Peugeot 208 review (2012 onwards)
Summary: stylish, spacious, very green and fun to drive, the new 208 supermini is a brilliant return to small car form for Peugeot.
We like: stylish, fun to drive, comfortable, innovative interior design, clean engines, low weight
We don't like: slightly odd steering feel, some refinement issues, not knowing the price
When a car manufacturer talks of 'rewriting the rule book', 're-generating' principles, and says it has undertaken its 'most ambitious specification overhaul ever' because 'simple renewal is no longer enough', we would tend to approach with caution.
Some brands are guilty of using such language when unveiling the most modest of facelifts - exaggeration comes naturally in this business. Which is hardly a surprise when a press launch is usually the precursor to marketing, and carmakers are in the business of selling cars, after all.
Peugeot has used all of the above to describe the process of development that has lead to this brand new 208 supermini - within literally the first three paragraphs of the press bumph. However. Having now driven several variants of the new 208, we can in fact see where the French company is coming from.
An excellent small car
This is an excellent small car. It's not perfect, but taken as a whole it represents a really fresh package that is likely to appeal to a wide range of buyers - and for good reason. Peugeot really does seem to have started with that blank piece of paper designer types are always going on about.
Except that's not quite true. What it's actually done is taken a good look at what was wrong with its last supermini effort - the 207 - and compared that to the successes it had with the 206 (and even the 205). Then mixed up the conclusions with some smart new thinking and some sound engineering.
Available in distinctive three- and five-door bodystyles ¬- note the differing exterior detailing on the sides - the Peugeot 208 is up to 173kg lighter than the car it replaces, has astonishingly low CO2 figures including a 99g/km petrol, and boasts an interior reboot that's different for the right reasons.
The French revolution starts here.
Without the range-topping 156hp 1.6-litre THP turbo petrol available to try we figure you have two options: stump up the extra cash you'll need for a diesel, or go for the new 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol.
That's not to say the other petrols are rubbish. We were only able to try the regular 1.6 and the 1.2, so can't comment on the 1.0 (also a three-pot) or the 1.4 (a more conventional four cylinder). But the 1.2 triple injects such verve into the driving experience you can't help but love it.
With 82hp it's hardly fast - 0-62mph takes 12.2 seconds, apparently - but a kerb weight of just 975kg 'topped up' means it's in keeping with the 208's whole lightness of being approach, it makes an amusing noise and loves to rev; wring out the 1.6, by contrast, and it resonates unpleasantly at around 5,500rpm.
Based on exposure to both 92hp and 115hp power output variants of the 1.6-litre HDi, the turbodiesels are also noisy affairs. However, a big slug of extra torque makes for more effortless progress in general - especially in the case of the 115hp version, which gets a sixth cog in its gearbox.
The rest of the line-up - bar that elusive 156hp THP, which also enjoys six gears - make do with a five-speed arrangement. Regardless of ratio count, Peugeot has given the gear selection a positive, well oiled, mechanical feel; the 'boxes don't like to be rushed, but they don't need to be. Fingertips are all you need.
A final word on that 1.6 THP turbo petrol, even if we weren't able to drive it; weighing only 1,090kg it claims 0-62mph in 7.3 seconds and a top speed of 133mph. It sounds like a riot - yet is considerably less powerful than the likely 208 GTI, which just debuted in concept form at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show...
Ride and handling
That 173kg headline weight reduction is certainly an attention grabber (it comes on the 975kg entry level 1.0-litre petrol model, incidentally, helped by the significantly downsized engine), but an average cut of 114kg is arguably even more so.
Some rivals - notably the Ford Fiesta / Mazda2 twins - are almost as light, but Peugeot has really made it count when it comes to the 208's ride and handling. This is a very fluid little car, comfortable over rough surfaces but grippy in the corners and keen to please. It instantly had us grinning.
Peugeot has fitted an unusually small steering wheel, which pokes out of the dashboard at you and dispatches most bends with a mere flick of the wrists. The diesels are particularly pointy, and you can trim the line quite predictably with the accelerator. It reminded us of a more compliant Renaultsport Twingo. Brilliant.
The steering assistance is slightly odd, however. It takes a while to get your inputs exactly right, and the numb centre point combined with the 208's eagerness to change direction makes motorway driving less relaxed than it could be. But this is a price we'd gladly to pay for such enjoyable additional agility.
The 208 is slightly smaller than the 207 - but the smart design makes it seem even more compact on road while actually increasing the amount of interior space. Slimmer front seats free up an additional 5cm of rear knee room for example, and an enormous optional glass roof lets in loads of light.
But the biggest changes are up front. Peugeot has placed the gauge pod right on top of the dashboard, closer to the driver's line of sight - meaning you look above the steering wheel rather than through it to see how fast you're going. Right next to that, also high in the dash, is a slick new touchscreen interface.
Fitted as standard on all but the entry-level Access trim, this not only looks ace but works extremely well. Moving around within its many functions - including the £400 satellite navigation option - is intuitive, the touch control speedy and responsive, and the graphic interface pleasingly modern without being derivative.
There's Bluetooth connectivity for smartphones and iPads, and all the test cars had dual USB sockets and a 12v power connector. Neat flippy air con controls, beautifully detailed seats and other accessories, such as handbrake levers and pedals, mean we can easily forgive the 208's occasionally cheap feeling plastics.
Safety and economy
In addition to the performance and the handling, the 208's low weight is great for economy and efficiency. The worst polluter will be the 156 THP and that emits just 135g/km CO2, with claimed fuel economy of 48.7mpg.
The 1.0-litre petrol is a zero road tax 99g/km CO2 car - 65.6mpg - while the 1.2 will drop from 104g/km to just 95g/km when a stop-start system is added in 2013. Even as it is it returns a claimed 62.7mpg. Stop-start is mostly standard on the rest of the range already.
Greenest of all is the 1.4 eHDi - fitted with an eco-centric automatic gearbox this is said to achieve 83.0mpg and 87g/km CO2 - but no diesel variant emits more than 99g/km or returns less than 74.3mpg, according to the official calculations. In the real world it won't be quite that good, but the 208 is still hugely green.
All that said, don't let the lightweight engineering worry you on the safety front. The 208 is yet to be Euro NCAP crash-tested, but it's built with a large amount of Very High Strength Steel and Ultra High Strength Steel. Peugeot also fits six airbags and ESP as standard.
The MSN Cars verdict
Beyond telling us that it will start at just £9,995, Peugeot isn't yet revealing the 208's pricing structure; we suspect that once you load it up with some of the tastier personalisation options it will get quite expensive quite quickly - but even this presently unknown factor doesn't stop it becoming a five-star car for us.
The 208 is stylish, compact yet spacious, and engages the driver with a sense of fun, expressed with a quality and maturity in defiance of any use of that supermini catchall "cheap and cheerful". Solid build quality, impressive attention to detail in most areas and a wide-ranging engine line-up complete the picture.
With innovative finance packages like 'Just Add Fuel", it's surely going to attract a whole spectrum of buyers in the UK, while in Europe Peugeot is ambitiously targeting a full return to the very top of the supermini sales charts. And you know what? We think the 208 might just do it.
|Need to know|
|Engines, petrol||1.0 VTi, 1.2 VTi, 1.4 VTi, 1.6 VTi, 1.6 THP Turbo|
|Engines, diesel||1.4 HDi, 1.6 eHDi 92, 1.6 eHDi 115|
|Power, hp||68 - 156|
|Torque, lb ft||70 - 199|
|0-62 mph, secs||7.3 - 16.2|
|Top speed, mph||101 - 133|
|Mpg combined||48.7 - 83.0|
|CO2, tax||87 - 135 / 13 - 17|
|Ratings||Peugeot 208 1.6 eHDi|
|Ride & handling||*****|
|MSN Cars verdict||*****|