Sunday, 22 July 2012

2012 Peugeot 208 FULL ROAD TEST

The b-segment or supermini class has always been a tough market sector to compete in due to the sheer number of entries and the superb talent on offer. Big hitters such as the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo have ruled the roost for a while now and serve up a compelling blend of comfort, refinement and practicality all wrapped up in a compact package. 

Rewind to the 1980’s and it was Peugeot that lead the class with its iconic 205, a car that rivals couldn’t even come close to matching on the road with its simply brilliant chassis. Ever since, each successor has been compared to the 205 which isn’t entirely fair as todays cars are built to offer comfort, safety and refinement unheard of in the 205’s day. Despite this Peugeot themselves are drawing on the heritage of its 2-series cars including the 205 with its new 208 – is it finally time to welcome a modern interpretation of the 205 to the market? We get behind the wheels of two models at the 208’s Manchester launch to find out if it’s any good.

What is it?

The 208 is Peugeot’s supermini competitor and replacement for the much-loved 207. Its sole objective is to rewrite the rulebook and topple class supremoes the Fiesta and Polo amongst others. Based on the same platform as the 207 the 208 has been reengineered from the ground up and promises to offer a thrilling drive with far superior styling, refinement, comfort and interior space than before. There are a wide array of engines and trims to choose from to cater for all budgets. The range kicks off with the base 1.0 VTi Access 3rd which costs £9,995 and comes generously equipped with LED rear lights, electric front windows, remote door locking, cruise control, CD player with audio jack, 6 airbags, ABS and ESP. Next up is Access+ starting at £11,345, then Active at £11,695, Allure at £13,995 and sitting at the top of the range is the Feline at £15,945. From launch the 208 is offered in both three and five door guises with the latter commanding a £500 premium over the three door.  A mix of diesel and petrol engines are available; the new 3-cylinder petrol units emit less than 99g/km co2 and all of the diesels between 87 – 99g/km. At the launch we got behind the wheel of the 1.2 VTi 82 Active five door and 1.6 VTi 120 Allure three door.

Rivals: Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Polo, Kia Rio, Mazda 2, Renault Clio, Seat Ibiza

Key Features
  • Alloy wheels
  • Air conditioning
  • Cruise control
  • 7” Touchscreen satellite navigation
  • Bluetooth connectivity
  • ABS & ESP
  • Heated door mirrors
  • Fog lights
  • Daytime running lights

Everyone remembers the 207, although it wasn’t a bad looking car with its massive gaping-mouth grill capable of swallowing children and feline headlights it also wasn’t particularly athletic looking. Thankfully the new 208 changes this. 

At the front there is a much better proportioned “floating” grill with a smooth bumper and very technical looking headlights that sweep back deep into the wings. In profile the cars reduced bulk is evident with much neater front and rear overhangs and attractive body creases that differentiate the three and five door – the wheel designs are all new and all-the-better for it. The rear isn’t lacking in flair either with claw-shaped LED rear lights a chunky bumper and neatly integrated “PEUGEOT” emblem nestled under the rear window. It’s a very successful design that looks slender, modern and sporty – all words that couldn’t be used to describe the 207 before it.

(Allure 3dr) Front end is perfectly executed especially compared to the 207
(Allure 3dr) Floating grill suits the front of the 208 well, it looks classy too
Led rear lights look very modern
(Allure 3dr) A definite nod to the iconic 205
(Allure 3dr) Neat design touches can be found everywhere
(Active 5dr) 5 door is less sporty than 3 door especially in Active trim
Inside you could say that Peugeot has ripped up the rulebook. The main focus is the 7” touchscreen infotainment system that takes pride of place in the centre of the dash. What makes the 208 unique is the location of its dials which sit on-top of the dashboard; the steering wheel has been shrunk so that the driver looks over-rather than through it-to see the dials. It’s a setup that has received mixed reactions but we found it perfectly fine to use, all of the gauges were clearly visible and the tiny steering wheel felt fantastic to hold.

The rest of the cabin is more conventional with swooping surfaces and classy looking materials. The ambience is lifted by metallic effect highlights along with polished black plastic door panels and centre console to create a sophisticated environment to spend time in. Everything is logically laid out and clearly labelled as we expect these days and there were plenty of cubbies around the cabin.

Peugeot have raved about the quality of the interior and quite rightly so – their most recent crop of models have been superbly screwed together and constructed of quality materials throughout – enough to worry the Germans. The 208 isn’t quite so impressive. Admittedly there is nothing wrong with build quality itself, everything feels built-to-last and there wasn’t a single trim rattle on the two cars we drove, the problem is the use materials. The face of the dashboard is nice and squidgy but the majority of the door panel area, lower dash section and dash-top further back are all made of thin, hard plastic that feels really low rent. It’s funny as the materials found in the 207 felt more premium.

(Allure 3dr) Cabin is classy, modern and like nothing else in this class
Infotainment system looks great and is easy to operate
Dials wouldn't look out of place in an executive car
(Allure 3dr) Armrest is nice to see in this class of car
As the press blurb says interior space is much better than before and we have to agree. We found the driving position perfect, space up-front was ample and space in the rear was also surprisingly good for this class of car, the additional 5cm of rear legroom really does exist. Comfort levels are good, the leather seats in the Allure model we drove were well shaped and held passengers nicely in place when cornering. The seats in the Active model however weren’t so good, they felt overly soft and lacked support and during cornering it was all-too-easy to almost fall off them. Access to the rear of the 3 door model was also very good with lots of forward movement of the front seats. Boot space is also up on its predecessor and very few will need more space. 

We were most anxious about how the 208 would drive, much has been promised in the past and sadly driving thrills were not delivered. First impressions are very positive.

Sitting at the helm of the 208 clutching the tiny steering wheel it instantly feels sporty. The moment you set of the cars ride comfort is instantly evident. In true French tradition the ride is supple and controlled shrugging off bumps with ease. Only large, deep potholes upset composure but no more than any of its rivals. All of the controls feel light – perhaps overly light for our tastes but are easy to operate; the steering is particularly responsive and is nicely weighted only lacking that final notch of feedback that rivals such as the Fiesta offer. The pedals are nicely spaced and operate smoothly, unfortunately the gearbox didn’t impress with its slack, rubbery action and lack of a sixth ratio which is disappointing for a brand new model.

Show the 208 a series of corners and it rewards feeling poised and agile with plenty of grip. Body control is tight and turn-in is also very impressive. It’s a fun car to pilot helped by its reduced weight and only starts to lack composure when really pushed hard evoking understeer. Despite the decent handling refinement levels are also very good with minimal road and wind noise even at motorway speeds. Standard fit cruise control is also impressive in this class of car.

The two powertrains we tried couldn’t be more different. You would expect the most impressive to be the larger-capacity 1.6 VTi but this wasn’t the case. Although it proved punchy most of the time with its 120bhp at 4250bhp it felt overly lethargic and lacked throttle response. It also needed to be really worked hard to get the most out of it sending an unsavoury engine note into the cabin.

The tiny 1.2 82bhp 3-cylinder unit however couldn’t be more different even if it did only have 82bhp available at 2750rpm. Firstly as we have experienced with other 3-cylinder engines the soundtrack on offer is a joy to hear although it never became intrusive in the 208 thanks to great sound proofing. It proved incredible flexible around town pulling cleanly in 2nd, 3rd or 4th gear at speeds of around 25-35mph and never felt underpowered. Instead power delivery was beautifully linear and economy was superb during our drive at around 50 mpg.

 Words and Photos by Rob McSorley 

Technical Data

1.6 VTi 120 Allure (3dr)
Price as tested: £16,680
Engine: 1.6 16v 120bhp - 0-62mph: 10.9 secs - Maximum Speed: 118mph -
Economy: 34.9mpg (urban) –62.8mpg (extra-urban), 48.7mpg (combined) - Emissions: 134g/km (Band E) - VED (12 months): £120
Dimensions: Length: 3962mm - Width: 2004mm - Height: 1460mm - Wheelbase: 2538mm

1.2 VTi 82 Active (5dr)
Price as tested: £13,510
Engine: 1.2 12v 82bhp - 0-62mph: 14.0 secs - Maximum Speed: 109mph -
Economy: 51.4mpg (urban) –72.4mpg (extra-urban), 62.8mpg (combined) - Emissions: 99g/km (Band A) - VED (12 months): £0
Dimensions: Length: 3962mm - Width: 2004mm - Height: 1460mm - Wheelbase: 2538mm

The Verdict 4/5

We are looking forward to driving the 208 for a longer period of time to see what its really like to live with but initial impressions are really rather good. Firstly it’s a really great looking hatchback that will stand out from the crowd but still manages to look mature and sophisticated at the same time. Inside the cabin is well designed, intuitively laid out and is only let down by sub-standard materials used on far too many of the surfaces. We really loved the position of the dials and the miniature steering wheel; it’s a novel idea that actually works really well. On the road the 208 really is a generation ahead of the 207. It feels agile, comfortable and is genuinely decent to drive. It may ultimately lack the level of composure and chuckability of the Fiesta but for most it will be more than adequate. We really didn't like the five speed gearbox but luckily a six speed alternative can be found elsewhere in the range.  Refinement levels also impressed making the 208 a perfect car for motorway driving.  Later in the year we will be driving the diesel powerplants to find out how good they are but for the moment we would highly recommend the 208 to anyone in the market for a fun, stylish small car.

You will like
Striking looks
Funky interior
Agile, comfortable chassis
Interior space

You won’t like
Some cheap interior trim
Sloppy 5-speed gearbox
Uninspiring 1.6 VTi engine

Special Thanks to; Peugeot Motor Company PLC, Pinley House, 2 Sunbeam Way, Coventry CV3 1ND 

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