"The 208 boasts tiny running costs and fantastic looks, it also has a higher quality cabin than the 207 it replaces. It's not as enjoyable to drive as the class leaders however."
Small Peugeots have always been a hit with UK buyers – the 205, 206 and 207 sold in their hundreds of thousands. Now the Peugeot 208 is here and it's designed to rival the Ford Fiesta and VW Polo with a blend of style and quality. All cars get LED rear lights, electric front windows and six airbags, while Access+ add colour coded trim. Mid-spec Active cars add alloy wheels, Bluetooth and a DAB radio. Top-spec XY cars are the most desirable with special purple paint, 17-inch alloy wheels, chrome mirrors and an extended bodykit as well as sat-nav and LED daytime running lights as standard. While it certainly looks the part inside and out, with a much higher quality cabin, the 208 just doesn’t drive as well as its rivals, mainly because underneath that pretty body is an simply an updated 207 – a car commonly criticised for its lack of driver enjoyment. That said, there's a wide range of new petrol and diesel engines, including a hot 197bhp GTI version.
Peugeot has sent the 208 on a crash diet, and that makes quite a difference to how it drives. Even the heavier diesels feel more agile. The 92bhp 1.6-litre diesel is best, as it's fast yet capable on motorways. The petrols are a mixed bag. We’re big fans of the new 82bhp 1.2 VTi three-cylinder turbo: it's easy to drive around town and sounds great. The 120bhp 1.6 VTi petrol is noisy and needs revving, while the 155bhp turbo 1.6 is fast but expensive. The 1.6 turbo makes more sense in the 197bhp GTI model where it delivers impressive pace, along with sportier noise form the exhaust. The five-speed manual gearbox is very loose and wobbly, but the six-speed in the 1.6 turbo is better.
The ride is generally okay but it's troubled by big bumps, which send a crash through the cabin and have the car bouncing off line in corners. All petrol engines, except the 155bhp turbo, have a five-speed manual gearbox, which desperately needs an extra gear on the motorway. This means the car can be very noisy and tiring on long journeys, while a Volkswagen Polo is much easier to live with if you do a lot of longer journeys. Reach and rake adjustable steering means the driving position is okay, although some drivers will feel that they’re sitting too high up and far away from the gear lever. The GTI model features stiffer, and lower suspension which helps the handling, but means jolts from bad road surfaces are even bigger. However, for a performance car, the GTI's compromise between handling and comfort is acceptable.
The 208 is too new for us to know how it will behave in terms of reliability – but it was never a strength of the 207, which always performed poorly in the Driver Power customer satisfaction survey. You would hope that as the interior has made a big leap forward in terms of quality, the rest of the 208 will be better, too. It's based on many mechanical components that have certainly been tried-and-tested in the 207. However, we would be surprised if the 208 proved to be more reliable than a VW Polo or a Hyundai i20, and some owners have already reported electrical faults.
It may be smaller than the 207, but the 208 is slightly bigger inside thanks to redesigned seatbacks. The boot is also larger, at 285 litres, which is about the same as a Fiesta. Five-door versions are much more practical than the three-door, as they’re much easier to get in and out of it, so it's worth remembering that the GTI only comes with three-doors. And in the back, there is decent space for two average adults. Up front, a new layout that sees the speedometer and rev counter raised above the steering wheel is controversial. Some will find the steering wheel has enough adjustment to not block the lower part of the dials – but some won’t.
Value for money
One thing's for sure – you get plenty of kit on the new 208. Even Access+ cars have air-conditioning and cruise control. Active trim boasts Bluetooth and a touchscreen in the centre console – which can be loaded with a series of apps. Allure adds LED running lights, 16-inch alloys, a leather steering wheel and sports seats. Top-spec Feline trim has 17-inch wheels and a sporty rear spoiler. All cars have ESP with hill start assist plus front side airbags, as well as front and rear curtain airbags. You also get an immobiliser. Go for the GTI and things like a bodykit, chrome wing mirrors and 17-inch wheels are included as standard, along with part-leather sports seats on the inside.
All the diesels claim to return more than 74mpg and emit less than 100g/km of CO2, so are road tax free. The 1.0 VTi petrol is also road-tax free and returns 65mpg, but we prefer the 1.2 VTi, as it's much faster yet still does 62.7mpg and emits 104g/km, putting it in Road Tax Band B. Servicing and insurance costs will also be low. The 197bhp GTI model is less frugal though – Peugeot claims fuel economy of 47.9mpg, but in the real world, don’t expect to return much more than 35mpg on short journeys in town.