Peugeot 208 1.2
Can the go-kart feel of Peugeot's 208 make the brand fun again?
Price: From £10,495. On sale July
Engine: 1,199cc, three cylinders, 12 valves, 82bhp
Transmission: Five-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive
Performance: 109mph, 0-62 in 12.2sec, 62.8mpg, CO2 104g/km
Remember the Peugeot 205? In its 13-year career, this pretty, comfortable little car, lightweight and great fun to drive, rescued the brand from oblivion and set the standard among small cars for years. Strangely, however, the marque failed to replace it and momentum was lost until the larger 206 appeared – less charismatic but ultimately even more successful. It, in turn, gave way to the 207, a seriously lardy small car with little to commend it and sales figures to match. Thus was the plot, and the leadership, lost.
So here's the 208, with which Peugeot hopes to regain leadership of the small-car segment known as "supermini". It has lost a little length and a lot of lard – around 110kg of it. To most eyes it has gained in prettiness, though there might be a touch too much bright-metal embellishment. The three-door version has a fashionable wave along its flanks, and a little motif on the pillar behind the rear-side window redolent of the GTI badges found on the most-loved of the three-door 205s.
Inside there's more space, but that's not what you notice. Rather, you note the dashboard and steering wheel. The latter is unusually small, like a lightweight sports car's, and is set unusually low. Ahead is a very high-mounted instrument cluster. The steering wheel's small size engenders a feeling of wrist-flick agility as it used to when we fitted tiny steering wheels to our hotted-up Minis, but nearly everyone who sits in a 208 for the first time will adjust its height to create a normal driving position. Yet, if you do that, all you can see is the very top of the dials and half of the digital speed display. So either you drive information-blind or you return the wheel to its low setting.
It's odd, having a steering wheel in your lap, but you do soon get used to the position – and being small, rather than tangling with your knees, it helps towards the 208's convincingly go-kart-like demeanour. The unconventionality opens your mind to the graphic display screen, too, with its sat-nav, multimedia and the other toys expected in premium-flavoured cars nowadays.
Premium? In a small Peugeot? Not quite, because there are too many hard-plastic surfaces, but the ambience has a quality feel and, as mentioned, there's too much bright metal garnish (the gear lever is comically overstyled). What the 208 needs above all, though, is to be comfortable and fun to drive the way the 205 was and its successors were not.
I'm pleased to report that, despite being based mainly on 207 components under the skin, it is. The stodge and stubborn resistance have gone from the power steering, replaced by proper precision, pleasing transparency and credible weighting. The small steering wheel and revised suspension settings make this a frisky, joy-promoting car. It rides with a flow, too, although it's more fidgety on the optional bigger wheels.
Engines? Mainly as in the 207, including a smooth and punchy 1.6-litre turbodiesel (available with a sweet-shifting six-speed gearbox) and a rather lacklustre, 120bhp, 1.6-litre petrol engine (five-speed gearbox, ponderous shift action). But there are also brand-new 1.0- and 1.2-litre, low-CO2, three-cylinder options.
Herein lies the pick of the range, the 1.2-litre with 82bhp, a deep and tuneful engine note, a crisp response and a sackful of character. Add to this the curious dashboard and the 208 generates much to talk about. Which, as Oscar Wilde observed, is much better than not being talked about at all.
Life & Style blogs
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers
Airline food across the classes: Ever wondered what the other half are eating?
Coachella Festival 2015: from Kendall Jenner to Alexa Chung, stars and festival-goers parade their boho best
What do the emoji on Snapchat mean?
Huawei P8 review: best phones nobody's seen from the biggest company nobody's heard
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
- 2 Rarest Beanie Baby of them all could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 3 Professional big game hunter Ian Gibson crushed to death by elephant during hunt
- 4 Farmer told to tear down mock-Tudor castle after hiding construction behind hay bales
£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...
£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...
£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...
£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...