| First Drive | Cascais, Portugal | Peugeot 208 |
Model driven: Peugeot 208 1.2 VTi Active three-door
Engine: 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol
Transmission: five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Body style: three-door hatchback
Rivals: Ford Fiesta, Kia Rio, Volkswagen Polo
CO? emissions: 104g/km
Combined economy: 62.7mpg
Top speed: 108mph
0-62mph: 12.2 seconds
Power: 82hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 118Nm at 2,750rpm
In the Metal:
Peugeot's new family face has been applied to the 208 and it works well enough with the smaller grille. It's more distinctive with fog lights and chrome highlighting, plus the 'SR1' design grille, which means basic cars may not be as interesting to look at. Elsewhere, there's plenty to look at, from the sculpting of the doors to the kink at the front of the side glass. We also love the little chrome kick at the rear, harking back to the plastic inserts of the Peugeot 205. The lights are distinctive too, especially the 'claw' like rear items. Word of warning though: like a lot of contemporary designs the 208 is colour and wheel sensitive. Go for a metallic hue with the largest wheels you can afford - if the looks are important to you.
Inside, Peugeot has managed to liberate more knee room for rear passengers and 15 litres of extra space for luggage. The big talking point though is its unconventional dashboard layout. You view the (impressively clear) instruments over the top of the steering wheel, not through it. This relies on the fitment of a distinctly small wheel, which is a joy to hold by the way, and it works for the most part - though drivers will have to find the right position of seat and wheel to ensure they can see all of the instruments. Meanwhile, the centre console is dominated by a large touch-screen system.
The adoption of a small steering wheel across the 208 line-up is a stroke of genius. Immediately it gives the car a feeling of nimbleness. It's no false dawn either, as it quickly dives into corners sticking resolutely to the line you set it. There's some roll, but body control in general is quite good and you can adjust the car's attitude through a bend by judicious use of the throttle. Amazingly, it does all this while riding with real composure, soaking up bumps as good as any other car in the class.
All versions we tried share the above characteristics, along with an overall sense of refinement, but the 1.2-litre model goes further thanks to the extra weight reduction over the nose of the car. Its steering is alive in your hands and it's genuinely great fun to drive. That's despite a modest 82hp on tap and uninspiring straight-line performance figures. The way this car carries speed makes it quicker in the real world than many more powerful models.
What you get for your Money:
The new 208 will be sold in three- and five-door formats in five trim levels: Access, Access+, Active, Allure and Feline. All versions receive electric front windows, ESP, six airbags and a radio/CD stereo with aux-in and steering wheel mounted controls. Access+ adds one-touch electric front windows, electric heated door mirrors, cruise control, air conditioning and colour coded door handles and mirrors. The headline entry price is £9,995, though most people will spend around £14,000 - £15,000 on an Active or Allure model. The pricing is competitive with the class leaders, but nothing more, while specification is generous once you stay away from the Access versions.
The Active model additionally features 15-inch alloys, front fog lights, the seven-inch touch-screen, Bluetooth and USB connectivity and a split-fold rear seat. Above that sits the Allure with 16-inch alloy wheels, dark tinted rear windows, LED daytime running lights, sports seats, a stylised leather steering wheel, auto lights and wipers and dual-zone climate control. The three-door 208 Allure also gains the 'SR1' radiator grille and extra chrome on the rear quarter panel.
At the top of the tree is the 208 Feline. The SR1 grille is standard, as are 17-inch alloys, power folding door mirrors and an impressive panoramic glass roof with 'comet' lighting. Depending on which version of the Feline you go for it could have half leather trim and a rear spoiler too.
Understandably, Peugeot wanted to talk to us about the hatchback rather than future derivatives of the 208, but we did manage to glean a few choice details from various personnel. Clearly the GTi is of interest to a lot of enthusiasts, and the new chassis bodes well for its abilities. Little was said other than 'no decision has been made'. However, it will have more than 200hp at its disposal.
Peugeot has plans to replace the CC coupé-cabriolet and SW estate models too, though intriguingly it suggested that they may not be the same in execution. We suggested the possibility of a Peugeot 2008 along the lines of the Nissan Juke and it was agreed that it would be great. Could there also be a separate coupé and roadster? No doubt the Paris Motor Show this autumn will reveal more.
Peugeot has done the unthinkable and replaced its so-so 207 with a car that instantly competes with the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo. In many ways it's better than those cars. Not only is the 208 highly efficient, comfortable and refined, it's great to drive.