Peugeot on the money with 208

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The 208 is different in appearance from its predecessor. Photos supplied

Maybe this should be known as "defied" logic: Peugeot's 207 has patently been past its prime since 2010, yet you would never twig to this by looking at its sales run.

This year has been a petite boom time for the French brand's baby hatch, with 239 sales in the year to date. Its monthly averages for 2012 are well above those for 2009 and 2010; almost on par, in fact, with the 207's very best year of sale, 2007.

For a car whose age is exposed by newer rivals, this is, well, unexpected. Peugeot New Zealand divisional manager Simon Rose explains that last year's price drop and spec rise reinvigorated interest.

If the 207's price seemed "right" for what was on offer, then the replacement 208 will seem even better. It pretty much picks up from where the old car left off dollar-wise, with four editions sitting in a price band that starts at $23,990 and tops at $6000 higher.

This, the funkier styling, a further lift in equipment, the return of a three-door alternative to the standard five-door shape and an expectation that small-car sales are going to rise further in 2013 has fired the confidence of Peugeot's Kiwi importer. Next year's target of 550 registrations is huge;
better than the 207 ever achieved.

Moreover, up to 80% of buyers will not be current 207 owners, they predict.

The plan is to target young, predominantly female, style-driven and perhaps first-time buyers of a new car; a change of pace from the 207, which mainly went to older customers.

For all the positives that play out for the 208, Rose concedes the scenario could be better still.

For instance, he would dearly love to have a diesel (Europe has four), but road user charges are the killer. At least the entry-level 1.2 petrol manual is virtually as thrifty.

What about the three 1.6-litre variants continuing with the old car's four-stage automatic when most rivals have gone to more advanced transmissions - automated manuals, CVTs, or at least other orthodox autos with more gears?

Well, yes, Rose says, if a better gearbox were available, they'd have taken it.

The engine and platform are also entering their second cycle, but on the strength of an all-too-brief drive, I'd suggest their shortcomings are less obvious than the transmission's.

Sorry, but a gearbox that felt outpaced before seems even older now.

The 1.6's performance is decent, though it needs some revving to be described as brisk. I'm told the 1.2, Peugeot's first three-cylinder, is more vivacious in sound and attitude. I'd like to have confirmed this, but others at the car's launch got to the keys first.

This triple makes the car 105kg lighter than the 1.6, which apparently is beneficial to agility. But it's here in five-speed manual only, a factor that will probably make it the least popular edition in our auto-centric market.

As should be obvious, the entire body is new, and despite the exterior dimensions being truncated, the new 208 is roomier inside (especially in the rear) than the 207 and certainly better furnished and finished. Some cheap plastics remain, but at least those horrible elephant-skin textures have been banished.

Surely meeting youth tastes is the centrepiece of the new dash, a seven-inch central touchscreen that matches far more expensive fare in high-end prestige cars and has the same kind of colour graphics as the popular personal electronic devices it is designed to integrate with. As well as "infotainment" features, it also accesses trip computer functions that are replicated on the dash, plus some individualisation options.

The display will also accept sat nav, which has already been priced as a $995 option although the mapping software might not be ready until next year and the car requires hardware that is not at present fitted.

Other talking points are the absence of a CD player (old hat, apparently) and the steering-wheel placement, unusually low-set supposedly because it's safer and gives unimpeded view of the high-placed main instruments. The wheel's small size and thick rim also lend a kart-like air, but it's odd having it in your lap. The wheel can be raised, but then all you see is the very top of the dials and half of the digital speedo.

The base Active specification covers the 1.2 manual and an entry-level 1.6 auto, and covers the full gamut of active and passive safety equipment, including six airbags, electrics, Bluetooth, air conditioning, a trip computer and 15-inch steel rims (these can be replaced by 16-inch alloys for $1000).

The alternative is the Allure, in three and five-door, adding cruise with speed limiter function, fog lamps, auto wipers and lights, climate air, LED running lights and chrome. Sat nav and a $1500 sunroof are optional. The five-door is on 16-inch alloys, the three-door on 17s.



Peugeot on the money with 208
At a Glance


Price: $23,990 (1.2 Active manual) to $29,990 (Allure 1.6 auto).

Engines: 1199cc DOHC three-cylinder petrol, maximum power 60kW@6000rpm; maximum torque 118Nm@2750rpm; 1598cc DOHC four-cylinder petrol, maximum power 88kW@6000rpm; maximum torque 160Nm@4250rpm.

Transmissions: Five-speed manual (1.2), four-stage auto (1.6).

Brakes and stability systems: Disc brakes, ABS, EBD, EBA, ESP, DSC.

Wheels, tyres: 1.2, 15-inch 185/65; 1.6, 195/55.

Fuel and economy: (1.2/1.6) 4.5/6.7 litres per 100km on EU combined cycle, capacity 50 litres.

Dimensions: Length 3965mm, width 1739mm, height 1460mm.