Lion cub gets ready to roar
Peugeot has high hopes for its new 208 range
PEUGEOT has a great history in SA and in Africa. Just think of the 504, which was built here, and how many of them are still toiling along our roads and the roads of our sub-Saharan neighbours. In recent years the company has faced a number of battles, some of which could be seen as being self inflicted or at least created by a rather lethargic dealer network.
Today all that has changed as Peugeot SA is now owned by the Parisian head office and vast sums of money have been poured into infrastructure and parts distribution. For some, the damage has already been done and their loyalty to the brand has long disappeared, but as the lion has gone through a major rejuvenation, it is seeing not only customers returning to the brand but many experiencing it for the first time.
As people seek more individuality rather than simply following the crowds by buying Toyota or Volkswagen, or even Hyundai and Kia, brands such as Peugeot, Citroen, Renault and others are able to present cars that are more unique in the market.
The 508 brought a new face for the brand and the RCZ offers something sporty with plenty of panache. Now the 208 has been launched and it is such an important car for the company that Peugeot SA brought in the international communications manager, Thomas Merchant, from the head office to present it.
“It is more than just a replacement for the 207,” he said. “It is a generational leap.”
He even referred to it as the true successor to the iconic 205 and with more than 15-million 2series models sold worldwide, the company is keen that the 208 allows it to regain its leadership in the B-segment. In SA this segment is up 11.2% year to date and accounts for 41% of the market, so you can understand the interest.
Merchant said that there were four main ideas in the project brief. First, it has to stand out, second it needs to have a strong personality, third it must bring people together and finally you should fall in love with the 208 at first sight. Essentially, the company made style more of a priority than it was with the 207 and this is clearly reflected in the both the external and internal design.
The new model is also about practicality and efficiency. According to Merchant, the average CO level across the entire range is down by 38g/km. This is helped by the e-HDI diesel model, which is still being tested for SA due to its particulate filter not quite being happy with our poor quality fuel.
In terms of practicality, the 208 is 7cm shorter than the 207 but
(The steering wheel) is tiny … but once I was accustomed to it then I felt like I was in a little race car
through clever interior design it has 5.2cm more rear legroom. It also has 15l more boot space and weighs in at 173kg lighter than the previous model. This has been partly achieved through the clever use of materials including a 100% recycled rear bumper.
It is only available as a 5-door, with the 3-door body style being reserved for the GTi version, which will come next year.
Then there is the interior, where the biggest changes have taken place. With the exception of the entry-level model, it now has what in my opinion is the best infotainment system in its class, courtesy of a touch screen interface that allows you access to a full range of entertainment.
The instrument cluster has been updated with a new digital trip computer and you still get all the usual multifunction buttons on the steering wheel that are simple and non-distracting.
While on the subject of the steering wheel, I have always criticised the brand for having a trucklike steering wheel that was big and awkward. Peugeot listened and has now gone the other way to a wheel that is not dissimilar in size to that in a go-kart. It is tiny and took some getting used to on the launch, but once I was accustomed to it I felt like I was in a little race car.
So is it racy? Well, until the diesel comes along there are two engine choices. The first is a 1.2 VTi with 60kW and 118Nm. It is a three cylinder unit like the one in the 107 and has an addictive burble that always reminds me of Boxer engines. On my drive around the West Coast it proved to be spritely on take off, only requiring a bit of effort for mid range overtaking. I really need to drive it at Joburg altitudes though, because I am sure it will suffer at altitude.
The other engine is a 1.6 with a more respectable 88kW and 160Nm. Not surprisingly, this one proved more fun when making full use of the superbly dynamic chassis while hustling through the narrow Bainskloof Pass.
Noise intrusion was good and the car proved to be nimbler than the more dumpy 207 it replaces and more comfortable too.
Peugeot MD Francis Harnie said: “With the new 208, Peugeot enters a new era.”
I am inclined to agree, but unlike when the 205 was a dominant force, the 208 has far more competition but the pricing is quite aggressive compared to rivals Fiesta, Yaris and Polo.
208 Access 1.2 R154,900 208 Active 1.2 R169,900 208 Allure 1.6 R189,900
PRIDE: The 208 sports the latest Peugeot face and looks very stylish, left. Top: Echoes of the old 207 remain in the rear. The interior, middle, is superb and the steering wheel has dramatically shrunk, but while the new touch screen interface, above,...