AFTER the nadir that was the overfed and overwrought 207, Peugeot badly needed a lifeline, and found one with the nifty 208.
Light, nimble and huggable, the 208 not only signalled a return to form for Peugeot, but a high point for small French interiors.
Cheap the automatic 208 Active isnít, but you get a lot for your $19,990 entry ticket (currently driveaway), including five years/75,000km worth of cappedprice servicing. On the outside, stylish grey-coloured 16-inch alloys and the 208ís signature Ďcat-scratchí LED tail-lights give it an upmarket air, while inside the impression continues with plush, classily trimmed seats, expensively rendered instruments, a 7.0-inch colour touchscreen and an air of refinement that is in stark contrast to the el-cheapo ambience of the Fiesta or the austerity of the Polo.
The luxurious Pug is quite well packaged, too, with decent rear headroom and competitive legroom, though the 208 cedes rear-seat space to the Jazz and Barina. Like the front pews, the 208ís rear bench is softly supportive, with cushion and backrest angles conducive to longdistance comfort, and a slightly elevated view forward. The lack of back-seat roof handles deserves a slap on the wrist, but the 208 counters with terrific door grabs and a pair of cupholders. Impressive 311-litre boot, too, with a full-size spare.
On the move, the 208ís luxury impression dims a little thanks to some noise and a bit of suspension movement on rough roads, but it dampens coarse-chip surfaces well, and generally remains calm and refined. Its electric steering is slightly inconsistent and numb at straight ahead, but once you start to apply lock (via a small, wieldy steering wheel), the 208 sniffs out its cornering line and sticks to it. Supple yet adhesive, the further you drive the 208, the greater your affection for it, though its cushy front seat bolsters tend to collapse in hard cornering.
At the lower end of its abilities, yet not as putrid as we expected, is the 208ís atmo 1.6-litre four. Ripped straight from the 207 and tied to an even older four-speed auto, it sounds like a hangover from last century, yet Peugeotís weight-saving measures have eased the drivetrainís burden.
In the sprint to 60km/h, the 208 (5.1sec) is right on the Jazzís tail (5.0sec) and not far adrift of the brisk Mazda 2 (4.6sec), yet itís the 80-120km/h rolling-acceleration range where the Pug proves itís no slug.
More than half a second quicker than Polo (8.6sec) and way ahead of Swift (9.1sec) and Barina (9.8sec), the 208 matches the Mazda 2ís overtaking performance. Its fuel consumption is less impressive, though 8.0L/100km is hardly thirsty.
What ultimately tarnishes the 208ís drag-strip glow is its urban driveability.
While the fourspeed auto does a surprisingly good job channelling the engineís torque, itís a lumpy old thing that never feels like its delivering direct drive. In second gear, thereís an unusual slurring and slipping sensation as the torque converter does its thing, an endemic trait with this íbox because weíve experienced the same quirks in other Pugs.
When itís cold, itís also indecisive, and the 208ís brakes are overly sensitive.
As an urban appliance, then, the 208 falters in comparison to the superficially brilliant packaging and value deal that is Hondaís Jazz. But unlike the flawed Honda, the Peugeot is a grower. If you can live with its low-wheel driving position, which all three writers on this test had no issue with, then youíll soon appreciate its plush seating comfort and supple chassis fluidity.
The 208 looks good, too, which is something no-one ever said about the bloated 207, and even though itís at the upper end of the pricing spectrum, thereís a palpable sense of luxury in this little Frenchy. All it needs now is PSAís superb new-gen drivetrain and the 208 might finally have the goods to challenge the class leaders. Like Peugeots used to. Ė NP
$19,990 Engine 1598cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v Power 88kW @ 6000rpm Torque 160Nm @ 4250rpm Transmission 4-speed automatic Dimensions (L/W/H/W-B) 3962/1739/1460/2538mm Weight 1123kg Cargo capacity 311 litres Tyres Michelin Energy Saver G1 195/55R16 87H Economy 8.0L/100km 0-60km/h 5.1sec 0-100km/h 11.1sec 0-400m 18.0sec @ 126.8km/h 80-120km/h 8.0sec 100km/h-0 41.8m 3yr resale 59% . Styling, ride, seats . Old-school drivetrain
ITíS only a matter of time before the 208 scores a version of Peugeot- Citroenís brilliant new ĎPure Techí 1.2-litre turbopetrol three-cylinder.
Already in the terrific new 308, the 1.2 e-THP triple is available in various states of tune in Europe, topped by the 96kW/230Nm charmer we see in the 308. But the version likely to replace the atmo 1.6 in the 208 (and 2008) is the slightly detuned 82kW/205Nm 1.2 turbo, including Peugeotís slick new EAT6 six-speed auto. Given the great work that drivetrain does in the 308, we canít wait to try it in the lighter 208. Expect an updated 208 to emerge later this year.