"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.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
The e-HDi diesel models fitted with stop-start and an EGC gearbox are the most efficient on offer in the 208 range, claiming to return 83.1mpg in fuel economy and emit a tax-free 87g/km of CO2. However, all the diesels actually claim to return more than 74mpg and emit less than 100g/km of CO2, so all are exempt from road tax too. Some of the petrol models also avoid the taxman, such as the 1.0-litre VTi petrol, which returns 65mpg. However, we’d recommend the 1.2-litre VTi, because it offers better performance while still managing to return 62.7mpg and emit 104g/km, putting it in road tax band B (only £20 a year). Servicing and insurance costs should also be low, so the 208 is most definitely a cheap car to run. The only one that is less frugal is the 197bhp GTI – Peugeot claims it can return fuel economy of 47.9mpg, but, in the real world, you shouldn’t expect anything more than 35mpg on short journeys around town.
Interior & comfort
Beware big bumps in the 208! While the ride is generally fine, if you come across a large lump in the road, it is likely to send a crashing judder through the interior of the car, bumping about the passenger, and causing the car to bounce around. If you don’t get the 155bhp turbo model, you’ll have to live with a five-speed manual gearbox that is in desperate need of an extra gear as soon as you get onto the motorway. That means lots of noise that gets very draining on long drives – it made us yearn for a Volkswagen Polo, which is much easier to live with if you regularly rack up lots of miles across long distances. However, a steering wheel with reach and rake adjustment does make it straightforward to find a driving position to suit, but some drivers may find that they’re sat too high up and a bit too far away from the gear stick. The lower, stiffer suspension found in the GTI does help improve the handling, however, but it further exaggerates the jolts from bad road surfaces. However, that compromise between comfort and handling is acceptable for anyone looking for a performance car.
Practicality & boot space
The 208 is a bit like a famous TV police box – even though its exterior dimensions are smaller than those of the 207 on which it's based, it's actually slightly bigger on the inside, thanks to some redesigned seatbacks. You also get a bigger boot, which now offers 285 litres of space with the folding rear seats in place – that's 15 litres more than its predecessor and about equal with the Ford Fiesta. It goes without saying that the five-door models are significantly more practical than the three-door versions, being much easier to get in and out of – so try to remember that the GTI model only comes with three doors. There's also more room in the back, providing enough space for two average-sized adults to get comfortable. Things get a bit wacky in the front, thanks to a new dashboard layout that raises the speedometer and rev counter above the steering wheel. This is controversial because not everyone will be able to adjust the steering wheel enough to stop it blocking the lower section of the dials.
Reliability & safety
Peugeot's weak reputation for reliability won’t be helped by its appearance as second from bottom in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey's manufacturers rankings. In fact, it only avoided dropping off entirely because the poll was extended to 32 car makers in 2013. And while there is evidence that it has been working hard to get off the bottom – where it's been for the past years – there's still a long way to go before it can confidently claim to have made up ground. The 208 itself doesn’t feature in the survey – not because it's bad; it's still too new. We think that the much-improved interior will at least help make the 208 part of Peugeot's comeback. The car is based on components that have been tried-and-test in the Peugeot 207 (not exactly renowned for its reliability – it came 76th in the top 100 cars in 2012; in 2013 it dropped out of the top 150), so it's not entirely unproven. However, we would be very surprised indeed if the 208 proved to be more reliable than a Volkswagen Polo or a Hyundai i20, with some owners already reporting electrical faults. Fortunately, it did manage to get the full five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests, with electronic stability control (ESP), anti-lock brakes (ABS), six airbags, seatbelt reminders and a Thatcham-approved Category 2 immobiliser all fitted as standard across the range.
Engines, drive & performance
The latest 208 is leaner and meaner than ever before, thanks to going on a crash diet that has made quite a difference to its drive, with even the heavier diesels in the range now feeling more agile. We’d go for the 92bhp 1.6-litre diesel – it's fast but solid while driving on motorways. The petrols are more of a mixed bag, however. We do like the 82bhp 1.2-litre VTi three-cylinder turbo – it's easy to drive around town and makes a pleasing sound – but the 120bhp 1.6-litre VTi petrol is noisy and needs far too much revving to get the most out of it, and the 155bhp turbo 1.6-litre may be fast but it is far too expensive. The 1.6-litre turbo does makes more sense when fitted in the 197bhp GTI, where it delivers truly impressive performance, along with a sportier noise form the exhaust. We’re not big fans of the loose-and-wobbly five-speed manual gearbox, but the six-speed in the 1.6-litre turbo is much better.
Price, value for money & options
You can’t say that you don’t get your money's worth in terms of equipment and accessories in the 208. Even Access+ models come fitted with air-conditioning and cruise control as standard. Active models add Bluetooth connectivity and a touchscreen in the centre console – which you can load with a series of apps for you amusement. The Allure specification has LED daytime running lights, 16-inch alloy wheels, a leather steering wheel and sports seats, too. Top-of-the-range Feline cars get 17-inch wheels and a sporty rear spoiler. All models across the range come fitted with electronic stability control, plus hill start assist, front, side and rear curtain airbags, and an immobiliser as standard equipment. Plump for the performance-focused GTI and a sporty body kit, chrome wing mirrors and 17-inch wheels are added as standard, with snazzy part-leather sports seat inside.