Peugeot 208: 1.6-litre diesel

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Steve Sharpe test drives the latest version of Peugeot’s ever-popular 2 series

PEUGEOT’S 2-0 series of superminis have been around since the year of the stock market collapse – the first one, in 1929.

The 201 was revealed in the Paris Motor Show as the result of a project “to create the most economical car in the world that could transport four people in comfort” and it went on to be the French company’s first really successful large-size model.

The 202 was introduced in 1938, the 203 10 years later and in 1965 the 204 came along, followed by the 205 in 1983

In later years the updates appeared at shorter intervals, with the 206 in 1998, the 207 in 2006 and now the new 208 in 2012.

Superminis are always popular cars due to their manageable size and affordable prices, and many a young driver’s first foray onto the road would be behind the wheel of a Peugeot hatchback.

And this 208 is undoubtedly aimed at a young driver. Small and perfectly formed, it’s a sleek, funky little hatchback. The front end has been given a feline appearance, with wraparound headlights and LED daytime running lights snakeing back along the wings, and the lines along the flanks are smooth and uninterrupted.

The rear end, too, is slick and sculpted, with smart curved rear light clusters and a curved rear hatchback door.

Slip inside, however, and you’re instantly hit by the wow factor. It really is a beautifully laid out cabin.

Two gauges directly in front of the driver are surrounded by gleaming black plastic and the 7” touch-screen in the centre of the console, also framed in gleaming black, appears to float above the console.

The plastics of the dashboard are soft and cushioned and there’s a fluidity to the whole layout.

Primarily of a dark colour scheme, the upholstery is patterned in a dark and attractive abstract style.

The blue and white lighting scheme is also pleasing to the eye, and there are some nice modern touches too – the panoramic sunroof on my test car had subdued blue lighting running along the sides, giving a glow into the cabin even when the sunroof was closed. But one of the first things you notice is the size of the steering wheel. Peugeot have significantly reduced the diameter, and it’s the smallest wheel I’ve driven with.

Another oddity is the fact that the driving position is such that the gauges in front of the driver are visible above the steering wheel, rather than through it.

The position and the steering wheel are not going to be to everyone’s taste but I personally liked it a lot. The small steering wheel gives the 208 a go-kart feeling when cornering, and as I always drive with the steering wheel low it suits me perfectly.

The 208 is actually smaller than the outgoing 207(on average 114kg lighter, up to 173kg in some models and 7cm shorter in length and a centimetre lower) and the overhang at the front and the rear has been shortened. The result is that despite the reduction in size there is actually more room inside the cabin.

Legroom and headroom are fine for front seat passengers but things are a little tighter in the rear.

The boot is a decent size for a week’s shopping, too, and higher spec models have 60-40 split rear seats if you really need some more.

Peugeot say these changes have improved the car’s agility, handling and efficiency, and it’s true that the little hatchback is great fun to drive and easy to park.

Visibility is good all around which, added to a tight turning circle, makes it a doddle to park and manoeuvre in and out of town.

The small steering wheel only adds to the go-kart like feeling in the car when you venture out onto twisty roads.

The 208 is a great little car to drive hard. The steering is light and makes handling the little car a joy. Grip is good around bends and the wheel-at-each-corner layout means body roll is well behaved.

There are numerous engines throughout the range, from the entry-level 1litre petrol through to the 1.6 at the top of the range.

I drove the 1.6 diesel, which was nippy off the mark and has good acceleration right through the gears, which are precise and well-spaced.

Keeping the revs high provides a really enjoyable ride.

At motorway speeds there is a fair amount of wind noise coming through although, considering the high winds we’ve had on Wearside recently, that’s not surprising, and there’s a bit of road coming through the wheels, too.

But the engine is nice and quiet, with a subtle rasp while accelerating. The ride, however, is a little rough over harsher surfaces. But it’s a pleasure to drive wherever you head for.

The big hitters in the supermini segment are the Fiesta, the Corsa, Polo and Mini, and the 208 is going to have to be on top of its game to topple perennial favourites like these.

But great looks inside and out aside, the car that replaces the tired 207 has a lot more going for it.

Impressive fuel figures feature across the range, but the 1.6 e-HDi diesel version I drove will cover nearly 75 miles a gallon, and is exempt from road tax due to low emissions.

The entry-level model comes in at less than 10 grand but the top of the range limited edition version is not far off double that.

Entry-level cars have remote locking, a CD player and cruise controls, while Access+ cars add air-con.

Active versions add alloys, Bluetooth and the seven-inch touch-screen, and Allure cars get climate control and automatic lights and wipers. My Feline version has sportier styling inside and out, bucket-style racing seats.

Surprisingly, the higher-spec versions of the 208 don’t have a CD player, relying on plug in MP3 units or streamed from your phone. It may well be the future if CDs are to become obsolete but it meant a lot of fussing with MP3 players when on the move.

The 208 is a really modern car and is going to appeal to young drivers. You can even download aps to connect to the touch screen, highlighting local restaurants and garages etc. The Fiesta and Golf are still the market leaders in the supermini segment but with the looks and fun factor, the 208 is not far behind.

Peugeot 208

Engine: 1.6-litre diesel

Transmission: six-speed manual

0-60: 10.8 seconds

Top speed: 118mph

Economy: 73.4mpg

Price: £17.845