Does this stylish hatch have the performance to match its looks?
Peugeot will have high hopes for this 208, but its powerful new engine has exposed some serious flaws in the handling dynamics that will need to be addressed for the hotter GTi model. The inconsistent steering and poor body control are the biggest issues, so until the 197bhp version arrives, the highlight of the range is still the 1.2-litre three-cylinder.
Peugeot’s supermini bloodline includes the iconic 205 and hugely popular 206, so the new 208 has some big shoes to fill. But the car passed its first test with flying colours by beating our perennial class favourite, the Ford Fiesta. And now a faster 208 has arrived to give us a taste of the forthcoming GTi hot hatch.
While both contenders in this test look chic and stylish, at first glance, the 208 is more subtle than its Citroen DS3 rival. Get a little closer, though, and you start to notice visual tweaks that set this Peugeot apart from the standard car. Larger two-tone alloys fill the wide wheelarches, and at the rear a twin exhaust and extended roof spoiler hint at the increase in performance.
At present, the 1.6 THP engine is available only in this three-door car, with its high-spec Feline trim. That means a long list of standard kit, including climate control, cornering foglights, parking sensors and a panoramic glass roof. The only options of note are the £400 sat-nav upgrade for the touchscreen system and the Moroccan Red metallic paint.
However, despite the new 208’s luxuries, niggles that we experienced in the standard car remain. The glovebox, for example, is tiny, while away from the smart centre console some of the plastics are cheap and hard.
These are problems that the 208 shares with the DS3, but the Peugeot has some packaging issues of its own. Thick doorpulls intrude into cabin space, and some drivers will be unable to read the dash dials through the small steering wheel. This is a real shame because the dials themselves are well designed, with a clear digital display in the middle and blue neon ambient lighting around the outside adding a touch of flair.
The part-leather seats are comfy, and rear legroom is impressive. Boot space is identical to the DS3’s, but instead of offering a quick-fix tyre repair kit as Citroen does, Peugeot provides a full-size spare wheel, so there’s no underfloor storage.
There is little, it seems, to separate the two rivals on the inside, so it will all come down to how they perform from behind the wheel. On paper, the 208 should have the edge.
It has the same 1.6-litre turbo as the DS3, but produces an extra 20Nm of torque, at 260Nm. It’s also lighter, weighing just over a tonne. From a standing start at the track, the Peugeot just had the edge, taking 7.2 seconds to hit 60mph. However, in-gear there was barely any difference in acceleration, and despite feeling urgent at lower revs, this engine thrives near the red line. It sounds good, too, building to a hard, rasping note just before you change up, while there’s a distinct burble from the exhaust when you lift off.
Sadly, this quick throttle response isn’t matched by the other controls. The loose gearchange, vague, over-assisted steering and less precise body control make it tough to fully exploit the engine’s undoubted ability.
The 208 can hop and skip over mid-corner bumps, plus the ride is far from smooth. While smaller crests are dealt with well, larger potholes send a nasty crash through the cabin. Wing mirror wind noise is intrusive at motorway speeds, too.
The 208’s claimed fuel consumption just betters the DS3’s, but on test it didn’t fare as well, returning 27.8mpg to the Citroen’s 30.5mpg. Still, differences in running costs are minimal, while road tax is identical.
So it would be difficult to recommend the Peugeot over the fun-filled DS3 to any keen driver, and when you factor in the Citroen’s strong resale values and more extrovert exterior design, this warm 208 looks to have its work cut out to beat our current class champion.
- Price: £16,895
- Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl, 156bhp
- 0-60mph: 7.2 seconds
- Test economy: 27.8mpg/6.1mpl
- CO2: 135g/km
- Annual road tax: £120