Rising up to the occasion

By Guilherme Marques

The Peugeot 208 has a lot to live up to. It is heir to one of the biggest names in Peugeot’s history – the 205 – and it has to prove the French have not completely lost their mojo after the beautiful but flawed 206 and the easily forgettable 207. Peugeot also faces one of the most critical moments in its two centuries old history, with its financials in dire straits. Nevertheless, the RCZ was a good indicator that things were moving in a different direction, and the 508 an assurance someone still knew how to build a proper French car in Sochaux.

The pressure must have been a good tonic for the designers and engineers, because the 208 looks and goes like a small Peugeot should. We tested the three-door 1.6 e-HDI packing 115 horse power, the most powerful engine available in Portugal until the GTI version arrives later in the year (Peugeot, if you are reading this, we would really like to drive that one), with prices starting just over 21.000€, with another 500€ if you want the five door version. The first thing you notice when you sit down on the excellent seats is the incredibly small steering wheel, which is supposed to make you look into the dashboard over it and not through it. It does seem weird at first, but after a while it is actually quite fun and it puts a smile on everyone’s face. The rest of the interior is a step up from the 207, with soft materials and good quality levels.

On the road the 208 edges closer to the 205 and further away from the 206 and 207, being very comfortable 90% of the time and responsive when you ask it for a little more sportiness. The steering is well judged but the six speed manual gearbox is not a joy to use. It could be a bit more precise, although it doesn’t spoil the big picture. The diesel engine is one of the best in its class and in 115 hp guise it is faster than most superminis, keeping up with much more powerful cars on the highway. This can also be justified by the lightness Peugeot insisted should be a feature of the 208. The start-stop system is one of the best available and is a key element in keeping fuel figures below 6 litres in all driving scenarios. Moreover, when driving sensibly, a number closer to 5 litres is possible and even 4.5 litres is an easy achievement for the small Pug.

All in all the 208 is a strong contender in its class and deserves to be seen as a good example of what a supermini should be: good-looking, practical, frugal, comfortable and well made. The sales numbers confirm Europe is falling in love with the 208, since it led its segment of the market in December 2012 with 20.754 units sold and has ranked first here in Portugal for the last 7 months. It won Spain’s Car of the Year 2013 and it is one of the 6 finalists for European Car of the Year 2013. Peugeot needed it to be a success and it is delivering big time. A worthy successor to the 205? You can be sure about that.