This is the Two-Oh-Eight, Peugeotâ€™s replacement for the popular(ish) 207. Better get used to the number because itâ€™s what all Peugeotâ€™s future Polo-segment competitors will be called, ending the incremental naming series of 205,206 and 207 hatches. Youâ€™d also better get used to 208â€™s rather unusual driving position, but more on that later.
In a conservative market dominated by Volkswagenâ€™s extremely competent but straight-laced Polo, it would seem a brave move to offer something less conventional, but perhaps Peugeot feels itâ€™s better to stand out. And why not? The 208 is a great-looking little car that ditches much of the 207â€™s bloated and exaggerated styling cues for a return to the lithe and taut lines of the 206. Unusually, itâ€™s a smaller car than the one it replaces too; while the wheelbase is unchanged, 60mm has been shaved off the front overhang. Cleverly though, cabin space is actually superior, especially in the key rear leg room area. The addition of a perky new 1.2-litre three-pot (60kW/118Nm) and strategic use of higher strength steels also means the new car is significantly lighter, with the base car weighing in at 975kg. Naturally, this affects fuel consumption, with Peugeot claiming very impressive figures of 4.5litres/100km and 104g/km of CO2 for the three-cylinder motor.
Donâ€™t fret if youâ€™re not into all this engine downsizing stuff, the 208 is also available in familiar four-cylinder 1600cc guise with 88kW on board to make the most of the reduced mass and improved agility. We drove both mills around some of the Capeâ€™s mountain passes and can happily attest to the new carâ€™s increased handling prowess. It was an absolute joy to thread the 1.6 VTi through the rock-lined ribbon of tar that is the Bainskloof pass. A slight disclaimer though, you will have to adjust your driving position first…
Thatâ€™s because Peugeot has opted for a rethink on instrument binnacle placement, deciding to move the main dials onto the top of the dashboard just below your line of sight. Thatâ€™s good. Unfortunately, leaving the wheel in a â€˜regularâ€™ position means the top rim obscures your view of them. Thatâ€™s bad. This forces you to lower the steering wheel. So down it goes, coming to rest somewhere between your legs. Somehow though, itâ€™s not that bad and a few kilometres into the drive, youâ€™ve adapted. The tiny steering wheel helps of course and the whole odd ergonomic concept seems to come together. I found myself admiring the airy MPV feel created by the fact that the steering wheel isnâ€™t in your face while the light-hued pillars and headlining almost disappear in contrast to the dark tones of the multifaceted dash. Thereâ€™s a genuinely useful amount of head and rear leg room too.
As for the plush ride quality, it does its French heritage proud, simply sailing through the worst bits of the bumpy-as-all-heck Bainskloof blacktop. If there is a more composed supermini on sale, I have yet to sample it. The 1.6-litre model did offer a touch more stability on its one inch larger 16-inch alloys, resulting in a pleasingly weightier steering feel, but entry-level buyers will not feel short-changed. The only little gripe I have is the gearbox action with its wide gate, long throw and slightly sloppy feel.
Attractively priced and properly equipped, a base 1.2 Access model will set you back R154900 and comes standard with ABS, two airbags, aircon, central locking, electric front windows, satellite audio controls on the steering wheel, Bluetooth connectivity plus USB and Auxiliary ports. R169900 buys you the 1.2 Active spec which adds 15-alloys, side airbags, fog lights, electric folding mirrors, powered rear windows, cruise control and Peugeotâ€™s signature new 7-inch colour touchscreen multimedia interface for control of all audio and Bluetooth functions. The range-topping 1.6 Allure adds 16-inch alloys, curtain airbags, dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, auto-on headlights amongst others. All models have a full-sized spare wheel, a 5-yr/60 000km maintenance plan and a 3-yr/100 000km warranty.
FOR: Light, nimble, frugal and fun newcomer
AGAINST: Unusual driving position takes a bit of getting used to
PICK OF THE RANGE: 1.6 VTi Allure
ALTERNATIVE CHOICES: Volkswagen Polo, Kia Rio, Ford Fiesta, Toyota Yaris, Hyundai i20
TOPCAR RATING: 7/10