Australia’s cheapest Peugeot in more than 30 years takes the fight to European rivals
I NEVER thought I would see the day when a Peugeot would be priced sharply enough to complete in Australia with the Japanese and South Korean tiddlers.
But Paris has finally got the message and the result is the company’s cheapest challenger in Australia in more than 30 years.
The 208 hatch has a showroom sticker of just $15,990, right in the heartland occupied by the Asian brands.
As a price fighter, the base Peugeot has a 1.2-litre engine, five-speed manual gearbox and no sign of a reversing camera. There is also an $18,990 automatic with a turbo engine (81kW/205Nm).
Peugeot adds a reversing camera at just $300 and on some models there is a $500 safety pack with the camera and active city braking.
After driving and enjoying the latest 308 earlier this year, with a similar three-cylinder eco engine under the bonnet, I’m looking forward to trying the latest 208.
Peugeot makes some impressive claims on the update work, which brings a mild styling tweak, powerplants that satisfy the toughest Euro6 emissions regulations, a muchneeded six-speed Aisin automatic gearbox and optional matt paint (first seen on the GTi version).
“This puts us on the radar for small-car buyers. We were always over the $20,000 psychological barrier,” says Peugeot spokesman Tyson Bowen.
“We could have had a fourspeed auto but we knew the sixspeed auto was a must. And it’s the cheapest Peugeot for at least 30 years.”
That probably tracks back to the 205, which was a real fun runner despite a flimsy cabin and compromises on the likes of power steering and airconditioning.
I was hoping to trial the $15,990 starter car but the 208 Allure that arrives to tussle for a Tick has the same mechanical package as the $18,990 model and the price is not outrageous at $25,990 including a sunroof, 17-inch alloys and the camera-AEB safety gear.
In the past it probably would have been the starting price for the Peugeot, with nothing like the same equipment.
The 208 looks French and feels European, inviting comparisons with the Volkswagen Polo from my partner. We have to look hard for the changes to the grille and lamps but she likes the overall ambience and the quality look and feel in the cabin.
My biggest complaint, and it applies to every Peugeot in the line-up today, is the driving position. When I lower the driver’s seat to my preferred position the steering wheel obscures more than half of the dashboard, including the speedo and tacho.
Peugeot insists it is providing a driver-focused layout but all the good drivers I know, and I’ve put a few into a Peugeot, complain about the ergonomics ( just as we’re still not happy with the gear selector lever in many Mercedes-Benzes because it’s too easy to confuse with the turn signal).
Moving on, I’m impressed with almost everything about the 1.2-litre turbo triple. It has genuine oomph, is very light on the bowser and makes the car light and easy to handle.
The six-speed auto is also slick, encouraging me to go for manual shifts on my favourite driving road, with gearing that makes highway cruising comfortable and quiet.
But, I’m not so happy with the stop-start tech. It works well enough, it’s saving fuel and helping emissions but the test car has a slight stammer as it’s slowing that I can only put down to the stop-start.
It’s a minor glitch but I know it would annoy me as much as I enjoy the heartbeat of the little triple under full throttle.
The rest of the 208 package is familiar, not just from previous drives but also from the feel and finish of the larger 308, which is one of my surprise favourites of 2015. The steering feels great and the brakes are powerful.
The seats are great, supple yet supportive, and there is reasonable space in the rear and boot. It’s not great for legroom, even for my six-year-old codriver in his booster, but it’s what I expect for the class.
It’s also good to find a fullsize spare and I like the sixspeaker audio and the large infotainment screen. The reversing camera can be a little slow to kick into action and, thankfully, I get no chance to test the auto braking.
It’s a given that the sub$20,000 cars will be more austere, even missing electric mirrors and rear electric windows as do some of their rivals, but the basics are good and will be appreciated by people who are prepared to punt on the new Peugeot.
But, if you’re looking at the base model, please find a little extra for the safety stuff.
My week with the 208 passes quickly and happily, and I can’t say enough good things about the ride and handling. Hyundai and Kia are doing impressive work on Australian tuning for their suspension but Peugeot has always done brilliant basics for its suspension and that continues with the 208.
The updated version definitely reminds me of the 205 — which was such a star — and I’m hoping more people will put a Peugeot on their shopping list now. The price is finally right and it gets The Tick.