First up, the engines. There is an electric 208, known as the e-208, but alongside that there’s the more traditional internal combustion engined cars with both petrol and diesel motors. If you want a diesel there’s only one option, a 130PS (96kW) four-cylinder with an eight-speed automatic gearbox. Go for petrol and there’s a choice of a 75PS (55kW), 100PS (73kW) or 130PS (96kW) three-cylinder, the first available with a five speed-manual only, the second a six-speed manual or an eight-speed auto, and the latter the auto only. We went for the most powerful 130PS petrol.
If you enjoy a three-cylinder thrum then you’re in luck because that’s exactly what you get in the 208. No, a buzzy, eager little engine doesn’t make you go any quicker, but it’s good fun all the same. The petrol is a little down on torque compared to the diesel, by 20Nm at 230Nm (170lb ft), but because it weighs less and the petrol engine is a little more keen, with the exception of the e-208, it’s the nippiest 208 around. Bury your foot to the floor from a standstill and you’ll hit 62mph in 8.9 seconds on your way to 129mph.
The gearbox? Well this is a curious one. It’s smooth and seems to make sensible decisions 95 per cent of the time left to its own devices. Only when you start using the paddles behind the steering wheel does it feel a little dim-witted; opt for manual mode with an ‘M’ on the gear selector and the ‘box will still change up when it wants to at the top end of the rev range, and if you change gear twice you can hear and feel two distinct and separate changes with a short pause in between. Overall, though, there’s nothing wrong with it, but why does a small car like this need it?
To drive this new 208 feels remarkably like the old one, thanks in no small part to the fact that the weight hasn’t shot up dramatically. The previous 208 was put on a pedestal because Peugeot had stripped out so much mass, the lightest weighing only 970kg, and the good news is this new car, in its featheriest, base-spec form, is only 10kg heavier. You can feel that out on the open road. What’s obvious from behind the wheel, too, is that the suspension feels a tad more refined and more controlled (you get the same set-up across the range, whether you’re in a basic Active Premium car or top-of-the-range GT Premium), although really put some stress through the chassis and you’ll get an awkward wobble or two from one of the wheels. There’s less road and wind noise, too, and although the steering is light (the Sport drive mode, compared to Eco and Normal brings more weight, as well as better throttle response) and communicates almost nothing (you feel more of the road through the seat and your behind than you do the steering wheel), it’s actually quite quick.
The driving position remains a minor irritation. Peugeot has stuck to the i-Cockpit philosophy (more on the interior in a moment), where the wheel is small and should therefore be positioned lower down so you look over it to see the instruments rather than through it. It’s fine, really – you do get used to it – but there remains a feeling of sitting on top of the car rather than in it.