Smart to look at and smart to own, it offers class-leadingly-frugal running costs, a more individual feel and lots of clever high-tech. In short, it’s a small car with very big ideas.
On the move in the 208, the first thing you’ll notice is the tiny steering wheel, over which, rather than through which you view the instruments. The layout takes a bit of getting used to but once you’ve adjusted, you can enjoy wrist-flick cornering and instrumentation that’s easier to monitor without taking your attention away from the road. Handling could be sharper, but ride quality is excellent and the car feels agile thanks to all the efforts made to remove weight from the basic design.
As a result, performance seems eager, even if you opt for the base normally aspirated petrol variants, a 68bhp 1. 0-litre model and an 82bhp 1. 2-litre derivative. Both these PureTech units are three cylinders in size, the PureTech 110, boosted by a turbocharger. The 1. 2-litre unit feels usefully rapid and can be optionally mated with one of the smoothest automatic gearboxes in the sector, Peugeot’s EAT6 transmission. If you want a diesel, Peugeot has introduced a range of clean, efficient 1. 6-litre BlueHDi engines into this car, with a choice of 75bhp, 100bhp or 120bhp outputs. At the top of the range, the GTi hot hatch version continues much as before, though its 1. 6-litre THP petrol turbo engine has been slightly boosted in power to 208bhp.
The original version of this 208 saw Peugeot return to simple, smart but effective design, an approach that continues with a series of subtle aesthetic updates.
Providing you avoid entry-level trim, you get the two-tone headlamps with their black and chrome masks and hi-tech LED light signature. There’s a smarter front bumper too, with sharper, more precise lines that surround the wider grille with its integrated chrome finisher.
Take a place in one of the very comfortable seats up front in what Peugeot rather pretentiously calls the ‘i-Cockpit’ and four things are immediately apparent, quality, lack of button clutter, the big centre-dash LCD infotainment screen and, most notably, the tiny steering wheel above which (rather than through which) you’re supposed to view the instruments with their finely sculpted needles. It’s true that you may have to fiddle around quite a bit with the steering wheel adjustment until you get it to a point where it doesn’t obscure your view of the gauges, something not everyone may be able to manage completely to their satisfaction. Do that though and for most, the benefits will be well worth having, namely wrist-flick steering feel - and dials much closer to your line of sight on the roadway ahead.
Time to take a seat in the rear. If that’s something you or your passengers are going to be doing reasonably often, then you really need the five-door bodystyle, not only because the rear bench will be easier to get to but also because the headroom on offer once you’re in place is much improved.
Flatten the back seat and, though the cargo area revealed isn’t completely level, you’ll get 1,076-litres of fresh air to play with, one of the largest capacities on offer in this class.
Peugeot has always worked hard at maximising the eco-friendliness of this car. Indeed, in its original form, it was fully 114kgs lighter than its 207 model predecessor. If on top of that, you include class-leading BlueHDi diesel technology, you’re going to get a very frugal supermini indeed – and so it’s proved, with the realisation of class-leading efficiency potential. This establishes the entry-level diesel 208 as the most economical non-hybrid car you can buy in this country.
Equal effort has been put into petrol technology. At the 208 model’s original launch, more powerful petrol versions had to soldier on with the brand’s older 1. 4 and 1. 6-litre Euro5 VTi powerplants, but these have now been replaced by a hi-tech three cylinder 1. 2-litre PureTech 110bhp turbo unit that claims to be around 25% cleaner and more frugal. It’s another big step forward in efficiency, this time achieved by lighter weight, engine ‘Stop & Start’ technology and a 30% reduction in mechanical losses due to friction.
So, has the 208 really been ‘re-energised’? In many ways yes. The changes made have been fundamental beneath the bonnet and of significance on the spec sheet, enough in total to punt this car firmly back into contention in the increasingly competitive supermini segment.
True, you’ll be able to find yourself a sharper-handling supermini than this, but chances are it’ll have a harsher ride, a nastier cabin and higher running costs. Efficiency indeed, is now a fundamental strongpoint right across the range thanks to a move into impressive PureTech petrol and BlueHDi diesel technology that’s now been completed as part of this model update.
As a result, most will recognise that in this 208, Peugeot has finally brought us the supermini it was always capable of. A smart small car choice – in more ways than one.