The Peugeot 208 in many markets - such as ours - kicks off the French automaker’s line-up of passenger cars. Its the smallest and most manoeuvrable of the bunch but arguably has the most prestigious lineage and carries the most baggage in having to up to it.
Mentioning Peugeot’s small car successes without invoking the memory of the 205 is impossible, and it appears that they have identified it rightly as the benchmark whose qualities they must strive to prioritise.
Coming off of the unloved 207, this successor was first unveiled at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show wearing shapely and chic new body, promised a better drive, and touted a new tiered style dashboard called the i-Cockpit.
In spite of the flash, if peeled back far enough, the 208’s underpinnings and powertrain (at launch) were not dissimilar to the car it replaced. Luckily, Peugeot had previously stumbled upon some untapped potential in many departments, and they managed to piece together a car that was a marked improvement over the 207 and rejuvenated the brand with real presence in the city car space.
Armed with a desirable design, mechanical modernity, and a leap in build quality, the 208 was updated for the 2016 model year with some subtle design changes and saw the introduction of PSA’s new efficient turbocharged petrol engine and an updated Aisin-sourced automatic transmission, which is now the sole powertrain option.
The 208 is sold in Australia as a 5-door hatch, starting with the base Active trim, the Allure in the mid-range, and the sportier GT-Line at the top. It competes with the Volkswagen Polo, Skoda Fabia, Mazda2, Renault Clio, and Ford Fiesta.
“Despite a fresh face, name and engine line-up, the 208 is not quite as new as Peugeot would have us believe.” - Autocar
The 208 carries over the the PF1 architecture from the older 207, though Peugeot has cleverly masked this with a fresh face and some choice tweaks to its handling and road manners. Still, there’s no getting away from its identical wheelbase and suspension layout.
There was nothing inherently wrong with the PF1 to begin with, and the car’s new body certainly does aid in forgiving the 208’s ageing platform. It’s also said to be at least 110kg lighter than before, a clear sign of positive progress.
Sticking with aesthetics alone, the 208 blends in quite well with the rest of the Peugeot line-up, having been the early pioneers of the brand’s cleaner approach to exterior design that was followed up by the 308, 3008, and 5008. It’s clean, subdued, unique, and has bags of charm only matched by the equally French Renault Clio and perhaps the Mazda2.
Engine and Drivetrain
“Compared with the old non-turbo 1.6-litre it replaces, the new engine is quieter yet far more characterful (if a bit grumbly at idle), and noticeably more responsive down low…” - CarAdvice
The legacy engines of Peugeot’s past have been axed entirely from the 208 range following the 2016 update and in its place is the marque’s newest 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol unit, dubbed PureTech e-THP, that chucks out 81kW and a decent 205Nm from as low as 1,500rpm.
The new motor is mated to a six-speed Aisin transmission and is said to offer impressive fuel economy and low emissions. PSA, Peugeot’s parent company, uses the same engine in Citroen cars as well. Here, it’s claimed to need just 4.5-litres/100km on a combined cycle while emitting a mere 104g/km of CO2.
The three-pot’s low-end torque gets it out off the line quickly and even manages to sound more aggressive than the older un-turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder ever did as well as being more eager overall. In city driving, this engine is a peach.
A bit of soft-touch on the dash panels, touches of shiny glam here and there and a generally pleasing balance of materials and textures gave the cheapest Peugeot a nice, welcoming feel. - Motoring.com.au
Peugeot took more chances with the interior design and layout of the 208 than many of its competitors have ever done in the past, but it has done so without resorting to gimmicks - for the most part.
There’s some sharp lines and a clean minimalistic look to it all, with a good spread of high quality plastics and soft touch materials comprising most of the surfaces you’ll come into contact with, along with a mixture of real and faux aluminium with a satin finish.
It’s all quite impressive but not surprising, that is until you discover the stepped dashboard and instrument cluster. The arrangement is Peugeot calls the i-Cockpit, and paired with a smaller-than-usual steering wheel, allows the driver to see the instrument cluster closer to his or her eye line and not through the wheel itself, improving safety while keeping the driver more informed.
The seats are upholstered in fabric though the Allure and GT-Line get a material called Sports Cloth. Up front they are certainly quite comfortable but could use some extra lateral support. At the rear, passengers will be pleased to have a surprising amount of headroom and knee room for a car this small.
Open up the boot and the 208 impresses here as well, offering a generous 311-litres. Now, that’s spoiled a little by the rear seats that do not fold flat, but that has slowly becoming something of a bad habit among cars of this class. Thankfully that boot aperture is quite wide and the space itself is free of obtuse corners.
Behind The Wheel
“It feels light, no doubt a direct result of a weight loss of well over 100kg over the 207, but with an impressive ability to soak through nasty roads with the poise of a bigger car.” - Top Gear
The 207 that preceded it was a decent handler but definitely leaned toward a more comfort oriented ride, and that is inherited, either by design or platform genealogy, by the 208. It’s still quite an agile and darty little thing, but expect a little more body roll than, say, a Ford Fiesta or Mazda2.
That quick direction change is aided by the smallish steering wheel, though the electric rack is rather void of much feel or even directness, though this does add to a more composed line on highways, though inadvertently.
And in spite of the ride having been tuned for comfort over a sporty feel, the suspension geometry permits smaller low-speed imperfections to be transmitted into the cabin. This is a little jarring when traversing roads riddled with potholes, but the car settles much better when the pace is quickened and it handles more linear undulations with aplomb.
Safety and Technology
“Peugeot includes a 7.0in touchscreen as standard. It’s reasonably bright and crisp, with modern on-screen graphics, but it isn’t responsive enough.” - What Car
In 2012, the 208 was tested by Euro NCAP and scored full marks, later to be accepted by ANCAP which also published a 5-star score with 34.03 out of a possible 37. As standard, it comes with 6 airbags, electronic stability tyre pressure monitoring, reversing camera, and cruise control.
Only the Allure and GT-Line get the active city brake feature, though, which can mitigate a collision or even avoid it altogether. Also, all models come with a 7-inch centrally mounted touchscreen infotainment system but only the Allure and GT-Line receive in-built satellite navigation.
This advantage is rendered somewhat moot, though, as all receive support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, allowing buyers to augment the experience with established maps apps.
There’s no real reason to think the 208 is any more of a better car than its most direct rivals, but it’s clear that challenging class leaders in any serious manner would require more a more experienced Peugeot, and this seems like the perfect stepping stone.
The 208 is a fine car and does everything expected of it without issue. Unfortunately, more and more customers are demanding an outstanding car by some measure, and pointing out where exactly the small Peugeot excels is a little difficult.
As it stands, the 208 is an accomplished 5-door small hatch, one that’s practical, good looking, and economical. Though in numerous cases, the older 207’s rough edges have surfaced in the ‘new’ 208, and despite Peugeot’s best efforts, the car just doesn’t feel as rounded a package as its rivals. They’re on the right path, make no mistake.
What Car - 3/5 - “The Peugeot 208 is classy, well-equipped and efficient, but let down by its cramped cabin and poor driving experience.”
Motoring.com.au - 73/100 - “Peugeot's 208 light hatchback is seriously worthy of serious consideration. Seriously!”
Autocar - 3/5 - “…in the 208’s case, too many failings seem to have been carried over, and a few of the new features – such as the novel interior touches, which we would have loved to report as being successful – don’t feel polished enough.
Top Gear - 7/10 - “Peugeot needed to be bold to regain ground in a sector it once led. The 208 delivers.”
CarAdvice - 6.5/10 - “Despite all this, there’s plenty that makes the Peugeot 208 an engaging and seductive little car – much of which happens from behind the wheel.”