– Exterior styling
– Value-packed features
– Fuel economy
– Average rear legroom
– Highway noise
– Outdated gearbox
First there was the Peugeot 205 in 1983, the little hatchback that saved the French company and continued production until 1996. Then after the company briefly tried to kill off their sub-compact option, the Peugeot 206 came in 1998, the little hatchback that was so ahead of its time that it stayed in production unchanged all the way till 2009 due to popular demand, and a facelifted version continues to be sold in some foreign markets. Around 2006, the Peugeot 207 debuted and quietly went about its business without anybody noticing. And now for 2013, there is the fresh Peugeot 208, a new nameplate that will now continue “forever” because the company realised they’ll run out of numbers if they kept going. And it’s a great car to start off the new line.
For a European compact car that costs no more than a Nissan Tiida, it sure looks much more premium. With tasteful use of chrome trim, sharp styling and etched badges, the 208 looks like it could be an overpriced Mini competitor, but it isn’t. It plays in the affordable league.
Inside, the 208 again impresses with a funky interior, with the top “Allure” model getting a sizeable touchscreen on top of the centre-console. Overall build quality feels solid, although there are a few noticeable flaws in places where the trim doesn’t line up just right. But compared to the hard-plastic interiors on most sub-compacts, the 208 gets soft-touch padding on the large chunk of the dashboard, with padded-fabric door armrests front and back that match the fabric seats. There’s still a lot of hard plastics, but trim-wise, the 208 is a step-up from the VW Polo, Honda Jazz and Toyota Yaris.
However, it’s a step down from its main rivals in terms of cabin space. Up front, it’s perfectly spacious, but in the rear, legroom is average at best, though still adequate for most. Headroom all-round is excellent, while the boot volume is decent enough for its size. The front seats are nicely bolstered while the split-folding rear bench has three headrests, but neither front nor rear have centre-armrests. While the glove-box is decently-sized, and there are little door pockets, the two small oddly-placed cup-holders are nearly useless, and there is a deep open cubby below the centre-console for storing golf balls or something.
Features-wise, it has that full-colour touchscreen for stereo, trip computer, Bluetooth phone and other functions, something that no other sub-compact rival offers, although you have to spring for the top model to get it. The decent-enough CD/MP3 stereo has USB/AUX ports and steering-wheel buttons, while the dual-zone auto a/c was unstressed during our December test. Other features include basic keyless entry, fog lamps, auto headlights and wipers, power windows and mirrors, cruise control with speed limiter, and dual front airbags, although they’ve skimped on the side-airbags for our market.
The fully-adjustable steering wheel is a bit weird though, intentionally small in size so you have to peer over it to look at the high-mounted gauges. And the cruise-control buttons are hidden away behind the wheel, so you have to twist your neck and try to read the labels before you can work them.
The 1.6-litre 4-cylinder engine under that stubby bonnet actually gives a nice illusion of being more powerful than it is. Making 120 hp at 6000 rpm and 160 Nm of torque at 4250 rpm, it is already more powerful than any other similar sub-compact. We got a 0-100 kph time of 11 seconds in our desert-winter test, but it felt somewhat spritely a lot of the time, even when loaded with passengers.
One reason for that spriteliness could be the 4-speed automatic, which has short gear ratios and doesn’t seem to have an overdrive gear, which means the engine keeps revving beyond 3000 rpm when cruising at 120 kph. It even comes with a sport mode to hold gears longer, as well as manual-shifting capability, but we know the gearbox is ancient because they’re still using the same shift-knob we saw in our 2005 Peugeot 307 even. The new 208 managed a solid 8.5 litres/100 km anyway, which is better than what we got with the underpowered Toyota Yaris.
The 208 handles pretty well, with only the slightest hint of body roll, and good grip from the 195/55 tyres on 16-inch alloys. Given its short wheelbase, it’s actually easy to slip the tail out just a little bit on tight curves, only to catch the slip with a flick of the wrist, thanks to its tight responses and sharp controls. Our car even had proper four-wheel disc brakes, in a segment where rear drums are the norm. It’s almost like a budget Mini chaser.
But the little Peugeot is not as compelling to drive as a Mini, with its overly-light steering and twitchy pedals. There is a bit of feedback from the controls, but the lightness of it all makes you pay extra attention while driving, to make sure you don’t unintentionally change lanes with a sneeze.
However, the 208 rides pretty well for a sub-compact, smooth enough on most road surfaces, and not too jarring at all over speed bumps and potholes. It still remains as noisy as most economy cars, with external noises being prominent over 100 kph, and the buzzy engine not helping matters.
The Peugeot 208, even with its quirks, is a very nice entry in a segment dominated by cars that we’d hate to be seen in. And surprisingly enough, the 208 costs no more than those cars we’d hate to be seen in. It isn’t going to win any awards for space or practicality, but if you like your budget ride with a little spice, and you’re the only passenger on your daily commute, this is the car to go for.
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