Peugeot 208 hatchback

£10,195 - £18,745

The Peugeot 208 is a compact three or five-door hatchback that competes with cars such as the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo. It's pitched as the stylish alternative to those models and it's certainly a good-looking car inside and out. It's reasonably well equipped, too.

However, with the exception of the range-topping GTi model, the driving experience couldn't be described as fun. Dull handling and steering that doesn't offer much feedback are to blame. The upside is that the 208 feels quite mature and grown-up – rare qualities at this end of the market.

The interior is well screwed together and the materials feel plush, at least on higher-spec versions. The dashboard looks quite novel, too, with the instrument binnacle mounted above the steering wheel. The idea is that you look at the dials over the top of the wheel, rather than through it. It works well enough, but some drivers may find the wheel actually obscures the instruments, which is hardly ideal.

The 208 is offered with a wide range of engines. Small-capacity three-cylinder petrols are all the rage at the moment and Peugeot has made sure the 208 doesn't miss out. There are 1.0 and 1.2-litre versions, capable of 65.7mpg and 62.7mpg economy respectively. Better still, the former costs nothing to tax and the latter just £20.

Peugeot has a reputation for building good diesel engines and the 208 is available with a choice of these, too. The 1.6-litre HDi is our favourite, thanks to its useful pulling power, excellent fuel economy (74.3mpg) and low road tax (a nice round zero). However, if economy really is your number-one priority, the 1.4-litre HDi Stop and Start (which cuts the engine when the car comes to a halt) is the one to buy: it boasts 83.1mpg economy and is also free to tax. However, it takes an eternity to go from 0-62mph – 16.2 seconds, in fact.

As if the fact that there are eight trim levels wasn't confusing enough, not all versions of the 208 are available in every spec. Th trims range from basic Access to the quick GTi, taking in high-spec XY (three-door only) and Feline (five-door only) on the way. Standard equipment includes cruise control, remote central locking and electric front windows.

Doubts surrounding Peugeot reliability still linger, but in the 208's case they're unfounded. It fared well in our Driver Power 2014 survey, certainly better than the Ford Fiesta. Safety is also good: the car earned the full five stars in the Euro NCAP crash tests.