In the run-up to the launch of the 208, Peugeot made every effort to liken the new model to the 205. In the 1980’s the 205 saved Peugeot from going under and changed perceptions of the brand. Peugeot has now admitted that it got the 206 and 207 wrong and are keen to evoke the spirit of the legendary 80’s hatch to turn its fortunes around once more.
So the 208 is important. Peugeot has lacked a real contender in the most lucrative sector of the UK market for too long. The 208 is a step change in direction, it is smaller than the 207, more driver focussed and significantly lighter so there is more than just PR speak at work here, Peugeot really has been inspired by the history books.
The result of this is that the 208 has an entirely different character to the previous model. The first thing that you notice is a very small steering wheel which is also set lower, giving rise to ergonomic issues for some people as they try and look over the rim of the wheel at the dials. However the small wheel instantly gives the 208 a more direct feel and when combined with the low kerb weight and small overhangs it feels much more alert and far more rewarding to drive.
There is one big problem though. Peugeot has had to eke out every last mpg and as a result has turned to the EGC automated manual gearbox. It provides big gains in efficiency on the official test but the gear changes are ponderously slow, making progress frustrating. This is reflected in the 0-62 time which is unacceptably slow.
The 208 has much to recommend. It looks good both inside and out, is keenly priced, and the return of some driver involvement is long overdue, but for this specific model the fuel economy comes with too much of a compromise. The EGC gearbox is frustrating to use and takes the shine off an otherwise impressive package.