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The Top Gear car review:Peugeot 208
For:Genuine rethink in how you build a small car, the reality almost lives up to the hype
Against:The Fiesta still aces it for on-road dynamics
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Impressive environmental credentials, decent build quality, nicely detailed – can this really be a Peugeot?
What we say:
Peugeot needed to be bold to regain ground in a sector it once led. The 208 delivers
What is it?
At last, Peugeot looks like it has reignited the supermini magic it once possessed by the bucketload. Replacing the dreary 207 is the crisp 208, its reinvention of the supermini, a car that looks back to the 205 for design cues but also looks forward in finish, engineering and interior features. Mediocre is out, appealingly ambitious is in – with those sharply-cut lines playing a major part in the car’s allure.
Peugeot facelifted it in 2015 with the usual facelift-y stuff: slightly sharper nose, some new engines and revisions for the ones that aren’t new, and a bizarre textured paint option.
This is the important bit, since there have been a fair few people who remember the gorgeous fluency of the 205 and lament the dullness of the 207. And the 208 is… pretty bloomin’ good actually. It feels light, no doubt a direct result of a weight loss of well over 100kg over the 207, but with an impressive ability to soak through nasty roads with the poise of a bigger car. Peugeot’s damping seems to have had a thorough going-over on this one.
Most of the range isn’t fizzy enough to exploit it, though: the GTi is the exception. There is at least a 109bhp version of the sweet 1.2-litre tripple though, which we found usefully more sparky than the 81bhp standard motor. And there’s a further caveat or two – even though direction changes from the tiny, sporty steering wheel are dead-shot accurate, the feedback is a bit lacking. Which means that so far, if you want the best possible handling from a small car, you’ll still be choosing a Fiesta.
On the inside
The 208 is clever inside as well, and this is an area Peugeot has not previously been noted for. Key to it is a rethink of dashboard architecture: the tiny steering wheel is set low and close, dials are placed far away in a pod in front of the driver and key controls have been grouped into a touchscreen on the centre console (standard on all but base Access cars). The shape of this means it is within easy reach, while its size makes it simple to use.
It’s bigger inside than the 207, with Peugeot claiming particular advances for rear passenger and boot space. Importantly, it’s also much better quality than its predecessor, with posher materials and a more upmarket feel.
Good-value prices are matched by impressive economy figures: up to 79g/km and 94.2mpg, in fact, while no diesel emits more than 95g/km CO2. It seems all this creativity is matched by good build quality and reliability too. Just avoid base cars that lack that smart touchscreen.