Sales of light-sized cars aren’t exactly at a peak right now, particularly at the upper echelons of the segment. But there’s still a place for something with a small footprint and a luxurious interior that's aimed at city slickers with a thirst for Euro-chic items.
Enter the Peugeot 208, and while having been on sale for a few years now, it remains one of the more stylish offerings out there. It may not have the cachet of a Mini hatchback, but it’s a sophisticated and handsome little thing, in a femme kind of way.
While the base 208 Active is priced at $21,990 plus on-road costs, we’re looking at the chrome-laden Allure grade here. For context, its $24,990 RRP is $1500 more than a Renault Clio GT-Line, $1300 more than a Mazda 2 GT, and equal to the Volkswagen Polo Beats.
In other words, it carries a premium price tag against the cars we see as its main competitors (despite being cut last August), though you can be sure to negotiate yourself a decent deal given the modest sales performance most months.
It’s not lacking much in the way of equipment, either. There’s a 7.0-inch touchscreen with sat-nav, as well as Apple CarPlay/MirrorLink, climate control, cruise control, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, LED daytime running lights, 16-inch alloy wheels, city autonomous emergency braking (works below 30km/h) and a five-star ANCAP safety rating, albeit from way back in 2012.
Over and above this, you'll pay $1000 for a sunroof and $590 for sparkly paint like the Ruby Red adorning our test car.
Moreover, the interior feels a cut above many cut-price specials out there. The material quality and tactility – soft plastics, contrasting trims, chrome highlights, real stitching – are all to a standard you’d expect on a more expensive offering, supplanting even the Polo.
The ergonomics in most ways are very un-French, in that they’re excellent. By this we mean the screen is simple to reach and control, the steering wheel buttons are well laid out, there’s ample seat/wheel adjustment, properly placed pedals, and trip computer adjustments on a stalk.
However, there’s one slightly more controversial element: the dinner-plate-sized steering wheel with instrument binnacle positioned to be viewed over the rim, not through it. The tiny wheel makes it feel like you’re driving a go-kart, and for my driving position provides good visibility.
However, some people – our own Paul Maric being one – say they drive around with the instruments blocked by the wheel rim, which obviously points to a design flaw somewhere there. We suggest you sit in the car and look at it yourself.
More unarguable negatives related to the interior include the lack of keyless entry/start, because having to actually put your key in the ignition barrel is so 2014, and the hard-to-access cupholders positioned precariously north of the gear shifter. There are big door bins, but stuff-all storage area elsewhere, unless the small fold-up centre armrest/console suffices for you.
Belying its tiny dimensions (it's a tick under 4m long), the back seats aren’t too bad. You’re obviously not swimming in space, but there are big side windows to help outward visibility go beyond the Mazda 2’s, and rear airbags unlike the Clio. The 311L boot is also pretty good, albeit the VW Polo edges it.
Those tiny dimensions and the subsequent feather-light 1070kg kerb weight mean the 208 is actually a bit of a hoot to drive, which is not uncommon for cars this small.
Under the bonnet is a thrumming 1.2-litre and Euro 6-compliant three-cylinder petrol engine with a turbocharger, producing 81kW of peak power at 5500rpm and a very strong 205Nm of peak torque from just off idle (1500rpm).
It’s matched to a six-speed automatic gearbox with torque converter called EAT6 and made in collaboration with Japan’s Aisin. There’s no manual option sold here, unfortunately, but there’s just no demand. A French car without a manual feels... Alien.
While it’s clear the 10.9sec 0–100km/h sprint time is nothing to write home about, the little engine is typically characterful and muscular from down low, which makes it a sharp little number point-to-point at urban-friendly speeds.
The gearbox is good more often than it’s bad, but there are some times when the shifts are a little slurred, and where you’d like it to be a little more decisive. The integration with the stop/start system could be better, too. Smoother.
Claimed fuel use is 4.5L/100m, though we averaged 7.1L/100km, and weren't driving it hard.
Dynamically, things are pretty simple: speed-sensitive electric-assisted steering, all-round disc brakes, MacPherson strut front suspension and a cheap rear torsion beam.
The steering is a little light and lacking feedback, but the tiny wheel gives the car a distinctive road feel, while the kerb weight means inherent nimbleness. It’s also quite good at rounding off sharp inputs like potholes or speed bumps, and relatively quiet and stable at highway speeds.
To our minds, it’s not as sophisticated as the Polo but a little more engaging, it’s quieter than the Mazda 2, and a little smoother and more compliant than the Clio. A pretty good balance, though its hotted-up 208 GTi sibling obviously ramps things up a notch or 12.
In terms of ownership costs, Peugeot Australia’s new importer (shared with Subaru) offers an excellent five-year warranty with no distance limit. Servicing intervals are 12 months or 15,000km, with the first five visits presently priced at $366, $475, $631, $480 and $371.
That’s not particularly cheap, to be frank. The Clio with its 12-month/30,000km intervals costs $349 for each of the first three visits. However, the first five visits to the dealer in a new VW Polo will cost you even more than the Pug – $2404 versus $2323. So, it’s not unprecedented.
So, that's a quick revisit of the oft-forgotten Peugeot 208. Value shoppers will likely steer clear, even of the cheaper Active grade, but what the French offering gives you is a point of difference over the crowd.
Think about it, the Mazda 2 outsells it 66:1, and even the niche Renault Clio beats it by 6:1. If you want a fun to drive, well-designed and well-made city car with some premium edges and a characterful demeanour, the 208 still stacks up.