There was a time when Peugeot, in the shape of its iconic 205, set the benchmark for small cars. While the 205GTi was a seriously stunning piece of kit, even the most basic 205 was fun to drive.
Somehow though, at the end of the 205′s 13-year lifetime, Peugeot lost its way in terms of small cars.
It finally reclaimed lost ground with the appearance of the 206 which, despite its lack of real character, proved a bigger commercial success than even the 205.
Next up was the 207, a car which added a significant amount of weight to that carried by the 206. The 207 was a dull car, with little to boost its appeal and a stodgy steering which delivered very little feedback to the driver.
So you can only imagine the pressure on the designers of its replacement, the 208. If Peugeot is to again reclaim a significant foothold in what is now labelled the ‘supermini’ sector, the 208 has to be right.
Certainly the new car, which goes on sale across the UK in July, is more svelte: it’s shed a whopping 110kg compared to its lardy predecessor. And, as you might expect, it looks all the better for it.
The cabin is also more spacious, and the two things which leap right out at you straightaway are the steering wheel and the dashboard.
Why? Because the dash is the playground for all the modern-day electronic gizmos we all expect from cars, including a graphic display screen full of sat-nav, multimedia and the other information.
And what of the steering wheel? Peugeot has given the 208 a sporty edge by setting the small diameter steering wheel unusually low.
To be honest, it’s the way I prefer the steering wheel in any car, but some people might find it not to their liking. If that’s the case, they’ll just move it back up to a ‘normal’ position, but to do so is their loss.
The interior drops a few points — if we’re being hyper critical — because of the use of non-tactile hard plastics. That said, the overall feel to the cabin is one of solidity.
But where the 208 really needs to shine is on the road. There’s a range of petrol and diesel engines. Peugeot, of course, has a long reputation of stonking oilburners, and the 1.6-litre turbodiesel, mated to a super-smooth six-speed manual is no exception.
And while there’s also a rather uninspiring 120bhp 1.6 petrol, perhaps the stars of the show are the all-new 1.0- and 1.2-litre, low-CO2, three-cylinder options.
Unless you’re doing a meteoric annual mileage — where the diesel would be the obvious choice — the 1.2 is the pick-of-the-bunch.
Full of character and zest, the 1.2′s 82bhp engine ensures a sprightly delivery of power. Add into the equation its harmoniously tuneful and deep engine note, and you have a winner.
With a CO2 figure of 104g/km, economy of 62.8mpg, a maximum speed of 109mph, plus a 0-62mph time of 12.2secs, the figures begin to stack up further.
And when mated to the new 208′s precise and well-weighted power steering, plus cleverly revised suspension settings, you have a car which puts the fun back into motoring.