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Car reviews - Peugeot - 208 - Active

Our Opinion

We like
Lightness, punchy three-pot performance, pert styling, intriguing cabin presentation, excellent space utilisation, involving handling, supple ride, excellent media connectivity
Room for improvement
Expensive against base four-pot petrol Euros like Fiesta and Polo, no grab handles or rear-seat map pockets, no auto option, manual could use a sixth gear, tiny glovebox, low-rent plastics

16 Nov 2012

THERE’S a revolution in light cars and it’s about to get a whole lot smaller.

Following Mazda’s lead with the current Mazda2 in 2007 is a groundswell of downsized supermini rivals, designed to reverse the long-running trend of ever-upsizing mass.

Ford’s (closely related) WS Fiesta followed. And more recently, so did the third-gen Toyota Yaris last year. Now, Peugeot’s latest baby – the 208 – takes it all down to a whole new level.

In the most extreme case there’s a 173kg difference compared to the preceding 207: the nose alone is lighter by about 25kg. So is the body-in-white, and 15kg has been saved from the interior.

Plus, the 208 is 7cm shorter, 2cm narrower, and 1cm lower than before, and yet still manages to be roomier where it counts inside.

Why the automotive anorexia?

In a world where pollution is now taxed (namely in Europe), more size = more weight = more fuel = more carbon = more ownership taxes = heaps less buyers, as Peugeot learned to its distress.

French buyers baulked at the 207’s bigness. It was nearly as large as the next-class-up 306 was. Parisians in particular shopped elsewhere.

So here we are, with the 975kg 208 Active 1.2, tipping the scales at just 1kg more than the 1998 206 did. Meanwhile the 207 XR 1.4 equivalent weighed 1124kg.

That ‘1.2’, by the way, refers to the three-pot petrol engine, since lopping off a cylinder is a sure way of shedding kilos.

But in a country like Australia where parliament still debates climate change, is such efficiency even relevant?

Thankfully for Peugeot, Aussies hate wasting money. And guess what? Our 208 averaged 6.3L/100km even after occasionally bouncing its lively little firecracker of an engine off the 6450rpm limiter– albeit on premium unleaded. Apparently 4.7L/100km is possible.

Better still, the 1.2’s low first gear (only a rather long-throw five-speed manual gearbox is available, so it’s stick or stick it) means off-the-mark acceleration feels brisk – even with four adults and the icy air-con blowing – while that sprightly and spirited sensation stays thanks to a sensible set of forward ratios.

In fact, after much city and inner-urban commuting, we reckon that just 60kW of power and 118Nm of torque is totally sufficient for most folk. Complete with twin cams and variable valve timing, the Active 1.2 simply punches well above its weight class – and seems swifter than the leisurely 13.9-second, 0-100km/h-sprint time suggests.

However the smallest Peugeot shouldn’t be restricted to round-town schlepping, owing to a Honda VTEC-style second burst of energy from about 4500rpm, liberating more horsepower than this tiny little three-pot has any right to offer. Only in the upper-reaches of the legal speed limit, say during a highway-overtaking manoeuvre, is the lack of capacity obvious.

The upshot is a busy 3000rpm cruising speed at 100km/h in top.

But Peugeot has masterfully banished much of the noise and vibration that once characterised fiery three-pot eggbeaters such as the sadly departed Daihatsu Sirion. So it’s also sweet and un-intrusive.

Brilliantly low aerodynamics of 0.29Cd help out there too.

If you’re a keen driver, the news is just as welcome.

Over its predecessor, the 208’s leaner front end translates to palpably improved steering agility, handling alacrity, and good old grippy fun.

Combined with a quick rack full of feedback, the Peugeot’s nose can be pointed with pin-sharp accuracy. Yet it isn’t nervous like a 205’s. Tight around town yet stable and secure through sweeping arcs, the French engineers have rediscovered a set-up that’s light yet right.

Plus, Peugeot has programmed the stability/traction control system with a bit of play in it, so if the driver is so inclined, a tail-out slide is there for the taking – particularly on gravel or wet roads.

Backed up by a handy set of stoppers that have no trouble hauling the car to a complete halt, the Active 1.2 is a rewarding and confidence-building experience. The driver can feel the lack of inertia in the way it stops so responsively.

Stumble across bad roads, and it isn’t just the driver that will be impressed with the suspension’s abilities to soak up bumps big and small – though the front row is better (and quieter) in this regard than passengers in the back seat.

Despite all the fat busting, the 208’s doors don’t feel or sound tinny, and open wide for easy entry into what is quite an intriguingly presented and surprisingly spacious interior.

The development story goes that Peugeot’s interior designer found himself driving a fully loaded car through a Geneva traffic jam and snowstorm one night in 2006, and struggled with fatigue attempting to read the dials and GPS. That experience inspired a user-friendlier layout and interface.

Accordingly, then, the 208’s dashboard has been set right back against the vast windscreen, the startlingly small steering wheel hovers just above your lap, the instrument pod is perched up within your sight line, the sizeable central touch-screen juts out for easy touch-point accessibility, and vents are located for maximum effect.

It’s an ergonomic marvel, for the driver does feel comfy and at home even after only a brief period of familiarisation.

Aiding the experience, the deep downward slope of the front-side windows adds an airy futurism that’s an antidote to the stuffy dark cabins of many rival hatchbacks’.

The classy dials really add an upmarket touch, with their flawless white-on-black clarity. Top marks also go to the digital speedo (between the analogue one and tacho), Audi-esque chrome trimmings, piano-black-like surrounds liberally splashed across the dash, doors, and lower console areas, logical functionality of the wheels’ remote controls, and superb face-level ventilation.

Meanwhile the standard touch-screen is one of the most intuitive and simple to use going around. Few first-time operators will need to consult the handbook. The associated Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming is effortless (and with acceptable sound quality), the graphics are intelligible, and there’s plenty of car/driving trip-computer info to quickly glean on the go.

But although the lower console area and door bins provide decent levels of storage for everyday flotsam and jetsam, the glovebox is pitifully tiny – probably due to the pushed-forward dash layout.

Conversely, all the fascia and cabin furniture rearranging has had a positive knock-on effect to front leg/knee room, so taller passengers no longer feel slammed up against the dash even when an adult is sat right behind. Headroom rates highly too.

Front seats that at first may seem broad and flat prove sufficiently supportive and comfy on longer journeys, and unusually both are provided with height adjustment.

Out back the news is less good, with the abundance of hard cheap plastics offsetting the positives (adequate rear seat space and accommodation mainly), although the cargo area is on a par with most B-segment hatches.

Along with a trio of child-seat anchorage points immediately behind the backrest, there is a handy 311 litres of luggage space (below the parcel shelf), rising to 1152L with the split-fold rear seats folded.

No overhead grab handles and the lack of front-seat map pockets smack of penny pinching, however, especially in a car priced within $500 of the Volkswagen Polo 1.2TSi and $700 more than the Ford Fiesta LX.

On the other hand, the Active 1.2 includes a full suite of airbags and safety gear, cruise control with speed limiter, heated door mirrors, power windows, remote central locking, that impressive media connectivity interface, and fixed-price servicing.

But is $18,490 a bit rich when the next equivalently sized three-cylinder light car – Nissan’s K13 Micra ST – is $12,990, while the smaller but unbelievably refined VW Up five-door starts at $3500 less?

The question of value is a vexing one, because the 208 Active 1.2 really ought to be priced from $16,990 tops, like the base VW Polo Trendline 1.4 yet it’s just $500 shy of the terrific Polo 1.2TSI turbo.

But as the Gallic baby roundly beats all petrol rivals for economy and emissions without compromising on space, functionality, or driveability, a more apt price comparison might be with the diesel-powered Fiesta LX TDCi and Polo 66TDI Comfortline (both $21,490) – though both demolish the 208 for torque.

Regardless, there’s an undeniable charm that’s finally back in the smallest Peugeot.

And let’s face it. The 208 is a seriously sexy little car, capturing something of the spirit of the 205 – let alone the 206.

After the bloated 207, Peugeot has tried really, really hard to make something different and better with the 208 – and it’s succeeded.

The revolution of the lightweight light-car brigade continues!

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