Peugot 208 - Wheels, etc

Can this stylish supermini tackle Peugeot's troubles?

Price: £12,795
Engine capacity: 1.2 litres
Power output (BHP@rpm): 82@5750
Top speed (mph): 109
0-62 mph (seconds): 14
Fuel economy (mpg): 62.8
CO2 emissions (g/km): 104g/km

Life is currently difficult for Peugeot, France's most famous carmaker.

A fortnight ago, the firm's financial troubles provided the basis for a minor diplomatic incident when a French minister told the automaker to cut jobs in Spain, rather than France. Those cuts are due to come on the lines that make Peugeot's smaller cars – including the 208 – which are currently running at around 60 per cent capacity, a shortfall resulting from European consumers' preference for cheaper Asian cars, or more premium German ones. Not to mention as Peugeot's traditional strength in the markets most threatened by the eurozone's financial trembles.

This shouldn't be a reflection on the 208, though. Indeed, as Peugeot slowly completes its 8-series line-up, it's producing some excellent cars. And a lot rides on this one.

For a mid-range brand, Peugeots have a history of being good-looking – from its glorious road bikes through to 1983's très French 205. But it's something that was lost in the last decade or so. When Jean-Pierre Ploué was appointed head of design at PSA (ie the entire Peugeot/Citroen group), he noted Peugeot hadn't made a beautiful car since 1996's Coupé (aka the 406). Recent models like the sumptuous 508 have changed that, and the work overseen by Gilles Vidal on the 208 confirms a dramatic stylistic shift.

From the outside, the 208 looks almost semi-elliptical in shape. It's tall enough to be practical but curves – from bumper to bumper – in a near-foetal position, hugging the road. Or in Vidal's words, it's like "a popular piece of music that touches the human soul regardless of culture". One wouldn't go quite that far, but it's a great look for a mass-market car regardless. I tested the five-door but the three is a more pleasing aesthetic proposition.

Inside, air-conditioning vents subconsciously mirror the grills on the front bumper. The cabin itself feels slick and simple – something accentuated by a small, nimble, steering wheel. A simple interior is the result of a number of controls being sublet to a seven-inch touchscreen which comes on all but the most basic model. It also encompasses the car's controls plus the usual media functions.

You can add sat-nav to it for £400, a price that makes a TomTom preferable but, such is the screen's predominance in the cabin, an independent device will look like clutter. The multimedia interface was baffling, too. I've driven higher-spec new Peugeots with excellent, intuitive systems, yet the 208's player struggled to get beyond my iPod's genre menu and it took 10 minutes of fiddling trying to get to the right track.

Space-wise, the 208 is excellent for a supermini. I used it over the weekend of my wedding and managed to fit all our nuptial swag in the 285-litre boot and on the backseats with ease.

So, the 208 delivers then. And, if the company can market and sell it effectively, it ought to compete with big-selling perennials like the Focus and the Polo. You'll be able to tell if they manage it by having a flick of the Financial Times around this time next year.

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