French get fair dinkum
At last, Peugeot furnishes a genuine alternative to the usual suspects
EUROPEAN small cars— once quirky, expensive or fragile— are finding favour.
Unprecedented pricing, improved quality and generous features are putting chic badges in driveways at the expense of the usual Asian players.
As Peugeot showed this week with the launch of its 208 small hatch at $18,490 and Volkswagen with its sub
$14,000 Up, the Euros are hitting hard on the back of a strong Aussie dollar that makes imported cars very affordable.
Though not the cheapest in the light-car class, the 208 starts at $18,490 for the peppy 1.2-litre Active five-door manual. An auto is $1500 more. Pay from $21,990 for the 1.6-litre Allure five-door manual.
Then step up in equipment and performance to the son-of-GTI, the Allure Sport (threedoor only) at $26,490, which includes panoramic roof, mood lighting and weeny steering wheel. The top-line Allure Premium is also $26,490.
Cabin design is pretty much standard across the range— including 7-inch touchscreen — as is five-star safety, making the base Active very good value.
Capped price service— at $270 for each annual service — ices the French pastry.
Though an all-new model, there’s a lot of the outgoing 207 in the 208’s profile and skeleton. The newbie is shorter and significantly lighter but it’s much roomier. It’s also better built.
Some design language is interesting— the claw marks that stripe the LED tail-lights cutely reference Peugeot’s lion logo. Stretched headlights include LED running lights in some models. The grille is slatted or honeycombed, depending on the model, and keen-eyed Pug-ophiles note that the three and five-door 208 models have no common body panels.
Steel wheels (15-inch) identify the lower-spec version — and look closely for the rear drum brakes— while alloys of 16 and 17 inches fit the upperspec models, leaving the 18s to next year’s GTi.
Inside is even better. The small-diameter steering wheel (flat-bottomed on the Allure Sport) is under the driver’s eyelevel view of the slim instrument binnacle that sits on top of the dashboard.
Unusual, yet makes it easy for the driver to flick between the gauges and the road ahead. The intuitive touchscreen is a beauty, working like an iPad, but Peugeot has yet to confirm it will take satnav.
Cabin room is damn good for a car less than 4m long. I’m 177cm and had plenty of legroom in the rear of the three and five-door. Only the threedoor’s sloping roofline touched my greying locks.
The three-cylinder 1.2-litre petrol engine overshadows Peugeot’s delightful 1.6-litre turbo petrol— the one it also sells to BMW/Mini— for its willing performance, scant thirst and surprising smoothness.
There are five and six- speed manual transmissions and four and five-speed autos — the latter a manual with an electrically operated clutch and only fitted to the 1.2. No autos were on hand for the 208’s launch, so we’ll catch them later.
Electric steering, conventional yet precisely made suspension, four-wheel disc brakes (except the 1.2) and a very taut body are features.
Cutting the weight and making the body slippery to save fuel is done by using a lot of high-tensile steel and some alloy parts. Average weight loss across the range is 114kg.
The 208 gets a five-star crash rating in the latest, upgraded
Euro NCAP testing. It also picks up extra elephant stamps for pedestrian safety (it has things like a collapsible plastic front grille structure). All models get six airbags, stability and traction control, brake assist and so on. There’s even a full-size spare wheel.
Three models— 1.2, 1.6 Allure five-door and 1.6 Allure Sport three-door— were taken through the mountains behind Sanctuary Cove.
Pity was, I started with the Sport. This is a quick machine and sets the pace for the hotter GTI due mid next year. The Sport gets a six-speed manual box, big 17-inch alloys and creature comforts such as the small steering wheels, part-leather upholstery and large panoramic glass roof with blue-light edging for a real Moody Blue experience.
It feels too firm through the carpark and I fear a harsh ride. But no— the suspension is set up so well for compliant compression and quick rebound so the Kabul-standard roads around the Gold Coast hinterland rarely upset the Sport’s mid-corner demeanour or unsettle the occupants.
I loved the sharpness of the steering, an improvement on the 207 and a reflection that all electric-assist steering boxes are not the same. But best was the torque from that engine and its velvet-glove mid-range punch.
The normally aspirated 1.6 — same engine, delete turbo— was a lot of fun but paled against the Sport. Though the five cogs worked in hand with the engine’s delivery, the less robust low-end torque meant stoking the fire to 3000rpmplus for any driving joy. That’s not a problem— in fact this is the same hallmark of the longlost 205 that embodied Peugeot’s soul before the accountants took hold— but you just need the nerve and a quiet road to exploit its ability.
The ride characteristics are the same as the Sport— ie, great— and same goes for the steering. But the three-cylinder is the jewel for those who love the art of driving.
You can’t slack off with the 1.2 because when you push it, it delivers acres of smiles but demands more attention. The engine is shy of low-speed torque so likes a rev but there are only five cogs to play with. In its favour, it runs smoothly to 6000rpm and is still pumping.
The gearshift is a bit rubbery — and may continue down the path to plasticine as the car ages— but the ratios slip through a light clutch with ease. Again, the taut body, firm suspension and sharp steering rack help give the 208 its gokart feel. Fuel economy is pretty good. The 1.6 delivered 7.2L/100km, the Sport 7.5L and the 1.2 was 5.5L despite the hills and the heavy foot.
The strong Aussie dollar, a kick in the rear from customers demanding better quality and the global move to fuel efficiency gel perfectly in this car. It puts Peugeot back on the map as a serious rival to Asian small cars.
Language of design: ‘‘Claw marks’’ on the LED tail-lights are a cute reference to Peugeot’s lion logo
Back on the map: Peugeot is once again a serious rival to Asian small cars