French al­lure, city chic

Eu­ro­peans sharpen their cars for ex­port as home sales dive. NEIL DOWLING finds that Aus­tralians are the win­ners

NT News - Motoring - - CARS GUIDE -

THE jaded city-car mar­ket gets a French makeover that is as re­fresh­ing as an early-morn­ing choco­late crois­sant.

Peu­geot’s baby hatch 208 is cute, ca­pa­ble, com­fort­able and af­ford­able and even though per­for­mance is weak and has a few cabin nig­gles, is def­i­nitely a light­car en­trant you must con­sider. The pretty re­place­ment for the driv­ing de­light — but own­er­ship headache — of the 207 is roomier, bet­ter equipped, cheaper, safer and prom­ises to be bet­ter built. VALUE:

In its class, it’s well priced. The Al­lure four-door hatch tested here is $21,990 as a man­ual and that matches up nicely with sim­i­larly equipped ri­vals such as the ex­cel­lent Hyundai Ac­cent and Ford Fi­esta. Euro ri­vals can cost more.

Mini buy­ers may cringe at shar­ing the same engine and per­for­mance with this 208, es­pe­cially as the Mini is $10,000 dearer. Peu­geot matches most ri­vals with its own capped-price ser­vic­ing at $810 for three years, al­though there are in­ter­me­di­ary no-cost ser­vice vis­its. The 208 Al­lure gets Blue­tooth and a six-speaker au­dio with iPod/USB con­nec­tiv­ity, a neat cen­tral touch screen, cruise con­trol, dual-zone cli­mate air­con and even a cooled glovebox. DE­SIGN:

Love it. The de­sign is fresh, clearly Euro­pean and its lines clev­erly shrink the car. De­spite this, it’s as big in­side as many ri­vals — though Yaris has more room — and Peu­geot wins coun­try buy­ers with a full­size spare wheel. Dash de­sign is dom­i­nated by the cen­tral touch screen which is in­tu­itive and easy to view. Gauges are mounted in a high bin­na­cle which is viewed over the steer­ing wheel rim. It places the steer­ing wheel low to give a sporty driv­ing po­si­tion, yet the di­als are clearly vis­i­ble. But the ven­ti­la­tion out­lets are small and air­flow re­lies heav­ily on the fan while the French trans­la­tion from left-drive to right-drive leaves us with small, awk­wardly placed ped­als more ac­cept­ing of size-8 shoes than size-10. TECH­NOL­OGY:

Peu­geot’s par­ent com- pany PSA makes the 88kW/ 160Nm 1.6-litre four­cylin­der unit for its fam­ily and also sells to BMW-Mini. There’s also a turbo ver­sion for the 208GTI. De­spite the 208 Al­lure’s con­tem­po­rary tech­nol­ogy, it has a fo­cus on fuel econ­omy and low emis­sions so while it ticks th­ese boxes, it loses in per­for­mance. Other oily bits are stan­dard fare. But the use of a large touch-screen placed at the cen­tre of the dash pre­views fu­ture tablet tech­nol­ogy that will be por­ta­ble. For now the 208 screen is su­perb in its easy of use. SAFETY:

The 208 meets the tar­get mar­ket with a five-star crash rat­ing and six airbags with all the elec­tronic aids. In ad­di­tion, the Al­lure tested has rear park sen­sors, a full-size spare wheel, auto head­lights and wipers, LED day­time run­ning lights,

Peu­geot’s baby hatch 208 is cute, com­fort­able, ca­pa­ble and af­ford­able

LED tail lights and brake emer­gency light­ing (flash­ing haz­ards and brake lights un­der hard brak­ing). DRIV­ING: It’s a bit like try­ing on a pair of Ital­ian shoes that you just ‘‘must have’’— they feel a bit small and nar­row but you still wear them. The 208 is roomy though still a light-size car. The high in­stru­ment panel looks odd but works very well, with the low steer­ing wheel and com­pact footwell mak- ing it like a go-kart. That en­hances han­dling and re­veals the car’s cor­ner­ing com­pe­tency. It’s a fun car that can be thrown around with con­fi­dence. But the rigid­ity of the han­dling and the limpet-grip of the sus­pen­sion are too good for the engine that lacks low-down grunt. It has a set of ac­com­mo­dat­ing gear ra­tios op­er­ated by a rub­bery lever. Six cogs would bet­ter suit this engine than the to­ken five of­fered here. Ride com­fort is good. The seats are nar­row but the cush­ions are soft, so much of any low-speed ride firm­ness is soft­ened. The rear seat fits two adults with rea­son­able leg and head­room while the boot is gen­er­ous given it hides a full-size spare wheel. VER­DICT:

One to check out. No­tice­ably im­prov­ing Peu­geot qual­ity and fea­tures at an af­ford­able price in a very at­trac­tive-look­ing car.

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