Will Peugeot's latest 208 be a roaring success?

Andrew Eyley reviews and photographs the new 208

Peugeot have a problem – and it’s of their own making. Ever since their stunning 205 GTi of the 80s, which is arguably the best fun sports hatch ever made, they have never quite re-captured the magic. An adoring public, myself included, fell for the charms of the pretty sporting hatch. It even reached cult status in the hands of rally ace Louise Aitken Walker and was equally at home blasting down a twisting mountain section as it was doing the local supermarket run.

Will the latest 208 become the pride of the French fleet and prove a roaring sales success?

Due to looming deadlines and a lack of right hand drive cars in the UK, I was dispatched to Coventry’s Peugeot HQ where I was given just a 2 hour slot with a 1.6 eHDi Allure. Another journalist had been promised a test drive the same afternoon, so I plugged in my sat nav and immediately headed off into the city. Within seconds I was in busy traffic, where the tractable diesel engine delivered smooth instant power and the sensitive brakes brought me to an instant halt at an unexpected set of overhead traffic lights. But it’s the silky smooth 5 speed gearbox which impresses the most.

A report in the Daily Telegraph, just the day before, criticised the 208’s steering wheel position saying it obscured the high-set dashboard instrument. I had no problems whatsoever and thought the small, chunky, leather-clad wheel, complete with fingertip controls, a delight to hold. All controls fell perfectly to hand. But the clutch, brake and accelerator pedals were perhaps a little too close together.

After a few miles of frantic city driving, I head for open roads and a more relaxing time. I’m immediately impressed with the comfortable seat, and with the typical smooth French suspension. I start to appreciate the little Pug. All round visibility is excellent and on a sunny afternoon the spacious cabin of the 208 is a great place to be. I did, however, miss a sixth gear on my model.

Pulling over to take a closer look at things like the touch screen menu – which offers a wide range of media options including radio, sat nav, bespoke apps and Bluetooth phone connection, I realise that Peugeot have really upped their game on the quality front. The smart interior fixtures and fittings are exceptional for a car in this class. And despite being slightly smaller than the car it replaces, interior space has remained the same. There is slightly more boot space.

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I choose Radio 2 and Jeremy Vine and head back to HQ for a few more photos. On the way, I start to explore the handling. When pushed, there is slight body roll but speed humps aren’t a problem and feed-back through the steering wheel is good.

The 205 is a legend, the 206 was Peugeot’s best selling car ever, and the 207 was the UK’s fourth most popular super-mini. On first impressions, the 208 is a great car. In many ways it outshines its Fiesta and Kia rivals and is worthy of comparison with Audi’s A1 – high praise.

Starting at �9,995 for a 1.0-litre Access model and rising to �18,495 for a 1.6 VTi, the 208 range of 22 models is officially launched at the end of June. Both petrol and diesel, 3 and 5 door hatchbacks are available. Colleagues predict the 1.2-litre 3 cylinder petrol model to be the pick of the bunch.

UK motorists have always had a soft spot for small Peugeots due to their good looks, competitive price and reasonable running costs. The 208 has stepped up a league, and is certain to attract a new type of buyer, too.

A last look around the car before I hand back the keys doesn’t fail to impress. The exterior panel fit is superb, paint rich and deep, and with some of the best looking alloys I’ve seen for a long time, the car looked great. The sun shining on the marque’s shiny silver lion roaring proudly on the bonnet just added to the overall effect, but it’s the tactile nature of the upmarket interior that impresses me the most.

At the end of the day, there was just one question left to ask. But, predictably, a Peugeot spokesman would neither confirm nor deny that a rip-roaring 208 GTi was on the cards. If they do unleash the lion, then I’ll definitely be at the front of the queue. Visit www.208.peugeot.co.uk

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