When the Peugeot 208 first landed in Australia four years ago it had a big job to do. The French company had been on the slide for a while, with the weak efforts of the old 308 and 207 undoing all the hard earned reputation of the cars they superseded.
The 208 had a quiet start but seems to have caught on with people looking for a credible alternative to the Japanese and German light hatches.
In 2015, the Peugeot 208 range got an update in the form of a new entry-level Access trim level and an all-new 1.2-litre engine. The five-door range starts at $15,990 for the (ahem) five-speed manual Access, through the $21,990 Active, the $25,990 Allure, the other new model, the GT Line ($27,490) and finally the three-door GTi at $30,990.
Our car was the 81 kW Active. At this level, you get Peugeot’s seven-inch screen powering a six-speaker stereo with USB and Bluetooth, air conditioning, power windows and mirrors, leather steering wheel, rear parking sensors, central locking, cruise control with braking function, cloth trim and 16-inch alloy wheels.
Satellite navigation is an option.
Unusually, there’s the option of textured matte paint which Peugeot says is low-maintenance. Check it out and come up with your own ideas.
The recent design refresh was little more than a rejig of plastic and chrome trim bits and new lights front and rear. Peugeot 208 is a chunky little thing that almost looks like a single piece spat out of a 3D printer.
The huge windscreen swoops up almost behind your head to a high roof that delivers tons of headroom but it never looks top heavy. Inside space is impressive for such a small car, with a decent-sized boot at 311 litres.
The 208 introduced Peugeot’s mildly zany i-Cockpit, which features a high-set instrument panel and a lower-set teeny-tiny steering wheel. It remains unchanged in the update and is an acquired taste. The upside is that both seats and wheel have excellent adjustment ranges.
The seats are comfortable front and rear, predictably the rear seat is tight for leg, knee and shoulder room. Storage options are a bit thin on the ground, too, with just a pair of cupholders up front (up from one previously, which is a start) and skinny door pockets.
Six airbags, ABS, brake assist, brake force distribution, stability and traction controls and load-limited front seat-belts add up to five ANCAP stars.
The first Peugeot 208 dropped with an awful entertainment system, with a baffling control system that made almost no sense. The update brings a much-needed series of tweaks to make it a lot more intuitive and it is an improvement. The seven-inch screen is bright and clear but is still slow to respond to your inputs.
The six-speaker stereo delivers reasonable sound and the USB or Bluetooth connectivity is straightforward.
The Active has no choices of engine, the 1.2-litre turbocharged three-cylinder dubbed Puretech. Producing a respectable 81 kW and handy 205 Nm of torque, it works in concert with a six-speed automatic to drive the front wheels.
Peugeot 208 is right up there with the Mazda2 for dynamic ability and has the extra bonus of feeling a lot more darty thanks to the itty-bitty steering wheel.
The initial bite from both steering and transmission mean the 208 zaps about with enthusiasm, rather more than any of its counterparts, the 2 excepted. The turbo spins up quickly and the six-speed auto always seems to be in the right gear.
The engine feels a lot bigger than it is (the same engine can be found in the bigger 308) and a has gravelly, throaty soundtrack, but not so loud that you’d notice if you weren’t listening out for it.
Ride is better than just about everything in the light car class, with Renault’s Clio drawing close, the 2 left behind with the pack when it comes to comfort.
Loading up with passengers does blunt the performance but the handling stays fun and the ride only suffers when it’s really fully laden. It’s a lot of fun, bettered only by the GT-Line version of the same car.
Zero to 100km/h arrives in a leisurely 10.9 seconds.
Peugeot claims 4.5L/100km from the combined cycle, rather less than the 8.1L/100km we got in mostly city driving with a hard-working air-conditioning system that stopped us letting the stop-start do its thing.
The only blight is the super-enthusiastic stop-start. While it is doing worthy work, it tends to ignore what you’re doing when it comes to the air-conditioning and leaves you a bit hot under the collar if you don’t deactivate it.
The only real problem the 208 has is the price of entry – the $21,990 headline figure is before on-roads and the same as the larger 308 Active (which has more power and space, if less gear).
Its Japanese and European rivals, Renault excepted, are cheaper. A few more standard inclusions wouldn’t go astray at this price point.
Having said that, the extra outlay buys you an interesting car that stands out from the others with good ride and handling and dealers who aren’t averse to a bit of arm-twisting. If you care about a good chassis and a bit of Euro-style, the 208 is right up there.
LIKES: funky materials, great engine, good ride
DISLIKES: over-enthusiastic stop-start, touch screen still a bit iffy, silly cupholders