Peugeot's newest light car, the Peugeot 208, is out to reclaim some of the glory that was bestowed upon the French manufacturer's last real halo car, the 205 GTI, by providing sheer driver enjoyment in an affordable package
From the outset, Peugeot was keen to inject the 208 with some of the 205’s ‘spirit’, so it goes without saying this a critically important model for the brand in its bid to recapture the lead in the popular city-car segment.
It wasn’t that later models were any less successful than the 205, which notched up a very tidy 5.3 million sales between 1983 and 1994. In fact, the Peugeot 207 outsold the 205, but it never received the kind of praise from the motoring media the 205 amassed over its 11-year reign. It was heavier, less agile, and proved to be less fun for those behind the wheel.
Jump to 2012 and Peugeot is on something of a roll, or dare I say, a modern-day renaissance. It started with the launch of the stylish RCZ coupe in 2010 and continued with the all-new 508 in 2011.
With the 208, Peugeot not only delivers styling that has a broader appeal than that of the 206 and 207; the car maker has also gone back to basics with one of the key design principles of the 205: lightweight with more agility and feel.
It’s a good starting point, and one that Peugeot's engineers have effectively delivered. The Peugeot 208 weighs 110kg less than the 207 with the same 1.4-litre HDi engine, or up to 173kg less for the entry-level petrol engine, with similar power outputs. In all, the weight-loss program means the lightest 208 tips the scales at just 975kg and the heaviest diesel and petrol models line up at 1090kg.
The 208 shares its wheelbase with the outgoing 207, although Peugeot has shaved 60mm off the front overhang and 10mm off the rear overhang for a more compact stance.
Further weight reduction measures include the use of an aluminium front-beam absorber, a reduction of the front sub-frame, laser welding of the roof and extensive use of high strength steel in the manufacturing process.
The 208’s footprint has also been reduced by 20mm in width and 10mm in height compared with the Peugeot 207. As a result, it's more aerodynamically more efficient, with a drag coefficient of 0.29 for some variants.
Peugeot has gone for less of an avant-garde approach to the face of the 208, and has instead adopted the company's latest feline expression with a floating grille that’s bound to find favour across both genders.
The rear-end treatment subscribes to the same appealing design language, with a thoroughly unique taillight assembly that differentiates the 208 from any other vehicle in the segment.
It’s that feature, along with the equally charismatic chrome ‘kick’ that emerges out of the rear window (three-door model only) that clearly demonstrates Peugeot’s commitment to trend-setting style with the 208. These are expensive design traits that you rarely see on cars in this segment due to prohibitive production costs.
From any angle the Peugeot 208 is easy on the eye. There’s an overall softness to the design, as well as a measured dollop of muscularity with the low-hanging front and rear bumpers.
Inside, Peugeot opted for a total re-think for the 208 – a clean slate, with the aim of pushing the envelope in ergonomic design in a light car.
It starts with the 208’s go-kart-size steering wheel mounted deep into the driving position, which has resulted in a ‘head-up’ instrument cluster that sits above the steering wheel. It’s a design trait that goes against the grain of all other car manufacturers, but Peugeot is convinced that it’s the right way to go.
The two analogue dials are crystal clear, and are complimented by a backlit central screen that displays the speed at all times.
The ambient lighting is predominately white on all variants except the top-spec Feline model, which gets a bluish glow that outlines the glass roof at night.
The centre stack is clean and uncluttered, thanks to a semi-floating seven-inch touchscreen that is standard on all but the entry-level 208 variant. It’s a high-resolution screen and takes care of everything from your iPod to the satellite navigation system. It’s also unaffected by sun-glare.
It’s nothing less than a premium feel inside the 208. There’s an abundance of real metal accents that appear flush with piano black surfaces, along with stitched leather seams in the top-of-the-range models. The plastics look and feel expensive, too, and there’s air of refinement about it all.
Even the seats have received special attention, with an exaggerated level of bolstering that would seem more at home in a proper hot-hatch.
Interior space is deceptively large, with commendable head and rear-seat legroom, even for taller folks.
There’s a strong green side to the 208 on top of the super-efficient range of engines Peugeot is offering in the model. These include several 'eco' measures in the car’s production, such as the recycled rear bumper and radiator frame and fan, which constitute a saving of 1600 tonnes of oil per year. These eco-friendly materials also make up parts of the steering wheel, seats, engine cover, boot mat and sound-proofing materials.
Peugeot will launch the 208 with up to five diesel and five petrol engines of various displacements and outputs, and all are skewed towards fuel-efficiency and ultra-low CO2 emissions.
There are three trim levels including Active, Allure and the top-shelf Feline - and a range of three- and five-door versions depending on the engine and specification. Thankfully, Peugeot doesn’t badge its cars with individual trim levels, so the world ‘Feline’ won't appear on the metalwork.
Australia will get three petrol models and one diesel when the 208 launches in October at the 2012 Australian international motor show. Peugeot says the entry-level 208 Active 1.2-litre petrol variant will come in under $20,000, but will set local prices for all variants closer to the launch date.
CarAdvice is currently attending the international launch of the Peugeot 208 in Portugal and has driven manual versions of the 1.6-litre VTi petrol and the 1.6-litre e-HDI over a 200km drive route.
The seating position in the 208 hasn’t changed from the 207, but the small steering wheel changes the whole dynamic, and takes a little getting used to. It’s not just the low-set position of the wheel that’s different; it feels even smaller than it looks. Formula One fans will love it.
Well-designed acoustics and NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) management wasn’t a strong point with the 207, especially with the diesel versions, but the 208 is decidedly better, with noise-reduction technology borrowed from the 508 providing a noticeably quieter cabin.
But while engine noise is kept to a minimum inside the 208, wind noise when travelling at or above 100km/h proved a tad annoying.
It’s not the most powerful diesel in the 208 line-up, but the 1.6-litre HDI has got more than enough grunt to provide rapid progress on Portugal’s autoestradas (freeways). It’s not only in-gear acceleration that’s strong either; there’s plenty of low-down torque on tap for steady off-the-line acceleration, and turbo lag is kept to a minimum.
The highlight is the six-speed manual transmission, which facilitates effortless shifts up and down the gear ratios. It’s also rare in this segment to find a pedal box that’s so perfectly suited to smooth gear changes and comfortable take-offs.
Once off the autoestradas and onto some typically narrow and twisty back roads outside of Lisbon, and small diameter steering wheel feels more at home. The steering is sharp and quick to respond with minimal lock required for most turms, but there’s little or no feedback from the electric power steering.
Suspension components for the 208 are carried over from the 207, including a MacPherson Strut-style set-up on the front and a deformable cross-member rear suspension, but have been fine-tuned to take into account the 208’s lighter weight. The result is a largely decent ride over anything but the larger potholes, which made the car feel slightly jittery.
However, the 208 grips the road well and corners with little or no body roll. Turn-in is also sharp and the car feels well balanced, although it's not as agile as the Ford Fiesta when quick changes of direction are required. Interestingly, the diesel weighs just 10kg more than the petrol equivalent, so it doesn’t feel like the front end is any heavier.
While the 1.6L VTi petrol 208 gives away 70Nm of torque to its diesel sibling, the growl from the engine under load and the sharper throttle response provides the most reward.
We were also afforded a brief drive in the entry level Peugeot 208 with the new-generation 1.2-litre VTi three-cylinder petrol engine, and the results were surprising.
It’s a 1.2-litre naturally aspirated indirect injection engine, developing 60kW and 118Nm of torque at 2750rpm. Despite the lack of direct injection, it’s still a sophisticated powerplant, with a total of 52 patents filed for this new family of engines.
The big gain for this small displacement Peugeot 208 is it’s ultra-frugal fuel consumption – that’s 4.5-litres/100km (combined cycle) and CO2 emissions of 104g/km.
In 2013, Peugeot will also introduce a stop/start version of the 1.2-litre VTi into the 208 range, which when mated to their automated manual gearbox, is claimed to reduce CO2 emissions to just 95g/km.
Peugeot’s motivation for the development of these new three-cylinder engines is to meet the stringent criteria for future Euro6 emissions standards.
Clearly, Peugeot isn’t going to sell many 1.2-litre 208 VTi's to car enthusiasts, not a single unit, I suspect. But, that doesn’t mean it needs to be any less fun that than more powerful Peugeot 208 variants, either.
In fact, right from the moment you settle in behind the wheel of the Peugeot 208 1.2-litre VTi, the car feels livelier than the 1.6-litre VTi version.
It’s understandably slower, though, when it comes to straight-line speed, taking up to 13.9-seconds to complete the 0-100km/h sprint as opposed to 9.9-seconds for the 1.6-litre Peugeot 208 VTi.
However, the 1.2-litre 208 VTi has a weight advantage of 115kg less than it’s more powerful sibling, a factor that is clearly felt in the handling department. It’s decidedly more agile on turn in and frankly, more fun to drive, especially on twisty roads.
The downside is that there isn’t a lot torque available down low, and second gear is rather tall, as a result. On some of the steeper ascents, we had to shift into first gear to start off. It’s not really much of an issue and certainly no deal breaker, as the car’s handling prowess and excellent fuel economy, are reason enough to consider the Peugeot 208 1.2 VTi.
Pricing should also be keen (under $30,000), but will be set by Peugeot Australia closer to the car’s release later in 2012.
Peugeot Australia has forecast 600 sales for 208 this year following its September launch, and 2000 units for the first full year in 2013.
The 207 sold 1533 units in 2011, meaning Peugeot expects a 25 per cent lift in sales with 208, with five-door version accounting for 80 per cent of forecast sales.
Peugeot 208 Australian engine and trim line-up:
Active - 1.2-litre three-cylinder (manual and robotised manual) and 1.6-litre four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol (automatic).
Allure - 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol (manual and automatic) and 1.6-litre four-cylinder e-HDI EGC (robotised manual).
Feline - 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo (manual only and three-door only) and 1.6-litre four-cylinder naturally aspirated (automatic only and five-door only).
Fuel consumption and CO2 emissions across the entire 208 line-up are impressive. The 1.2-litre, three-cylinder petrol VTi develops 60kW and 118Nm with a combined fuel consumption of 4.5L/100km and CO2 emissions of 104g/km.
The 1.6-litre VTi with 88kW and 160Nm uses just 5.8L/100km and emits 134g/km of CO2, while the third and most powerful 1.6-litre THP with 115kW and 240/260Nm claims a combined fuel consumption of 5.8L/100km, with CO2 emissions of 135g/km.
The 1.6 e-HDI PEF diesel with stop/start technology develops 68kW and 230Nm with a combined fuel consumption of just 3.8L/100km and CO2 emissions of 98g/km.
While it's fun to drive, dynamically the Peugeot 208 falls short of the Ford Fiesta. But there’s no denying Peugeot’s latest creation is clearly the new benchmark car in the segment when it comes to styling, innovation and flair.