, some will have had one as our first car, and most of us will have known friends or family who had one.
At some point our love for the French hatchback waned and sales began to decline, making life tough for the manufacturers as these high volume models formed the backbone of their business. Now it’s time for them to fight back, but each is going about it in a different way. Citroen have re-invented their DS badge to add some premium appeal (and hopefully profit) to their offerings. Renault have taken a scythe to their range but are sticking with the Clio with a new model due next year.
Peugeot have certainly felt some pain through the economic slump and have seen a 20% drop in sales through Europe. So you have to feel sorry for the all-new 208 as it has a huge weight of expectation pressing down on its shoulders. Can this shining beacon of hope re-kindle the passion we used to feel for the 205 so many years ago?
It’s Got The Allure
If looks are all that counts then Peugeot are certainly on to a winner with this three-door Allure model. With its chrome details, 16-inch wheels, darker tinted rear windows and LED running lights it certainly is, as the name suggests, quite alluring. There are some nice design details too, such as the rear lights with their claw-like strips of red light (Peugeot, lion, claws, geddit?) and the new corporate nose that replaces the gaping grille seen on the 207.
On the inside the Allure benefits from dual-zone climate control, ‘sports’ seats and a leather-trimmed wheel. Chrome highlights contrast with gloss black plastics to give a quality, if sombre, feeling inside. This particular car has the optional leather trim with heated front seats at an extra cost of £850. Expensive for a supermini but if you don’t like the cold you’ll appreciate the soothing warmth around your buttocks.
The Allure also benefits from a bright and colourful seven-inch touch-screen mounted high on the dashboard. Some of the display design is a bit fussy but once you’ve learnt your way around the menus it’s a simple system to use and integrates well with the optional sat-nav system (£400). Bluetooth allows you to connect your smartphone or stream music from your MP3 player, or you can pop a USB stick loaded with tunes into one of the slots in the lower part of the dash.
The 208 does have one unusual feature and that is its driving position. The slightly oval wheel can be pulled down low, almost to the point where it’s sat in your lap, and you look over the top of the wheel at the instruments. At first it seems a bit odd but before long I warmed to the new position and started to enjoy it. However, it doesn’t suit everyone – feedback from others who’ve driven the 208 suggests that not everyone likes it.
The instrument cluster also adds to the quality feel of the cabin with its high-definition white on black LCD display. It is clear and concise and the large digital speed display is particularly handy, along with the standard cruise control and speed limiter, perfect for roads monitored by average speed cameras.
What’s Under The Bonnet?
This 208 is fitted with the 1.6-litre petrol engine, but not the perky turbocharged 156 THP. This is the naturally aspirated 120bhp model that promises to deliver 48.7mpg with CO2 emissions of 134g/km (Band E). On paper it’s good for o-60mph in 10.8 seconds and a top speed of 118mph.
The 1.6, as with all of the smaller petrol engines, comes with a 5-speed manual as standard. Yes, this is a £16k car with a five-speed box, and not a very good one at that. The throw is long and the action is loose and vague. It’s a characteristic I remember from the 206 and it should have been engineered out a long time ago.
The gearbox is also partly to blame for the uninspiring performance from the 1.6-litre engine. It feels flat in the lower gears and really has to be wrung out to get the best from it but sadly the noise doesn’t encourage you to hang on to every gear. The same noise highlights the need for an extra ratio as a steady motorway cruise results in a tiring 3,500rpm drone.
I know this engine is capable of much more as it forms the basis of the 200 THP as tested in the RCZ and 308 GT. Both of these cars also possess smooth-shifting six-speed gearboxes so Peugeot’s engineers definitely know how it should be done.
Fortunately the ride and handling are better. The 208 Allure is setup for comfort rather than sporty handling and proves to be a relaxing little car to potter about in. Big bumps can send an unwelcome jolt into the cabin but for the most part you can cruise in comfort.
The 208 sheds almost 100kg compared to the 207’s frame. At 1,080kg it’s a relative feather-weight by modern standards and it does feel lively. Turn-in is crisp and it will hang on gamely through corners, although the overly-assisted steering masks a lot of the feel from the front. The 208 can be quite a playful little thing when you really start to chuck it about, which bodes well for the upcoming GTI model. It can’t quite match the Fiesta for outright thrills but it’s more engaging than the likes of the Polo and A1.
The 208 is a good car in many ways. It looks the part, especially in Allure trim. The cabin is a big improvement in terms of layout and quality and can even teach its rivals a thing or two. The ride and handling are also improved, not to best-in-class levels, but it is a much more rewarding car to drive than its forebear.
The problem for the 208 is with this combination of engine and gearbox. It tries to bridge the gap between the economical 3-cylinder engines and the performance-oriented THP model. Sadly it just ends up falling uncomfortably between the two.
If economy is your priority go for the 3-pot 1.2 VTI and enjoy the benefits of an even lighter car (by 105kg!). If you’re after performance then you should fork out the extra for the 156 THP or wait a few months for the 208 GTI.
This particular 208 lacks that essential ‘je ne sais quoi’ and instead left me thinking ‘je ne comprends pas’. The 208 is a car that can re-ignite our passion for small French hatchbacks, but you’ve just got to choose carefully before you buy.
Peugeot 208 1.6 Allure Scores
|PERFORMANCE||Engine delivers performance in a relaxed manner||6|
|HANDLING||Crash diet brings out the 208’s playful side||7|
|AFFORDABILITY||Allure is well-equipped and represents decent value||7|
|DESIRABILITY||Fresh new look is rather appealing||7|
|DRIVING SPIRIT||Engine and gearbox discourage enthusiastic driving||4|
Peugeot 208 Allure Specifiations
|Engine:||1,598 cc 4-cylinder petrol|
|0-60 mph:||10.6 seconds|
|Top Speed:||118 mph|
|Kerb Weight:||1,080 kg|
|CO2 Emissions:||134 g/km (Band E)|
|Official Economy:||48.7 mpg|
|Price (As Tested):||£16,640*|
*Prices taken from Peugeot website, December 2012