The skinny: Peugeot has rejigged its 208 line-up by dumping the naturally-aspirated 1.6 litre, adding a likeable 1.2 turbo, introducing a six-speed auto and bringing in a cost-conscious entry model plus a sportier non-GTi option.
Coupled with some cosmetic and specification enhancements ,the resulting model range is more well-rounded, easier on the eyes and much, much more pleasant to drive.
We drove the new 1.2 turbo automatic back-to-back with the outgoing 1.6 four-speed auto, and the difference was stark. The new 208 is leagues better than the old, no question.
Vehicle Style: Five door light hatch
Price: $15,990 (208 Access manual) to $30,990 (208 GTi)
- 60kW/118Nm 1.2 petrol 3cyl | 5sp manual
- 81kW/205Nm 1.2 turbo petrol 3cyl | 6sp auto
- 153kW/300Nm 1.6 turbo petrol 4cyl | 6sp manual
Fuel Economy claimed: 4.5 l/100km | tested: 6.8 l/100km
Up until now the Peugeot 208 has been a pretty expensive thing compared to most other light hatches. You would have needed to spend a minimum of $20k (retail) to get into one, and once there the asthmatic 1.6 litre and sluggish four-speed automatic would make you wonder why you paid so much.
It’s always had plenty of French flair, but at this value-driven end of the market that’s not enough.
The sales numbers back that up: year-to-date, just under 600 208s have been sold. Even the unpopular - and even more expensive - Toyota Prius C hybrid outsells it.
But now there’s a $15,990 entry-level model, and a more modern driveline. The GT-Line specification has been added to the top end of the range too, offering a sportier style for those who don't need the 208 GTi's level of power.
The value equation is now better than it’s ever been for the 208, so will that adjust Peugeot’s fortunes in this highly competitive segment?
Time will tell, but our initial impressions of the improved 208 show there’s cause to be confident.
- Standard equipment: All models get air conditioning, power windows (front only on Access), cloth upholstery, cruise control, speed limiter, central locking
- Infotainment: Six-speaker audio, USB input, Bluetooth phone and audio integration standard on all models. Active and above receive 7” colour touchscreen display, with satellite navigation optional on Active and standard on Allure and GT-line.
- Cargo volume: 311 litres (five seater mode), 1152 litres (two seater mode, packed to roof).
The differences are more noticeable on the outside, but the most obvious interior change is the new textured soft-touch panel that stretches across the dashboard - and that’s about it.
Oh, unless you find yourself inside at the helm of the all-new Access entry-level model, which, as befitting its low-end status, is missing a few things that we’ve otherwise taken for granted in the 208 thus far.
Stuff like rear power windows and electrically adjustable wing mirrors. The last car we drove with manual wing mirror adjustment was a Suzuki Alto - just sayin’.
The Access is also the only model in the range that can’t be optioned from the factory with a reversing camera, thanks to its basic headunit and absence of a colour infotainment display (present in all other grades).
Some dealers may offer their own aftermarket reversing camera or parking sensor solution, but that depends on the individual dealer. If you want a factory-fit rear camera on your 208 Access, you’re fresh out of luck.
It’s still got plenty of French flair though - and the quirks that go along with it.
The cabin design is far more interesting that most other light hatchbacks, the tiny steering wheel allows you to view the instruments from over the top of the rim (and feels great in the palms of your hands), the cupholders however are pretty hard to access and the glovebox is pointlessly small.
Step into the higher Active, Allure or GT-line grades and you start seeing bigger screens, less piano black plastic and more silver/chrome trimmings. Into leather? It’s optional on Allure and GT-line grades.
Satellite navigation is optional on the Active and standard on Allure and GT-line, and the latter’s red contrast stitching gives it a sportier aesthetic. Allure and GT-Line also get dual-zone climate control and an airconditioned glovebox.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 60kW/118Nm 1.2 petrol three cylinder, or 81kW/205Nm 1.2 turbo petrol three cylinder, or 153kW/300Nm 1.6 turbo petrol four cylinder (GTi)
- Transmission: Five-speed manual (60kW engine only) or six-speed manual (81kW engine only), or six-speed manual (GTi only). Front-wheel drive.
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear
- Brakes: Discs front, drums rear (manual) or discs rear (auto and GTi).
- Steering type: Electrically-assisted
- Towing capacity: 820kg (60kW), 960kg (81kW)
The base model Access manual is pretty basic, mechanically. A naturally-aspirated 1.2 litre three-pot with 60kW and 118Nm sends power to the front wheels via a five-speed manual, with the 0-100km/h run done in a very leisurely 13.9 seconds.
The better option, if you can afford it, is the automatic. All models bar the Access are auto-only, and not only do they benefit from a six-speed Aisin hydraulic auto (no twin-clutch malarkey here), but they also get a turbocharged 1.2 with a much healthier 81kW and 205Nm.
In auto guise, the new 208 engine pulls easily with a much stronger midrange than the naturally-aspirated 1.6 it replaces. It revs out to 6500rpm with ease, emitting a pleasing 3cyl thrum throughout the rev range.
The six-speed auto has a fairly broad range of ratios. The gearing is taller in the first three ratios than we expected, but the 1.2's extra torque means it's far more flexible and doesn't necessarily need a close-stacked set of gears.
Instead, the two extra ratios means it's more relaxed at highway speed, ticking over at 2100rpm and delivering better fuel economy. Even though the manual is lighter, both the 1.2 atmo manual and 1.2 turbo auto deliver the same combined fuel economy of 4.5 l/100km.
The difference is in acceleration. The 1.2 turbo just gets up and goes with far more vigour, and while a 10.9-second 0-100km/h run is pretty slow, it’s markedly faster than the naturally-aspirated manual.
But if you really want a rocketship, the 1.6 litre turbo of the 208 GTi delivers the performance you're after.
153kW, 300Nm and a six-speed manual translate into a swift 6.8 second 0-100km/h sprint, and the grippy 205-section tyres and GTi-specific suspension tune generates substantial grip.
A number of small suspension revisions have been applied to the non-GTi models to compensate for the 20kg weight loss and the more compact engine package of the new 1.2, but generally speaking the new 208 behaves much the same as the model it supersedes.
This is a good thing. On the lumpy B-roads that lead to Wisemans Ferry north of Sydney, the excellent compliance of the 208’s suspension smooths out the worst of the bumps - especially when paired with the meaty sidewalls on the 15-inch wheel package of the 208 Access.
It’s not a sloppy handler either, and tracks quite nicely even on the eco-focused tyres of the base model (the grippier rubber of the Allure and GT-Line are definitely a worthy upgrade though).
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 34.03 out of 37 possible points in ANCAP testing.
Safety features: ABS, EBD, brake assist, traction control, stability control and six airbags are standard across the range. Rear parking sensors are standard on all models except the entry-level Access.
Front parking sensors and a self-parking system are standard on the Allure and GT-line, while a reversing camera is optional on the Active, Allure and GT-Line Autonomous braking is also available as a cost option on the Allure and GT-line.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The new entry-level 208 Access finally gives Peugeot a sub-$20k light hatch that can compete on an even footing with the dominant Japanese and Korean marques.
However, while the 208's price is now right, the value-for-money equation is still skewed towards the Jazz, Mazda2, i20 and their ilk.
In the more premium models, the 208 competes better with the likes of the Volkswagen Polo and Ford Fiesta, with the Mazda2 also offering an upmarket feel in a compact package.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
It’s safe to say the new 208 is a massive improvement. The cosmetic differences are fairly minor, but the new 1.2 turbo automatic is the powertrain this car deserved from the outset.
Not only that, but the attractively-priced 208 Access should help entice more prospective customers into Peugeot showrooms (where they will probably be upsold into Actives, Allures or GT-lines).
It’s a winner for Peugeot, and at long last the 208 is truly deserving of the attention of the mass market - not just Francophiles.