Peugeot suffered a drop in form in recent years – and it’s entirely its own fault. The problem is that Peugeot is best known for producing small, sporty hatchbacks and when it didn’t offer a sub-1.4-litre engine option in the 207 – a capacity that accounts for more than 40 percent of the market – it excluded a lot of potential buyers. This was a Very Silly Thing to do. (It didn’t help that the 207 wasn’t a very good car either, it has to be said.)
However, we mustn’t judge it for the mistakes that it has made but rather for its willingness to admit to them and in this regard Peugeot is peerless. It now offers a 1.0-litre, three-cylinder engine at the bottom of the range and goes all the way up to the fearsome 156bhp THP petrol by way of numerous petrol and diesel options; exclusion on the grounds of capacity is simply no longer possible.
The new car is also 7cm shorter than the 207 while being simultaneously 5cm bigger inside. This is Good Stuff, as is the loss of up to 200kgs compared to the car it replaces. This is a welcome change from the usual weight and size gains that we have become used to over the past couple of decades and is a move that should be applauded.
It looks good too. Peugeot is proud of the central ‘spine’ that bisects the car and so it should be. The 208 is full of neat little details like the floating ‘Peugeot’ badge on the front grille, the rising strip above the doors and the front and rear lights, which are simply terrific. A lot of thought and care has gone into the 208.
Perhaps too much, in fact. The interior is spacious and high-quality but dominated by the very high dials that sit atop the dashboard, a position reinforced by the extraordinarily small steering wheel. A senior Peugeot executive confided that whilst it made the 208 “steer like a go-cart it does take some getting used to”. Too right it does. I tried, I really did, but I couldn’t help but hate it, which is a shame as the rest of the interior is really very well done.
I drove the three-cylinder 1.2-litre engine first, developing 82bhp and 87lb ft of torque, which is enough. Just. The engine buzzes and crackles along with that lovely off-beat note that is rapidly becoming the soundtrack to 2012. It needs revving, and revving hard, to get the best from it but it is an appealing little engine, although Ford’s EcoBoost is better. The 208 thus-equipped rides well, steers accurately, brakes effectively, and handles rather nicely. It is a good car, if not a game changer.
The 1.6-litre e-HDi diesel engine provides a very different experience. It’s smoother, quieter, and makes the whole car feel more substantial. It rides even better than the smaller-engined petrol car and feels altogether more expensive. Which it is, of course. It also feels less honest; the 208 is a small, cheapish car and the further you stray from that the less convincing it becomes.
But can we acknowledge that buying a car is much more complex than how it drives? It’s about image, reputation, and finance. Especially finance, which is where Peugeot does change the game with their ‘Just Add Fuel’. This is, as you might have guessed, a payment plan that includes three-years’ insurance, road tax, warranty, breakdown cover, and servicing. In fact, all you have to do is, well, add fuel. It’s clever – and astonishingly good value.
For a twenty-one-year-old driver the price starts at £285 for a 208, which is probably not far off what they’re paying for car insurance at the moment. And that single factor leapfrogs the 208 to the top of the class.
Seriously, the best consumer advice I can give is to rely a little bit less on what people like me say and a lot more on the stark figures. The Peugeot 208 might not be the best car in its class but it is very, very far from being the worst. If you can live with the comedy steering wheel then there is no reason not to buy one and quite a few reasons why you should.
And if finance isn’t an issue there is always the Ibiza instead…
Price: from £9,995 OTR
Maximum power: between 68 and 156bhp depending on model
Peak torque: between 70 and 192lb ft depending on model
0-62mph: between 8.1 and 15.9 seconds depending on model
Top speed: between 101 and 134mph depending on model
Fuel consumption: official: between 48.7 and 65.7 mpg depending on model
CO2 emissions: between 99 and 135g/km depending on model
Images: ©2012 Carlton Boyce