Car Reviews

First drive: Peugeot’s new electric e-208 and 208

Paul Horrell’s 2019 Peugeot 208 and e-208 prototype review ahead of the model’s official launch.

IN A NUTSHELL: Peugeot’s supermini bounces back with a lovely cabin, good engine range, and even an electric version. We drove prototypes; some dynamic aspects are fine, some likely to get a final polish

2019 Peugeot 208 prototype review (European spec)

Price N/A Warranty 5 years/unlimited km Engine 1.2L petrol turbo, electric motor Power 75kW at 5500rpm, 97kW at 6000rpm, 100kW (electric) Torque 205Nm at 1750rpm, 230Nm at 2000rpm, 300Nm (electric) Transmission 6-speed manual, 8-speed auto, single-speed (electric) Drive front-wheel drive Body 4055mm (l); 1755mm (w exc mirrors); 1960mm (w inc mirrors); 1430mm (h) Turning circle NA Towing weight 1200kg (braked, petrol), 750kg (unbraked) Kerb weight 1090kg (manual), 1160kg (auto), 1480kg (electric) Seats 5 Fuel tank 44 litres (petrol) Battery 50kWh (electric) Spare Space saver (petrol), none (electric) Thirst 5.5 l/100km (man) 5.7l/100km (auto) combined cycle Range 340km (electric)

Peugeot 208 and e-208 review

The Peugeot 208 hasn’t yet been properly launched to the press, let alone gone on sale in Europe. But we recently had a brief test of several prototypes. So while many of the conclusions you see here are firm, there will be some aspects that improve for production and 2020’s Oz launch.

The new 208 has certainly got a lot of heritage, as Pug helped define the supermini with the 104 in 1972 (though the five-door hatch didn’t appear til ’76, fact fans), and the wildly successful 205 in 1983.

This one is pretty much all new versus the preceding 208. Most of what you don’t see is a new kit of parts called Compact Modular Platform that’ll be shared with other cars in Peugeot’s group. The main thing that’s carried over from the old car is the petrol powertrains, but they were by no means out of date.

WHAT’S THE INTERIOR LIKE?

This is a really nicely designed cabin for a small car. It’s also built out of good materials, so feels expensive. More so, actually, than even the new Audi A1.

The upper dash is skinned in a combination of soft-feel plastic, embossed ‘carbon-effect’ decor (less cheesy than it sounds), some chromed bits, and contrast stitching. It feels upmarket, as does harmonising trim on the doors and seats.

The main layout is built around two screens. The driver’s one is a deep-dish wide octagonal binnacle. Its special trick is that it’s actually two screens superimposed, so the effect is that more important info seems to hover like a hologram closer to your eyes than the background stuff. You can toggle its layout to emphasise engine info, navigation instructions or driver assistance.

It’s clear and works well. Or at least, if it is a gimmick, it’s one that doesn’t detract from the primary purpose. The very base version has normal dials, though.

As with all Pugs these days, the driver’s binnacle is mounted high up, and the steering wheel is small, flat-topped and resides close to your thighs. So you look over the top of the wheel to read the instruments.

Most drivers like this, though some will need to raise the seat or make the backrest more upright than usual. Otherwise, if you just can’t get on with it, the Peugeot Group will happily sell you a Citroen C3 instead.

Below the central infotainment screen is a row of expensive-feeling metallic toggle switches for central locking, heated rear screen, hazard flashers and so on. Tucked above them are capacitive buttons, not really distinguishable by touch, to switch between screen functions.

The climate system is in the screen rather than separate hardware controls. We’re not great fans of that arrangement.

The front seats are deeply bolstered and comfy enough, and optionally have a back massage function. But in the back, adults only just fit. The VW Polo and Honda Jazz are notably roomier in the back.

The boot, at 311 litres, is also only class average, and when the seats fold forward the floor isn’t flat. All versions have a 2/3 split-fold.

WHAT’S THE INFOTAINMENT LIKE?

Base versions have phone mirroring as standard – Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Move up a level and the touchscreen grows to 10 inches, and the graphics and resolution are perfectly competitive in the small-car field.

All versions have six speakers, which is plenty for a base car but not really enough at the high end when some rivals have branded audio.

Connected navigation comes further up the range, and it works well enough.

Also on the mid-spec and above you get inductive phone charging and four USBs around the cabin, one of them the new C-type.

WHAT’S THE PERFORMANCE LIKE?

The petrol engines are derivatives of the Group’s 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo. It’s an engine we’ve always enjoyed, one that feels plucky beyond its size. We tried a 75kW with manual box, and 97kW with eight-speed autobox.

Both of them are cheery, with a good slug of turbo boost in the middle of the rpm ranges, and a chattery sound. The 75kW gets to 100km/h from rest in a tenth under 10 seconds. The 97kW is a fraction quicker at 8.7 seconds.

The electric one fits its battery under the floor with no notable loss of passenger foot room or boot space. Well, you lose the spare wheel, but of course, in an EV you won’t be going anywhere remote from rescue services.

It accelerates faster than any of the petrol versions, and more smoothly and quietly too. Response is instant to the accelerator. It’s well-calibrated and easy to drive. So is the traction control; you might well need it when making a smart exit from tight corners, but it’s unobtrusive and deft.

The all-out electric range is 340km WLTP – comfortably more than a Honda e or electric Mini. Charging off an AC wallbox is about eight hours. On-route DC replenishing is snappy: find a 100kW DC outlet (not many in Oz, but they’re being installed) and it’ll do 0-80 percent in just half an hour. That’s the equivalent of adding 10km of range every minute.

WHAT’S IT LIKE ON THE ROAD?

The low-power car we tried had base suspension and 16-inch wheels. It felt refined and grown-up. The ride was supple and quiet. But small cars are also supposed to be fun. In a bend it gripped gamely and reassuringly, but it wasn’t as keen to turn or adjust its line on the throttle as a Ford Fiesta.

Also, the steering on this prototype didn’t feel properly zoned-in: it was gluey, and the weight was inconsistent. I spoke to the chief engineer and he said finalising the power steering software was still on his to-do-list.

The 97kW car was on the so-called GT-Line suspension, a firmer setup with 17-inch wheels. It felt more agile through corners but the short-amplitude ride needed work. It felt oddly slack before the dampers gained control. Not a big issue, but it needs sorting before production.

Straight-line stability, even under brakes, was fine.

The electric version felt more complete on the road. It takes advantage of the low-down battery mass, and cornered with less roll and less understeer than the petrol ones, while riding more placidly.

WHAT ABOUT THE SAFETY FEATURES?

There’s no NCAP score yet. But the closely related DS 3 Crossback scored four stars. That’s not a great result, but it reflects the fact the DS does without autonomous braking as standard in some markets. Without that as standard, five stars are ruled out these days. In basic crash protection the DS did well.

The 208 shouldn’t suffer in the same way since it does have autonomous braking, including for pedestrians, on all versions. It uses both radar and camera so works at all speeds. It also includes distance alert if you follow too close to the vehicle ahead. The upper versions get a more advanced system, working at night and able to detect cyclists.

All 208s have six airbags including rear curtains. All three rear seats have head restraints and three-point belts. There are two rear ISOFIX points and on the front passenger seat.

All versions have lane-keeping assist. The top-trim electric version, and optional on the automatic petrol, is a full active cruise control with lane positioning assistance that aims to keep you in the middle of the lane. The same safety pack includes blind-spot warning.


Paul Horrell

Paul Horrell

Paul's working life has been paced out in cars. He began road-testing when the VW Golf was in its second generation. It's now in its eighth. He covers much more than the tyre-smoking part of the road-test landscape. He roots around in the financial machinations of the car corporations and the apparent voodoo of the technologies. Then he clarifies those complications so his general readers – too busy to lodge their heads up the industry's nether regions – get the fast track on what matters and what doesn't. A freelance writer living in London, he usually gets around the city by bicycle, which adds to his (sometimes justified) reputation as a bit green and a bit of a lefty. He's a member of Europe's Car of the Year jury.