Peugeot 208 - First Drive

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Prettier than its predecessors, but can it match their sales legacy?

Peugeot 208 1.2 VTi
Engine: 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol
Transmission: five-speed manual
Power: 82 bhp at 6,000 rpm
Torque: 118 Nm at 2,750 rpm
Fuel consumption (combined cycle): 62.7 mpg
CO2 emissions: 104 g/km
Top speed: 108 mph
Acceleration (0-62 mph): 12.2 seconds
Price: TBA, 208 range expected to start below £10,000

There's a lot riding on the 208. The small 200-series models have always been important for Peugeot but there is one, in particular, that the company would like the new car to emulate – the 1983 205, which sold by the million, its reputation burnished by a thousand rave reviews for the sporty GTI version. The 205's successors, the 206 and the 207, never enjoyed the same critical success, but the 206, at least, still sold very well. The 207 remains a top seller for Peugeot too, but doesn't shift in anything like the same numbers as its predecessors. Now it's up to the 208 to turn the tide, and the initial signs are encouraging.

The new car is certainly quite a lot prettier than some recent Peugeots. The nose represents an evolution of the sleek, smooth face first seen on the larger 508 and is shared across the whole 208 line-up but from the A-pillar back, the three and five door versions are quite different, with the three-door having much more deeply sculpted sides and a rear pillar that is supposed to recall that of the popular 205 GTI. In all, the new model helps to cement Peugeot's return to form as a seller of cars you might actually want to be seen in, and one day, the dumpy 3008 and the company's unfortunate across-the-range experiment with the now-discarded 'fish-face' look will just be distant memories.

The other thing to note about the 208's body is that it is 7cm shorter and 110kg lighter than its predecessor while being a little larger inside, a rare exception to the general rule that cars inevitably get bigger and heavier as they are loaded up with the safety equipment and creature comforts buyers increasingly demand. It will be interesting to see whether other manufacturers respond to the challenge and lighten up their future models as well.

The engine line-up is designed to reassert Peugeot's position as a low-CO2 brand. On the diesel side, there are three choices – a 1.4-litre delivering 68bhp, and 1.6s providing either 92bhp or 115bhp. Only the last of these gets a six-speed gearbox, although the 1.4 and the less powerful 1.6 are also available with EGC automated manual transmissions as well. All of the diesels scrape below the 100g/km barrier for CO2 emissions, an impressive achievement. The best result is achieved by the 1.4-litre paired with the EGC transmission, a combination that scores 87g/km and 83.1mpg in official tests.

The petrol range is headed by two 1.6s providing 120 and 156bhp. The first is linked to a five-speed manual transmission, the second to a six-speeder. There is also a 1.4 delivering 95bhp but the most interesting choices are to be found at the bottom of the range. It seems that no car launch is complete these days without the unveiling of an interesting new three-cylinder engine, and the 208's was no exception. The Peugeot three is available in two sizes, 1.0 and 1.2 litres, providing outputs of 68bhp and 82bhp respectively. The 1.0 sneaks into diesel territory with official CO2 emissions of 99g/km and 65.7mpg, and the 1.2 isn't far behind with 104g/km and 62.8mpg.

The 208's interior displays an impressive blend of style and quality but its most distinctive feature is an instrument pack that sits atop the dashboard so that the driver views the dials over the top of the steering wheel, rather than through it. This arrangement works so well, it's surprising that more manufacturers haven't adopted it. The main advantage is that it's possible to keep an eye on your speed and monitor the other instruments without having to look away from the road ahead too much, an effect that's achieved without going to the expense of providing a head-up display as Peugeot does on some of its other cars.

This unusual set-up is only possible because the 208 has a much smaller steering steering wheel than most, and the more direct inputs this provides suit the car's fairly sharp handling quite well. It's probably asking too much to expect that any modern car might match the agility and subtle chassis behaviour of the old 205-era Peugeots, which carried a lot less weight and were fitted with smaller and lighter wheels and tyres, but the 208 still does a good job. Out on the road, the engines are a bit of a mixed bag, which is hardly surprising given the variety of options available. I first tried the most powerful 115 horsepower diesel, which provided excellent performance and refinement, especially for motorway cruising. More disappointing was the 120 horsepower 1.6-litre petrol. This felt quite lacklustre, a bit of a mystery given that this engine performs well in other applications, and with its comparatively short gearing, it was also a rather wearing motorway cruiser.

Finally, I tried the 1.2-litre three cylinder petrol, which was outstanding. Despite having quite a bit less power than the 1.6, subjectively, it actually felt livelier. It was certainly a lot more fun, responding to hard acceleration with low-end shove and an eagerness to rev that put the bigger engine in the shade. The key to the difference in feel between the two may lie in the fact that the three develops maximum torque (118 Nm) rather lower down at 2,750 rpm, while the 1.6 delivers the most heft (160 Nm) at a much higher 4,250 revs. The three's far more agreeable engine note is a big bonus too. Peugeot has already said that the three-cylinder engine will get a fuel-saving stop-start system next year (which is expected to bring the 1.2's CO2 emissions down to 95g/km), with direct injection and turbo-charging to follow.

It's too soon to tell yet whether the 208 really will be as successful as the 205, not least because Peugeot reckons the B segment in which it competes is a lot more crowded than it was ten years ago (27 competitors in 2011 compared with 16 in 2001). Nevertheless, the company is gearing up to make 550,000 208s a year at four plants, two in France and one each in Slovakia and Brazil. And there's a 208 in the pipeline that could do more than any other to recreate that old 205-style buzz, a GTI version that was shown in concept form at this year's Geneva Motor Show.

No official UK prices have yet been released, but the least expensive models are expected to sneak below the £10,000 barrier – and if initial experience with the 1.2-litre three-cylinder engine is a reliable guide, the cheapest versions of this impressive new Peugeot may also turn out to be some of the best.

The 208 will be available in the UK from 28 June but Peugeot will start taking orders next month.

News
Jennifer Lawrence was among the stars allegedly hacked
peopleActress and 100 others on 'master list' after massive hack
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Senior Asset Manager

    £70000 - £75000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Katie Robinson +44 (...

    KS1 Teacher

    £90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: KS1 Teaching Specialist Leic...

    Y3 Teacher - Loughborough

    £90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Are you a Key Stage 2 specia...

    KS2 Teacher

    £90 - £120 per day + tax deductable expenses: Randstad Education Leicester: At...

    Day In a Page

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor