Can you justify a bit of extra spend on a clever, stylish city car like the 2016 Peugeot 208 GT-Line if you consider it more like a fashion accessory?
Because, at $27,490 (before options and on-road costs) it’s hardly a price-busting value player like the Mitsubishi Mirage. In fact, for the price of the Pug you could buy a pair of Suzuki Celerios and slowly crush them together in some kind of interpretive artistic statement on consumerism and still have change to photocopy some flyers to promote your exhibition.
But what if you think of the little Peugeot as some rolling haute couture? A fashionable, pint-sized, nimble and zippy machine that becomes more a luxury purchase than a luxury car.
There’s no double-stitched leather or chilled seats or thought-operated silken blinds, but if a number of years of absorbing by passing osmosis, the plot of that TV-show-that-must-not-be-named about four female friends living in New York, the understanding that women can easily and repeatedly justify over $1500 for a pair of shoes, means that even at close to $30-grand there could be a place for the funky French hatchback.
If those Manolo Blahniks are a slice of luxury, so then, is the Peugeot. If not for what it is made of, but for the conversational exclusivity that comes with having something just a bit special.
Sitting at the top of the five-door 208 line-up (the toasty 208 GTI hot hatch has just three), the GT-Line is $1500 more than the Allure, with which it shares a similar spec. For the equivalent of a pair of fancy steps, you get some smart red striped trim elements, red stitched seats, 17-inch alloy wheels, front map lights and a leather trimmed handbrake lever.
That’s on top of the solid level of standard equipment that includes six airbags, front and rear parking sensors and automatic parking function, seven-inch touch screen with navigation and a chilled glove box (see – luxury!)
Our test car is fitted with the active city braking (low speed AEB) and reverse camera package for $500. We’d suggest you get the Peugeot dealer to bundle this in to the deal too, as for such a small extra amount it really should be standard at this price level.
It looks pretty sharp. Those red lipstick highlights on the grille and wheels do a lot to make the little Pug stand out, particularly on the Ruby Red car (metallic paint is a $990 option). The LED running lamps and tail lights give it a stylish and premium look too.
We have to say though, that it looks like a long wheelbase limo with the five door body compared to the three door GTI.
Inside, you sit up nice and high which initially feels a bit strange given the compact proportions of the 208, but the high glasshouse offers a heap of interior space, particularly head room. At over six-foot, I have plenty of space for my noggin, but our car didn’t have the optional sunroof ($1000).
The roomy feeling extends to the rest of the cabin, with the back seat and even the boot providing impressive space for such a little car. The boot at 311-litres (expands to 1152-litres) is bigger than a Mazda 3 (308-litres) despite the car being about half a meter shorter at 3973mm.
Boot volume doesn’t translate into clever storage though and front passengers get cup holders too small to handle some of the fatter bottled water and take-away coffee cups. There’s a handy phone holder next to the USB plug which is quite smart but the placement of the centre arm rest makes it really difficult to access the handbrake.
Plus, to add to the ‘we didn’t really think of that’ usability negatives, a giant fuse box, which sits cleverly next to the steering wheel in a left-hand drive car now takes up the majority of the glovebox volume in our right-hand drive cars. Making the glovebox pretty much capable of holding only a pair of gloves. Touché Peugeot.
Behind Peugeot’s tiny ‘side plate’ steering wheel, you don’t get the cool counter-rotating tachometer as in the 308, but the iCockpit layout and information is clear and you can run a digital speedometer to help with quick monitoring of city speeds.
That steering wheel though is always a point of contention around the CarAdvice office. Is it too small or just right? Depending on the height of the driver and your preferred seating style, it can easily be adjusted to be comfortable, yet still obscure the instrument binnacle.
It means too that the cruise control and speed limiter stalk on the left side of the steering column is all but invisible on the move, so you need to get used to the layout and functions before hitting the road.
The leather on the wheel is nice though, so once you are used to the functional layout the 208 becomes a pretty fun thing to drive.
Materials around the rest of the cabin are quite upmarket too, and the textured dash inlay is a particular standout. The seats are really comfortable and the car as a whole, feels a lot more solid and substantial than its size would suggest.
Other features are mostly ergonomic once you know how and where they work. The auto-wipers for example need to just have the wipers set to active, something you learn by doing as there is no button nor label to identify this. #classicfrench
Some switchgear does tend to blend in and the buttons for the automatic parking and rear child lock just seemed to vanish in the overall cabin design.
There’s a seven-inch touch screen which runs the now familiar PSA infotainment software and while it works reasonably well, it isn’t the best implementation of the system we have seen.
You have a single menu button to jump back from a deeper function to the home menu, which sort of adds an extra step into your process. To go from navigation to the radio or phone and then back again is a bit cumbersome. Yes, you do get used to it, but it seems a little more complicated than it really needs to be.
Temperature and climate control functions are easy to use and you get that Peugeot trait of super-cold, cold with a LO setting below 14-degrees.
That said, the internet streaming and software update functions worked very well for us.
Where French ergonomics may leave us shaking our heads, French dynamics always leave us wanting more.
The 208 GT-Line is a great fun little machine to scoot about in. The 82kW/205Nm 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine might sound tiny but with peak torque available from just 1500rpm, the little buzz box is pretty zippy in a city environment.
You can get up to speed quickly from the lights and zap through traffic with ease. There are some vibrations and rumbles at low speeds, but that settles soon enough and the 208 is surprisingly quiet when cruising at 80km/h and above.
Plus, the petit nature of the power plant results in some decent economy. Peugeot claims just 4.5L/100km combined and we saw under six for most of our week of running about. I say most as in the last couple of days I found myself switching the start/stop system off and perhaps dashing about with a bit more vitesse than you normally would. This saw consumption creep up towards the 8L/100km mark which is something to be mindful of if you prefer your urban running more allez than arête.
Consumption aside though, the little steering wheel and tight nature of the Pug is highly enjoyable. It turns in lightly and accurately and even holds well in the wet under throttle. It feels like a well-built car, a bigger car even, not being so upset by crosswinds or imperfections in the road surface. It weighs just over one tonne (1070kg) which is about the same as a Mazda 2 (1058kg) and lighter than a Honda Jazz (1130kg).
The ride too feels more like a bigger, wider car with great control and composure over cobbles and rougher roads. It handles the impact of speed humps well but can thump a bit on the down side. The same can be said for sharper surface changes like railway crossings or expansion joints, but it is never uncomfortable or overly crashy.
A six-speed automatic is the only gearbox choice on the GT-Line, which is a pity as we’d quite enjoy this with the five-speed manual you find in the base-trim Access model.
The shifter itself has a couple of buttons to drop the car into a snow or sport program which feel a bit light and cheap, but it performs well and selects gears quickly and smoothly.
Vision from the tall glasshouse is great, and the front sidelight windows help with forward peripheral vision.
The 2016 Peugeot 208 GT-Line is a really nice little car. It’s stylish and well packaged but it’s still the best part of $30-grand.
If Euro is your thing, you can drive a Volkswagen Polo Beats for $23,190 or a Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo for just $300 more ($23,490). Both cool, stylish, European and fun like the Peugeot, and (obviously) a little less ‘French’ in their implementation.
But while you’ll never find a 208 for half price in the sale bin at Bloomingdales, you can currently get an Allure for $25,990 drive away, which means with a bit of haggling the GT-Line shouldn’t be far away.
If value is your thing, then this is the wrong end of the market. Like the designer shoes and bags from the TV-show-that-can-not-be-named, there’s nothing wrong with paying a premium price for a little bit of luxury… but unless you are decidedly well-to-do or a fictional writer with a fantasyland pay packet, there are plenty of other options that do just as solid a job – albeit with a bit less style – for less money.
But not everyone shops on value, and for those buyers the 208 GT-Line brings a certain sexy style to the city car game. It’s fun, funky and not nearly as irritating as that stupid show.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser