Peugeot 208 1.2-litre First Drive
Strange French quirks may appeal to some buyers, but the baby Peugeot is far from best in class, says Paul Murrell.
French cars have always been good in some places and not so good in others. The new Peugeot 208, at least the entry level Active model with the tiny 1.2-litre three-cylinder engine, can be downright infuriating.
The new styling hits the right buttons. It’s cute and perky, although some of the styling details such as the cut-outs in the tail lights are just plain weird. Importantly if you decide to pay a premium price rather than save some dollars on a Korean or Japanese model, it looks as if it could only come from Europe. The “double bubble” windscreen however has almost become a Kia trademark. The 208 is bigger than it looks and looks more expensive than it is.
Inside, the outlook is dominated by a large touch screen. But in this model, all that screen simply tells you is what radio station frequency you’re on (twice) and reminds you every time you look at it that you didn’t opt for the $1500 sat nav. Even more annoying is the dashboard design. The high-mounted binnacle limits the useful adjustment of the small and oddly-shaped steering wheel and forces the driver to adjust it lower than ideal to see the instruments – although even at this setting, odometer and tripmeter are obscured. Push it up higher and it even manages to obscure the digital speedo readout and most of both the speedo and tachometer. What were the designers thinking?
The pedals are small and slightly awkwardly placed, probably due to the changeover from left-hand drive to right-hand drive. A particularly annoying quirk of the car we tested was a truly irritating buzz from the front speakers. It was so aggravating we were forced to adjust the speaker balance to full rear bias, effectively shutting down the two front speakers. It surely cannot be common to all 208s, but imagine how angry you’d be if you had to endure this in the car you had bought. Peugeot are promising improved build quality; faults such as this do not inspire confidence.
Driving the 208 is another example of some good, some not so good. The little engine simply isn’t up to the cut-and-thrust of inner city driving and you’ll quickly rue the lack of torque when overtaking or making a quick entrance into a line of moving traffic. The clutch is incredibly light and the take-up point too high. Add in a tendency to hesitate before gathering itself up and moving off, and it’s easy to roll back a few centimetres before moving forward.
As with most French cars, it is great fun to throw around with confidence but the engine can’t hope to explore the limits of the suspension or grip. The five-speed gearbox is also very light and easy to use, and with this engine at least, the absence of a sixth gear is no impediment. Those who recall the remarkable suppleness of Peugeots of old, complemented by squishy seats that still provided good support, will be disappointed by the 208. Ride quality is good, especially for a car in this class and the seats are adequate rather than exceptional.
The 1.2-litre engine puts out 60kW and 118Nm (for comparison, the 1.2-litre three-pot in Mitsubishi’s Mirage puts out 57kW and 100Nm in a car that’s 110kg lighter). You need to stir the engine along to keep up with traffic and this has an inevitable effect on fuel consumption. The quoted combined figure is 4.7L/100km but unless you drive like an 80-year-old bowling club member, you won’t come close to it. And you’ll need to factor in the recommendation to use premium (95 RON) unleaded as well.
Extensive use of high tensile steels and aluminium for the platform, suspension and mechanical components and new structural techniques combine to bring the 208 in at just 975kg. For the time being, there is no auto option and no diesel engine on offer. The fitment of a full-sized spare wheel is welcome, and should find favour with country buyers.
Safety has always been a high priority in Peugeots and the 208 continues the tradition: six airbags, stability and traction control, emergency brake assist, ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution, pre-tensioning front seat belts and automatic traffic hazard activation in the case of a crash. A real bonus is Peugeot’s introduction of capped price servicing at $270 for the first three services (over 60,000km or three years).
PRACTICAL MOTORING SAYS
The Peugeot 208 starts at $18,490, and that is, quite frankly, overpriced compared to what else is available. If your heart is set on this French cutie, at the bare minimum we’d suggest you consider the 1.6-litre four-cylinder, even though it is an additional $3000.