Peugeot 208

I’ve always blamed Ari Vatenen, the man who once said, as only a Scandinavian rally driver can, that driving Peugeot’s 205 T16 gave him “goosebumples” Had the flying Finn not blasted past, what was then the school-boy me, in Peugeot’s all conquering 205 T16 you probably wouldn’t be reading this. I stood agog, clinging to the rope separating me from the rally stage as Ari disappeared sideways through to the trees; lights ablaze, engine roaring and exhaust spitting flames. It took just a few seconds but something just clicked. As soon as I was able I got myself a 205.

My first experience of World class rallying took place in the early 1980’s, back when Peugeot were in trouble, and, had it not have been for the success of the 205, both in the forests and the showrooms, it’s probably fair to say the Peugeot we know today might not have been. The 205 not only started my car obsession, it saved Peugeot’s life.

That was a long time ago though, and since then Peugeot brought us both the 206 and the 207. Despite being big sellers neither somehow captured the public’s attention in quite the way as the legendary 205. But now they’ve got a new super-mini to tempt us with. And just to keep things in order, they’ve called it 208.

From the outside at least the 208 is far prettier than Peugeot’s previous hatchback offerings. Shorter overhangs, reduced panel gaps and some clever detailing, which, especially on the 3door’s C pillar unashamedly echoes that of the 205, all add up to make the 208 an attractive little car.

Inside too, there are big improvements. Not only is the 208 lighter than the 207 it replaces, it’s roomier too, making it being better able to accommodate both driver and passengers alike. And, even if the rotary controls for the heating and air-con remind you of the 205, 305 and 309, overall the piano-black clad interior is a giant leap forward for small Peugeots both in terms of quality and attractiveness. The seats are a little on the narrow side, as is the footwell, the result being 208’s pedals are quite close together - wide boot wearers beware. Ultimately though the 208’s cabin is light years ahead of anything you’ll remember from Peugeot’s past.

However, there’s a problem, or at least an idiosyncrasy that defines the 208’s driving experience. I’m not talking about the slightly spongey brake pedal – you get used to that, or the surprisingly nippy 1.2 litre engine’s three-cylinder off-beat thrum. And neither am I referring to or the way in which the 208 irons out minor road imperfections in the way only a small French car can - that in fact is rather nice. No, it’s the position of the steering wheel and its size that leaves you wondering.

In order for you to see the beautifully clear Audi-esque dials (you even get red pointers) that sit atop the dashboard the 208 demands that its tiller sits in your lap. Move it up and, if you’re average height or a bit shorter like me, the steering wheel’s rim obscures the speedo, tacho and trip computer. It’s a good job all the other more minor controls are now handled by the large touch screen in the middle of the dash. You simply would see them any other way. Whether it’s just a quirk or it’s a black mark against the otherwise perfectly nice and surprisingly well handling 208 I can’t decide. It takes some getting used to though, that’s all I’m saying. Even Peugeot admit 20% of the perspective buyers won’t like it.

But before we write the 208 off as just another small French car for nipping around town in, consider this. At the Paris Motorshow this year Peugeot unveiled the 208GTi. It promises to be the car that those of us who remember the 205GTi have been waiting for for far too loan; a return to hot-hatch form Peugeot maybe?  It looks great and sounds very promising. I’m getting goosebumples already.

Peugeot 208 Active VTi  82

Engine:  1199cc 12V 3Cyl petrol
Transmission: 5 speed Manual, front wheel drive.
Power:  82bhp @5750pm
Torque: 87lbft @2750rpm
0-62MPH: 14.0Sec
Max Speed: 109mph
CO2: 104g/km
MPG: 62.8 combined
Price: £12,795

Many thanks to Peugeot’s UK press office for the loan of their 208

www.liam-bird.com

@bird_liam

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Liam Bird Liam Bird

I'm Liam Bird, a freelance Motoring Writer based in the South Shropshire Marches. I currently write car reviews and road tests for a number of regional lifestyle magazines and newspapers which are distributed throughout Cheshire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Worcestershire, most of Wales and beyond.

As a member of the Welsh Group of Motoring Writers I'm as happy behind the wheel of a super-mini as I am in the latest super-car. I have press accreditation with most of the major motor manufacturers, meaning that as well as always being on the look out for further commissions, I always have a number of cars arriving each month ready to review.

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