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The updated 2016 Peugeot 208 range arrived on sale earlier this year, with the French brand adding a new base model in at an unprecedented price point of $15,990 plus on-road costs.
That's not the one we’re testing here, though, because that Access specification is just about the worst-specified new car on the market.
Instead, we took a step up the range to the Active model in the 2016 Peugeot 208 range. At a glance it could be the sweet spot in the range... Well, that is if you ignore the performance-oriented 208 GTi, which we rate pretty highly here at CarAdvice. Okay, so if the budget can’t stretch to $30K or more, then here's how the Active argues its case.
The Active is only available with an automatic gearbox, and it is priced from $21,990 plus on-road costs.
So it’s hardly a budget-friendly bargain in what is arguably the most price-sensitive segment of the market. And as such, it competes with top-spec versions of the Volkswagen Polo (Comfortline 81TSI, from $20,990 plus costs) and Mazda 2 (Genki, from $22,690 plus costs), though it runs short of both of those cars for standard equipment.
Both those German (but South African-built) and Japanese (er, made-in-Thailand) rivals have a reverse-view camera as standard, and the Mazda has satellite navigation as standard, too. You can get nav in the VW for $1900 as part of the Comfort pack (which includes adaptive cruise control, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, driver fatigue protection and collision warning and auto-braking among other bits), or you can just run the maps from your phone using the Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and neither the Mazda or Pug have that.
To option the camera adds $300 to the Peugeot, and navigation sees a further $1250 in costs, pushing the price to $23,540 plus on-roads, which still puts it dearer than the equivalent optioned-up Polo or standard 2, and still underequipped compared to both in those vehicles as the 208 still lacks the availability of a collision warning system.
What does it have? A 7.0-inch touchscreen media system (which actually makes the lack of camera and sat-nav a little harder to swallow), rear parking sensors, USB and Bluetooth connectivity, a six-speaker sound system, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, LED daytime running lights, front fog-lamps, 16-inch alloy wheels with tyre pressure monitoring and a full-size spare wheel.
Read the full pricing and specifications story here.
So it’s clearly no poverty pack. But does it stack up in other ways? Indeed it does.
Under the bonnet is a 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine producing 81kW of power and 205Nm of torque, which is plenty of pulling power for a little hatchback that weighs just 1030 kilograms.
In fact the engine is a sweetheart, revving willingly from about 2000rpm and with great response to sudden throttle inputs. It is strong and surprisingly quick when you’re moving, but in traffic it’s not as impressive.
There’s some hesitancy from a standstill, and under light throttle there can be some slurry gearchanges from the six-speed automatic. We also experienced a few clunky shifts, and while the stop-start is smooth to kill the engine, it refires with a grumble, and that makes for a frustrating experience in stop-start traffic.
The brakes and throttle are a bit sensitive, though, which can make for a jerky passenger experience.
Claimed fuel use for the 208 Active auto is just 4.5 litres per 100 kilometres, which pegs it as one of the most efficient cars on the market… on paper. We saw nowhere near that over a mix of urban, highway and back road driving, with 9.0L our mixed average use. Yes, double the claim.
On back roads and out of town the 208 is a nicely judged little car, settling nicely after bumps and ruts on the road, maintaining a comfortable and relatively composed level of control over bad surfaces, though there is some rear-end suspension shimmy over mid-corner bumps where it feels somewhat out of balance. The soft damping setup also means there’s more body roll, and further there’s some notable road noise from the suspension and wheels over rough surfaces.
At low speeds it falls short of the best in class, with a ride that is somewhat sharp, falling into potholes and transmitting road joins into the cabin.
As for the steering of the 208, it’s tiny. Oh wait, that's the steering wheel. The reaction of the steering is very pointy – it is quick and direct on the straight-ahead, and gains weight the more lock you apply. It is really involving to steer, which makes the drive experience more fun than some rivals.
Now, we have had people criticise the driving position of the 208 in the past – the i-Cockpit layout, as Peugeot calls it, intends to have the small steering wheel positioned lower to the driver’s legs, allowing them to see over it (rather than through it) to the digital dashboard beyond.
I personally love it. Others in the office hate it. And you’ll need to drive one to see if it can work for you – just keep that in mind.
Otherwise the interior is quite a nice place to be. There’s an excellent feeling of airiness compared to some of the other cars in this class, which is undoubtedly aided by the car’s large glasshouse.
But it’s actually really spacious and well thought-out in terms of cabin comfort, too. The passenger front seat area, for instance, isn’t impinged by an intrusive glovebox, for instance. That comes at the expense of secure storage options – there glovebox is so small it doesn’t fit the car’s manual, and there is no covered central stowage either. There are, however, big door pockets front and rear.
The rear seat is spacious enough for adults, with better knee and head room than either a Polo or Mazda 2. It also has quite a flat bench, which allows those passengers more room to move and has the advantage of being easier to fit three across.
There are a few frustrating bits inside. There are no grab handles, and the dashboard has a chrome section that reflects sunlight – at times right into the driver’s eyes.
That media system is fine, but not a benchmark-setting system. Sure, it is quick to respond, and once you figure out the way the menus work it's simple to run through them on the move, but the new media unit in the VW or the brilliant MZD Connect in the Mazda are even better.
The 208 betters both of those cars for boot space, though, with 311 litres of luggage capacity (the 2 has just 250L, while the Polo has 280 litres but with a dual-floor setup).
On the ownership front, Peugeot has a five-year/75,000km capped-price servicing program that averages out at $500 per year (dear for a small petrol car!) and the warranty on offer is the bare minimum of three years or 100,000km.
The 2016 Peugeot 208 Active strikes us as a good – but crucially, not great – city car. It can’t match the best in the class for equipment for the cash, and while its cabin is novel and it is fun to drive, it isn’t as polished as it needs to be in a class where there are some real shining stars.
Click the Photos tab above for more images by Mitchell Oke.