Is the 208 really the girly car it would grinningly like you to believe? Certainly, the new 208 has an element of softness about its design. Look at it and allow those soft curves, gently-raked ‘screens and gaping grille to whisper sweetly to you. Admire Peugeot’s happy, new family face and other ‘cute’ bits such as the tail-light cluster, that’s designed to mimic claws digging into the car’s voluptuous rump. It’s all very alluring, particularly with the mod cons on this flagship model (until the GTi arrives later this year), but there’s also a fair degree of substance beneath the metal of the 88kW version we tested.
With a swish of her hips
For one, it has a well-dampened suspension set-up that builds on Peugeot’s reputation for producing a comfortably compliant (not soft) ride. Peugeot raves about this 208 being shorter (by 60mm at the front and 10mm at the rear), 10mm lower and up to 176kg lighter than the 207 it replaces. The 208 rides on PSA’s Platform 1 (carried over from the 207) and retains the McPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension set up. The suspension kinematics have been revised extensively though and offer an improvement over the previous generation, which exhibited greater body roll.
The 208 is naturally most at home commuting about city and suburban roads where its light clutch action, agility and manoeuvrability come to the fore. On the open road, the 1.6-litre engine builds momentum gradually, not quickly. The buzzing four cylinder disrupts the refinement of the cabin as the tachometer pushes beyond the max torque revs of 4 250 and on to the 6 000rpm power peak. against the clock, our 208 test unit matched Peugeot’s claim 0-100kph time of 9.6 seconds, which is average for a hatchback of this size.
But point the 208 at a set of tight curves and it’ll lap them up very easily. Its agility and light steering are qualities likely to go unnoticed or underappreciated by the average hop-in-and-go driver, but these proved rather endearing assets over the test period. However, I did feel that with all the work Peugeot’s done in improving the 208’s efficiency, the hatchback would’ve benefitted from a six- rather than the chosen five-speed gearbox.
The wheelbase is the same as before, at 2 538mm, but the use of lighter materials and space-saving packaging has freed up a fair degree of space in the cabin. Peugeot claims bigger boot space and more generous room for those seated on the rear bench. In the 208 I spotted on the road, the rear pair of muscled passengers certainly didn’t look uncomfortable, which is unsurprising since French car makers seldom display much restraint when it comes to standard specification. The 208 is no different, it offers great value.
Peugeot 208 Allure model
Everything here operates automatically, from the headlamps and climate control to the mirrors that fold when locking up. The Allure model has LED daytime running lights, front foglamps, tinted rear windows, cruise control and fetching 16-inch alloys. But the real talking point, at least as far as Peugeot is concerned, is the award-winning touch-screen interface used on all but the base spec three-cylinder 208 model. The digital touch-screen literally runs everything from the car’s audio system to the air conditioning. It’s a lovely idea in principle as it ensures a cabin that is clear of unnecessary buttons – but sadly, operating it isn’t a simple task.
Switching between radio channels for example, is not very intuitive and could be improved. I found my eyes shifting from the road more often than not as I tried to make sense of the clumsy interface. At seven inches, the touch-screen element is a dominant feature within the cabin, so if the 208’s for you, you’d better get used to it. Admittedly, the situation became more bearable over the test period.
Another interesting 208 feature is Peugeot’s rather different approach to the standard driving position. The seats adjust quite low for those who find that appealing, but the odd steering wheel configuration left a number of team members scratching their heads. The steering wheel sits low, basically on your lap, with the instrument binnacle visible over – rather than through – the rim, as one is more accustomed to. It was odd at first, but proved less of a hindrance over time, while general visibility was excellent thanks to its panoramic windows.
The biggest problem
Apart from the Pug’s quirky ergonomics (touchscreen and seating) getting to know mademoiselle 208 was a fairly pleasurable experience. Most niggles we encountered would prompt a closer inspection and a bit of a fiddle, but usually end with a shrug of the shoulders and a muttered, lingering d’accord. Its oddities actually added to its French charm. Overall, the 208 is an improvement over the 207, benefitting from a prettier face and clever suspension tweaks to help it feel young again, even though its platform is now a generation behind the pack. The biggest problem it faces though, is that the B-segment hatchback market is heaving with a number of strong rivals (think Ford’s new Fiesta, VW Polo etc.) With all that choice, buyers might not take the time to familiarize themselves with the 208’s eccentricities. Despite its strong value proposition, the 208 is likely to remain an alternative choice to these established rivals, unless its feminine demeanour manages to seduce more masculine clientele.