Regeneration. That was a phrase I heard a lot on the launch of the new Peugeot 208, and one which, if I’d been given a pound for every time it was said, I would be a very rich man indeed, and one who could probably buy a whole fleet of Peugeots.
But it’s clear why ‘that’ word was used so much. Peugeot swung two misses with the 206 and 207 (not my words, but the words of every car journalist and a few of Peugeot’s own employees), as the cars never quite captured the magic of the 205. For sure, the 206 GTI was a hoot, and a fairly cheap one at that, but all the other variants were too heavy, too slow and, all in all, a bit bland. A bit like fish and chips with no salt and vinegar. Or a Chinese takeaway without an extremely large bill. Everything was there, but somehow nothing Peugeot tried worked, until now.
The next thing I noticed were the engines. On the launch, there were two engines available: a 1.6 litre diesel with 92 bhp and a 1.2 litre, 3-cylinder petrol with 82 bhp. The diesel was torquey and altogether pretty handy at low speeds, because even at 30 mph I could put it into fifth and cruise around quite happily, and then you look down at the instruments and see you’re getting 55 mpg without really trying. I have a feeling the French will like this diesel very much.
And things get better for the diesel, because, yes it isn’t the most powerful car in the world, but when you poke it with a stick you can feel the torque surging you forward. 199 lb/ft of torque in a light small car like this makes you shift.
The 1.2 petrol, though, was a bit different. It didn’t have as much torque (just 87 lb-ft), but you put your foot down and your engulfed in a whirlwind of fantastic three-cylinder engine noise. Honestly, this little engine was great, great fun, because, yes, it might not actually be very fast, but it feels fast.
Dynamically, the 208 isn’t the most inspiring car to drive – the clutch is too long for my liking, and the steering a little light and imprecise. Perhaps the best way of describing the handling is that it doesn’t inspire confidence, but is far from being undriveable. It isn’t the suspension or the chassis, just the steering. The grip is good, the brakes sharp and the pedals nice and weighty.
The gearbox is also a tad on the vague side. You can get five or six-speed manuals or automatics depending on the car, but the manuals I tried never seemed to like going from third to second or fifth to fourth.
Inside, even though the interior is ‘black-on-black’ (BOB, as I call it), everything feels well put together, and the cabin is really rather roomy. The gearstick is a big chunky thing, modelled on some sort of blunt-force, medieval weapon; the steering wheel is small and rather attractive; then there are the instruments? Have I mentioned those? They’re excellent, and just so clear.
I have but two gripes. The first is that, like many small cars, the pillars at the back and the front of the car means that you can’t see what you’re about hit and what you hit a moment ago. And, for those who like a ‘sporty’ driving position, the wheel in the 208 has been designed so that it sits much lower in the car than usual, below the instruments, in fact, rather than in front of them. But other than that, it was really nice – by far the nicest ‘BOB’ interior I’ve come across.
Outside, I wasn’t sure at first; I felt like the 208 didn’t quite look as well thought out as some of its rivals (the Ford Fiesta and Kia Picanto to name but two) and certainly nowhere near as aggressive, but the advert came on telly the other day, and for the first time I thought “actually, that’s quite a pretty little car”. The shape of the rear lights has been done so that it looks similar to the claw of the lion in the Peugeot badge, which I don’t really agree with, but the lights themselves look very good – like neon strips. And the wheels are nice too, and not at all plasticy.
But which car should you chose? Oooh, tricky. I enjoyed the three-cylinder petrol the most because, as I said, it was fun, felt fast and economical (nearly 60mpg if you work hard), but the diesel was good too, and it gets almost 80 mpg.
Should you buy one?
Look at it this way: the 208 is much better looking that the 207, much more economical, better looking, better put together, and, with any luck, there’ll be a GTI along soon… That really will hark back to the days of the 205.