THERE’S no greater pressure than being a success. Just ask Peugeot, who face the unenviable task of creating a supermini that lives up to the legacy of the 205. That car is still fondly remembered (despite not being as perfect as the fog of nostalgia leads us to be believe) but the 206 that followed it did even better: an incredible 7.7 million were sold worldwide. The outgoing 207 was a good car, but couldn’t match either the charm or sales success of its predecessors. So have a little sympathy for the just-launched 208.
But not much. The first glance will tell you that the 208 is a car with a purpose and a confidence about its looks. Like any modern car you need the right colour and a decent set of alloys on it to get the best effect, but it is a very handsome thing. There are token nods to the 205 in the chrome detail around the rear window but it’s no slavish recreation, instead the 208 is thoroughly modern.
It’s a little bit bigger too – a modest 7cm in length which translates to a useful increase in rear seat room, but more crucial is the fact that it is as much as 110kg lighter than the 207. That’s good news all round, not least because you get more from whatever’s under the bonnet but efficiency goes up to; an average saving of 34g/km compared to the old models is claimed.
As well as some carried-over engines there are some new offerings too, most interestingly a three-cylinder petrol. Having one fewer cylinder is partially responsible for a 25kg weight saving, but friction is also reduced by almost a third and when the stop/start system is added later in the year it will deliver an impressive 95g/km.
The homework has clearly been done then, and when you step inside the sense of modernity continues. Peugeot says it has given the 208 a ‘head-up display’ cockpit for better ergonomics, but it would be more accurate to say it has positioned the instruments much higher up on the dash than providing a true digital display in the windscreen. The idea is that you view the dials over the top of the (much-smaller) steering wheel rather than through it. The theory is good but whether you like it or not will depend on the individual; having the wheel so low set is a matter of preference. But the driving position is very good regardless, the view out is good (save for the relatively thick rear pillars) and that small steering wheel really gets you in the mood.
You might think a smaller wheel would hamper you in town but the power steering means it is never an issue, and you can guide the 208 in or out of town without having to shuffle your hands around very often – a real boon for an everyday and everywhere car like this. This 1.6-litre VTi engine is unchanged from the 207 but here it feels more lively, revs pretty keenly and while not delivering hot-hatch pace, is certainly quick enough for most people. On the left-hand drive test cars fifth gear seemed a long way over, but in the UK that will work just fine and the shift itself is accurate and consistent.
But what of the legendary 205 and its engaging manner on a twisty road? Well the first thing to remember is that you’ll never recreate that feeling in a car that weighs a third as much, wider tyres and power steering (that’s what safety kit does for you). But when you start to push on the 208 is really up for playing too with good feel and feedback through the wheel. The attention to weight-saving delivers a feeling of the 208 being light on its toes, which encourages you to revel in the balance and faithfulness of the chassis. It does all this while providing a decent ride too, the overall balance between comfort and handling being nicely judged and just what you would want from a small car.
So has Peugeot pulled it off then? Outshone the 205 – no. Created arguably the best supermini in the class? Quite possibly. There are some new engines still to try and UK roads provide the toughest test of all, but Peugeot has really pulled out the stops and the result is that the 208 is a cracking little car. The opposition should start to worry.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Peugeot 208 1.6 VTi Allure, £14,645
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol producing 120bhp and 118lb.ft of torque
Transmission: Five-speed manual gearbox driving the front wheels
Performance: Top speed 118mph, 0-62mph in 10.9 seconds
Economy: 48.7mpg combined
Emissions: 134g/km of CO2
- Power3 (average performance)
- 0-60 mph
- Economy4 (better than average fuel economy)
- Insurance groups3 (average costs)
Motors.co.uk value verdict: