Lion cub gets ready to roar

Business Day - Motor News - - FRONT PAGE - Mark Smyth smythm@mweb.co.za

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.

Pric­ing:

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, is one of the best in the busi­ness, there is still no nav­i­ga­tion un­til next year.

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