Peugeot 208 – Review
by Liam Bird
I’ve always blamed Ari Vatenen, the man who once said, as only a Scandinavian rally driver can, that driving Peugeot’s 205 T16 gave him “goosebumples.” Had the flying Finn not blasted past what was then the school-boy-me in Peugeot’s all conquering 205 T16, you probably wouldn’t be reading this. I stood agog, clinging to the rope separating me from the rally stage as Ari disappeared sideways through to the trees; lights ablaze, engine roaring and exhaust spitting flames. It took just a few seconds but something just clicked. As soon as I was able I got myself a 205.
My first experience of world class rallying took place in the early 1980s, back when Peugeot were in trouble, and, had it not have been for the success of the 205, both in the forests and the showrooms, it’s probably fair to say the Peugeot we know today might not have been. The 205 not only started my car obsession, it saved Peugeot’s life.
That was a long time ago though, and since then Peugeot brought us both the 206 and the 207. Despite being big sellers neither somehow captured the public’s attention in quite the way as the legendary 205. But now they’ve got a new super-mini to tempt us with. And just to keep things in order, they’ve called it 208.
“Attractive little car”
From the outside at least the 208 is far prettier than Peugeot’s previous hatchback offerings. Shorter overhangs, reduced panel gaps and some clever detailing, which, especially on the 3-door’s C pillar unashamedly echoes that of the 205. It all adds up to make the 208 an attractive little car.
Inside too, there are big improvements. Not only is the 208 lighter than the 207 it replaces, it’s roomier too. Making it being better able to accommodate both driver and passengers alike. And, even if the rotary controls for the heating and air-con remind you of the 205, 305 and 309, overall the piano-black clad interior is a giant leap forward for small Peugeots, both in terms of quality and attractiveness. The seats are a little on the narrow side though. As is the footwell – the result being the 208’s pedals are quite close together. Wide boot wearers beware. Ultimately though the 208’s cabin is light years ahead of anything you’ll remember from Peugeot’s past.
However, there’s a problem, or at least an idiosyncrasy that defines the 208’s driving experience. I’m not talking about the slightly spongey brake pedal. You will get over that. Or the surprisingly nippy 1.2 litre engine’s three-cylinder off-beat thrum. And neither am I referring to or the way in which the 208 irons out minor road imperfections in the way only a small French car can. That, in fact, is rather nice. No, it’s the position of the steering wheel and its size that leaves you wondering.
“Takes some getting used to”
In order for you to see the beautifully clear Audi-esque dials (you even get red pointers) that sit atop the dashboard the 208 demands that its tiller sits in your lap. Move it up and, if you’re average height or a bit shorter like me, the steering wheel’s rim obscures the speedo, tacho and trip computer.
It’s a good job all the other more minor controls are now handled by the large touch screen in the middle of the dash. You simply wouldn’t see them any other way. Whether it’s just a quirk or it’s a black mark against the otherwise perfectly good and surprisingly nice handling 208 I can’t decide. It takes some getting used to though. Even Peugeot admit 20% of the perspective buyers won’t like it.
But before we write the 208 off as just another small French car for nipping around town in, consider this. At the Paris Motorshow this year Peugeot unveiled the 208 GTi. It promises to be the car that those of us who remember the 205 GTi have been waiting for for far too loan; a return to hot-hatch form Peugeot maybe? It looks great and sounds very promising. I’m getting goosebumples already.
Peugeot 208 Active VTi 82
Engine: 1199cc 12V 3Cyl petrol
Transmission: 5 speed Manual, front wheel drive
Power: 82bhp @5750pm
Torque: 87lbft @2750rpm
Max Speed: 109mph
MPG: 62.8 combined