Test Drive: Peugeot 208 1.6 VTi 120 hp image

The Peugeot brand has had a long string of great supermini offerings – even if their goal was not necessarily to achieve ultimate fame in the segment – such as the now iconic 206 and legendary 205.

The Peugeot 208 has no intention to establish itself in the segment’s hall of fame – though the same can be said about the aforementioned models – and yet those two models are instantly recognizable across Europe if you ask anyone. We won’t know if the 208 will stand in the rankings together with those two until more years have passed, but before that we can see the 208 doing some justice to Peugeot fans – it manages to surpass the tepid 207 iteration. We have the 208 – which is hardly new by today’s standards – already undergoing a midlife cycle refresh, recently presented during the 2015 edition of the Geneva International Motor Show. The model was presented back in 2012 during that edition of the Geneva event and has since introduced the company’s quirky but enjoyable dashboard that has the instrument cluster in an elevated position and the steering wheel smaller so the driver sees past it, not through it the relevant information.

Design, Interior and Gadgets
You might see the 208 as a familiar image by now, but it’s only because it was the forbearer of the company’s new design language – which has now encompassed (as new introductions or refreshes) almost all of the model range. So, we might judge the 208 a tad lighter for some stylistic slips – after all when it comes to design everyone has an opinion and the world is made up of vastly different people – meaning no one will be able to satisfy all. Judging the 208 in relation to its predecessors, I would be inclined to call it a direct and relevant successor to the best-selling 206, rather than a follower to the 207. Each design element – be it the front with the centered radiator grille that has finally stopped gaining more surface area, the side line or the back – has now been carefully integrated and improved when the French automaker (remember, it’s the second largest in Europe) presented larger siblings – such as the very successful 2008 crossover or the upscale 308 compact line.

The 208’s stylish, curvaceous lines will not be to everyone’s liking – and I’m inclined to suspect the company purposely designed the subcompact as a ladies’ car, leaving the 2008 to be the “unisex” choice. Don’t forget that back in 2012 and 2013, respectively, when the cars were introduced the small crossover segment was in its incipient faze and the carmaker was careful to spread the 208 and 2008 across the range to get rid of any sales cannibalization tendency (that has occurred, but it’s not 208’s fault, actually- it’s a general switch towards the small SUV-like models).

Inside, the 208 has enough space for five persons – if they embark on short trips – thanks to its length of almost four meters and a generous wheelbase of 2538 mm. Front seats on our test car were excellently designed with more lateral grip than anyone would expect in the segment. Back seats will be usable for longer trips if only two adults (or three smaller children) are using the available space – with knee and headspace only average. Less than spectacular is the trunk access, with the rear hatch door decidedly smallish at its lower end. Fortunately, once inside the luggage can find its space thanks to the 60/40 split rear bench.

Besides having the instrument cluster placed in an unusually elevated position and a steering wheel the size of an aftermarket racing piece, the 208 features a clean dashboard that puts front and center the infotainment system. The latter – while featuring touch controls – shows its age though and feels at times unresponsive and slow in usage patterns. The ergonomics are great thanks to the elevated instrument cluster – which helps the driver spend less time when checking them, but the counterintuitive infotainment controls will need a period of adjustment.

Engine, Transmission and Handling
Before the 208 GTi came to be with the 30th Anniversary Edition (after the refreshed model starts selling it will become a more regular GTi variant), the 208’s 1.6 liter four-cylinder engine churning out 120 hp was the most powerful option – no matter if you chose the gasoline or HDi diesel option. We were bestowed with the first variant, the VTi version that delivers 120 hp and 160 Nm – enough to jump to 100 km/h in 9,9 seconds and reach a top speed of 190 km/h. There’s a catch though – unless you’re a die hard fan of gasoline engines you would be better off choosing the diesel variants. You could easily go for the 1.6 BlueHDi version that again delivers 120 hp, but with 300 Nm, cutting the 0-100 km/h sprint to 9,4 seconds and reaching the same top speed – 190 km/h. It would set you back more euros when purchasing it, but you get better performance and a lower fuel consumption: the VTi needs on average 5,6 l/100km and the BlueHDi will make due with 3,6 liters per 100 km (official figures, naturally real world consumption is higher – we had a 7 l/100 km average during our test drive). Or, if you’re more careful with your acquisition budget you could choose the 1.6 e-HDi, which is cheaper than the BlueHDI and has the added benefit of a start/stop system that will make a huge difference if you usually use the car for urban commutes.

That said, the 120 hp VTi has its quirks and flaws, which further deepened my conviction that French automakers have long been focusing on their diesel powertrains more than gasoline iterations. First of all, mated to a five-speed gearbox the engine will not be able to play its 120 hp because of gear ratios – too long in the second and third and way too short in the final one. That means nimble accelerations in the city are penalized and on the highway at 120-130 km/h you’ll want to switch to an interstate route and drive at 90 – 100 km/h. That’s because both fuel consumption and noise go up together with the rev counter to make you believe this 208 version was only tested in urban scenarios. Also – even if the powertrain setup would have allowed for quick getaways on a windy road, the steering and gear indexing smoothness (or lack of it) makes you quickly return to some relaxed driving feelings. Overall comfort is good thanks to the suspension setup that is geared towards ensuring safety and linearity – so again any dreams of passionate driving must be relegated to the GTi version.

Likes/Dislikes
Pro: interior space makes you forget you’re in a supermini on most occasions, especially if just four persons are on board. The suspension setup assures a comfortable ride and invites to scenery-admiring trips. The front seats are great: both comfortable on long hauls and with increased lumbar support.
Against: the powertrain setup has a rather nimble 120 hp engine mated to a passion-killing five-speed gearbox. Fuel consumption would be better if the Peugeot engineers opted to generalize the start/stop system.

Engine: 1,598 cc gasoline, indirect injection, 4 cylinder
Power: 120 HP (88 kW) at 6,000 rpm
Torque: 160 Nm at 4,250 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed manual

Dimensions: length – 3962 mm, width – 1739 mm, height – 1460 mm, wheelbase – 2538 mm
Weight: 1165 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 50L
Trunk Capacity: 285L / 1076L

0 – 100 km/h: 9,9s
Top Speed: 190 km/h
Fuel consumption: urban – 7,4L/100 km, highway – 4,5L/100 km, average – 5,6L/100 km

Rating:
3.1/ 5