Europe on a budget
Peugeot plays the numbers game with cheap version of its baby hatch
THE numbers haven’t added up for the 208 until now.
The Peugeot hatch has been lumbered with too high a price and too old a drivetrain to come into serious calculation.
The launch of a facelifted model in October addressed both issues … but not in the same package.
The entry 208 is now $15,990, equalling the likes of the Suzuki Swift base model. Not bad for a European-built car and also $800 cheaper than a Renault Clio.
The bad news is that to hit that price the Pug has been stripped, losing the turbo from the 1.2-litre threecylinder engine powering the rest of the regular range, along with niceties such as powered rear windows and electrically folding door mirrors.
To get some spark into the drive, buyers need to ante up another $6000 for the Active model Carsguide tested, which brings a standard six-speed auto, the turbo engine and a little more gloss to the interior packaging.
Little stands out on the exterior of the Peugeot, though that is not necessarily a bad thing.
The wheels are pushed out to the corners of the car to maximise interior space and make it possible for three adults to sit in the rear for short periods.
That should compromise boot space but the Pug’s 311L job is bigger than in a Ford Fiesta or Volkswagen Polo.
It is not quite up to the Honda Jazz’s cargo carrying versatility but is better than average for the class.
There’s plenty of space up front as well and there needs to be: the small, low-slung steering wheel and the driver’s seat need to be precisely adjusted to avoid obscuring anything on the high-mounted instrument panel.
The principle behind this ergonomic anomaly is that the driver doesn’t have to glance down — and away from the road — to check speed or engine revs.
It’s a well-intentioned theory that doesn’t work well in practice.
The overall build quality can’t be faulted but some of the plastics low in the cabin still look and feel cheap.
The lack of a standard reversing camera doesn’t do Peugeot any favours.
It can be had for $300 but it is increasingly becoming an expected safety feature even in small hatches.
Having to pay $1500 for satnav only bolsters the case to use a mobile phone holder and let Google or Siri sort out the route.
Equipment apart, as an urban runabout the 208 works well enough. In turbo form, the 1.2-litre triple belies its modest capacity by willingly hauling the 208 up to urban speeds.
It isn’t the quickest in the light-car class but it doesn’t disgrace itself, either.
Auto stop-start and a new six-speed automatic transmission pare fuel use to a claimed 4.5L/100km — expect to see up to 7.0L in peak-hour traffic.
The suspension is heavier than a typical Asian light hatch. That has the effect of keeping the 208 composed over minor ripples in the road but it can jar on sharp-edged potholes or speed humps.
ON THE ROAD
The three-cylinder is sufficiently boisterous for the 208 to sing with the best of them but the vague steering feel doesn’t encourage taking the hatch on a high-tempo dance through favourite curves, despite the fact the turning ratio approaches go-kart directness.
The lack of front-end precision is exaggerated by body roll and pitching under brakes.
Neither is terrible but they detract from what could otherwise be a sporty drive.
The engine’s willingness to rev isn’t reflected on the speedo, with a 100km/h sprint time of 10.9 seconds. Tall gearing is the major culprit here and is the price paid to achieve that frugal fuel rating.
Driven less enthusiastically, the Pug is a composed and quiet car with the interior space and ambience to be a decent daily driver.
A great new engine is let down by a chassis that can’t match the best in class for driving feedback and a driving position some won’t be able to reconcile.
At $22K, the 208 Active encounters top-end rivals from Honda to Toyota.
The numbers don’t quite add up in a segment where value for money is the key denominator.
3962mm (L), 1739mm (W), 1460mm (H), 2538mm (WB) 1070kg Full-size