Available in three- or five-door guise, the Peugeot 208 sits on the same wheelbase as the 207, with a developed MacPherson strut suspension at the front and a twist-beam system behind. Remarkably, the car is 70mm shorter than it predecessor (most of that length removed from the front overhang) and is 110kg lighter. The entry-level 1.0-litre Access three-door, powered by the smaller of two new three-cylinder engines - believed likely to cost from £9995 when prices are announced next month - weighs just 975kg, undercutting the lowest-powered 207 by a mighty 170kg, at great benefit to fuel consumption and CO2 output. Our test car was the top-end 115bhp turbodiesel, for the time being the only 208 to be equipped with stop-start, and with a standard six-speed gearbox, both oversights from the rest of the range in our opinion.
From outside, the 208 looks modern and pretty, and more of a ‘retail’ car than most thanks to its brightwork and svelte design. It is still easily recognisable as a Peugeot, though it has an all-new and much neater floating grille, new concave flanks and an aura of lightness and agility that always eluded the porky 207. The all-new interior design brings much higher standards of materials and manufacturing quality for a Peugeot, and introduces three intriguing new features, a smaller-diameter steering wheel, a fascia layout that requires you to look over the wheel at the instrument pack not through it as with most rivals, and a new touch screen (in 80 per cent of models) that is located high and within easy reach. It is an entirely different layout from previous Peugeots and all rivals.
It is obvious in your first few hundred metres of driving what impressive efforts Peugeot has put into matching the 208 with the best-driving cars in the market. The 115bhp diesel feels refined, long-legged and strong in the mid-ranges, and is especially good at fast motorway cruising. The ride is on the firm side and a shade noisy by Fiesta/Polo standards over the worst bumps, but our tests on the bad roads of Portugal seemed to show that the car will work well on the bad roads of Britain. The steering feels deliberate and accurate, though perhaps not quite as intuitive as the leading pair. Cornering grip levels are high; the 208 feels very stable and postpones final understeer until it is cornering extremely hard. The ESP, standard on every model, rarely intrudes. This an enjoyable, easy-driving car whose more petite dimensions are instantly obvious from the way it goes.
Faults? The new driving position, which forces everyone to look over the wheel, not through it, is likely to prove controversial. It doesn't suit everyone. The 115bhp engine seems a shade short on oomph at the top end. The five-door styling doesn't quite have the three-door's panache. Rear passengers may find headroom a little restricted, though knee-room is close to class-best. But in sum, the new 208 seems a good enough weapon for Peugeot to begin its quest to win back class domination.
Should I buy one?
Yes, probably. If you've liked Peugeot's superminis in the past, this one keeps the faith. If you loved the 205, but feel (as some Peugeot insiders admit on the quiet) that post-205 superminis lost their edge, this one is worth your attention because the edge is arguably back - accompanied by hitherto un-Gallic levels of quality. And even if you've always bought other superminis than Peugeots, you'll do well to consider this new 208 when it hits the UK market in June. In an immensely hard-fought sector, it most definitely competes hard.
Peugeot 208 1.6 e-HDI Allure
Price: £13,000 (est); Top speed: 118 mph; 0-62 mph: 10.8sec; Economy: 74.3 mpg; CO2: 99g/km; Kerb weight: 1090 kg; Engine, type: 4cyl in-line turbodiesel, 1560cc; Installation: Transverse front-wheel drive; Power: 115bhp at 3600rpm; Torque: 199lb ft at 1750 rpm; Gearbox: Six-speed manual; Fuel tank: 50 litres; Wheels: 16-inch, alloy; Tyres: 195/55 R16