IAIN ROBERTSON 

Peugeot

Peugeot

Nobody ever said that small cars had to be tedious to encounter, writes Iain Robertson, which is central to his fascination for the new 208 that introduces classical elegance, a beautiful interior and an attractive stance on technology.

Ever since the ground-breaking 205 model arrived in the early-1980s, which turned heads as speedily as the back of bus promotions for Kate Bush’s fourth album, I have been a ‘2-0’ fan. That light and airy hatchback set a new standard for small cars, which had been interminably boring up to that point. While it became criticised for its propensity, in GTi form, to chuck car and occupants rearwards through hedgerows (mostly the faults of their over-ambitious owners), its appeal was immense and the copyists, desperate for some of Peugeot’s success, went into overdrive.

Peugeot

Peugeot

Its replacement 206 reverted to typical ‘accountants rule the roost’ mode, which was reflected in that model’s cramped, carpet on the dashboard, retrograde appearance. Yet, it was built in big numbers at the Ryton, Coventry, factory, just before the pathetic PSA Group decided to pull the plug on the plant, when it was at the pinnacle of its production performance. The new 207 was introduced quietly and subtly.

Personally, I really liked the 207. It embodied many of the best features of the original 205 in a slightly fussier package. Among its array of model features was a choice of a jutting ‘GT’ style snout, or a more reserved ‘ingrown’ alternative. It was always a strange car, which seemed to herald a host of problems related to the HDi diesel power units and electronics package failures. Yet, it was immensely popular, even though it was no longer built in the UK.

Peugeot

Peugeot

The first generation 208 replaced it and appeared to get off to a cracking start, to maintain its popularity as both a private and business user choice. In some ways, it was closer to the 206 in concept but, seven years later, it has been replaced by the all-new 208, with Peugeot retaining the model name, rather than going for 209.

Starting at a petrol-turbo mid-point of the new 208 range, the PureTech 100 version of the saucy 1.2-litre, three-cylinder motor that is also available in 75 and 130 forms, is sensible, as it is quite likely that it will become the range best-seller, even with a turbodiesel in 100, 1.5-litre, four-cylinder guise to consider. It is worth highlighting that there is also a fully electric e208 but I shall be testing that model soon.

Peugeot

Peugeot

The model numbers are a marketing convenience, as the 100 develops 99bhp (the 75 is 74bhp, while the 130 is 127bhp), which compares most favourably with the best-sellers from Peugeot’s main rivals, the Ford Fiesta, Skoda Fabia and Toyota Yaris, among others. Thanks to a slight reduction in weight over the previous 208, this engine provides a zingy zestiness that I had not anticipated. In Allure trim, it is listed just shy of £19,000 (pre- inevitable dealer discounts), which is significantly costlier than the older equivalent and more than its main competitors, until you hone-in on the car’s interior and appreciate that it is not just a slightly downsized version of the larger 508 but is also of such high merchantable quality, you can understand why Peugeot is also targeting the latest Audi A1 as a rival product.

Riding on 17.0-inch diameter alloy wheels that fill the arches really well, the test example had a number of GT-Line features factored-into its specification, such as ‘auto-on’ LED headlamps, with smart full beam, adaptive cruise control and stop:go push-button start, which come with the automatic gearbox. The growing list of driver assist programs (including lane keep, traffic sign recognition and automatic emergency braking) illustrate that Peugeot is determined to hike the talents of its 208 onto a loftier plane, although they are also trim dependent; the higher you buy, the better it gets.

Peugeot

Peugeot

While its verve is up to the task, so too is its dynamic balance. For many years, this car (since the original 205) has been gifted with hugely engaging ride and handling characteristics. I ran a 207 as a long-term test example a few years ago that car never disappointed (in fact, it was never taken to the garage for anything other than servicing, although its reputation was actually quite shaky). The new 208 possesses a sportier edge that can make its low speed ride feel a bit nuggety but there are no complaints at higher velocities, which the car tackles with sublime maturity, levelling out bumps and gripping like a leech. The build quality is superb and the test car featured no disturbing creaks or rattles, which suggests that its improved torsional rigidity is also on the money. Moderately crisp steering and pleasantly weighted brakes are highly satisfying aspects.

Perhaps the new 208’s most amazing attribute is space, an area that Peugeot has addressed with a mixed bag of results in the past. However, the company has got it right this time. There is bags of space up front and rear seat passengers, although compromised behind taller front seat occupants, benefit from increased head, shoulder and hip room. In truth, the 208 is more a comfortable four-seater, than five.

All 208s are five-door hatches and access to a spacious boot (almost 975-litres, with the 60:40-split seats folded) demonstrates that Peugeot has worked hard on increasing its load lugging appeal, although the company still insists on using its tiny and low-set steering wheel that works better for shorter drivers. Taller drivers need knee-room but do not receive it and, even though the steering column’s range of adjustability is generous, its low-set position creates serious compromises that should have replaced it by now.

Yet, overall, the new 208 is a most pleasing small car to behold. Its looks are dynamic and are supported by a moderately well-behaved platform. It is truly the ‘dog’s bollocks’ inside, with its piano-key switch layout and driver-orientated and programmable touchscreens.

Conclusion:       Enter the new Peugeot 208 and it is as if you have been bumped up from ‘steerage’ to business class. Few cars in this sector present quite as well as the 208. Change that stupid steering wheel and it would be perfect.