French allure, city chic
Europeans sharpen their cars for export as home sales dive. NEIL DOWLING finds that Australians are the winners
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.