One issue tends to dominate your thinking the first time you get into this 208 and drive off. Namely the smallest steering wheel you'll find this side of a supercar. A potential problem, you might think, given that in most vehicles, you view the instrument cluster through the wheel. Here though, you don't have to for the instrument pack has been moved to sit up above the wheel as it would do in, say, an MPV.
On the road, this car feels light on its feet thanks to a programme of weight-saving that has especially benefited entry-level variants equipped with the marque's clever three cylinder petrol engine. This powerplant may only be able to draw on either 68 or 82 braked horses, depending on whether you order it as a 1.0-litre or a 1.2, but that's still enough to throw the car up the road with some alacrity, rest to 60 in the 1.2 detaining you for only 12.2s.
On paper of course, the larger normally aspirated VTi petrol options - a 95bhp 1.4 and a 120bhp 1.6 — are quicker but in practice they don't feel it because the power you get isn't so accessible. Turbos must tame the engines elsewhere in the line-up, with hot hatch petrol people getting essentially the same BMW-sourced THP 1.6 you'll find in a MINI Cooper, giving up 156bhp in its standard form — or more still if your heart is set on the 208 GTi shopping rocket flagship.
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For this test though, I elected to focus on diesel power, choosing from an advanced HDi line-up virtually all of which features the brand's eco-friendly micro-hybrid e-HDi technology. At entry-level, there's a 68bhp 1.4-litre unit, but most sales will be of the 92bhp 1.6-litre variant I tried, also available with the rather jerky EGC automatic box or in slightly pokier 115bhp form.
Design and Build:
It's taken Peugeot some time to return to the simple, smart but effective design that characterises this 208 in both three and five-door forms. None of this though, properly prepares you for what you'll find inside when you slip behind the wheel. This cabin would be impressive were it to have been created by a premium brand but from a mainstream maker especially, dare I say, a French one, it's a hugely impressive effort that'll sell many 208s before potential buyers have even left the dealer forecourt on their test drive. Soft touch plastics, tactile switchgear, chrome highlights and almost faultless ergonomics show other supermini sellers how it should be done.
The two main talking points inside are the smallness of the steering wheel (over which you view the high-set instruments) and the colour touchscreen attached to the fascia that controls audio, trip computer and stereo functions and to which you can add a range of clever downloadable apps.
Despite the slightly more compact outward dimensions, there's a little more room on the back seat than the old 207 offered - and extra luggage space behind. Don't get me wrong, 285-litres isn't huge by supermini segment standards but it's a very usable space that can be extended to as much as 1,076-litres of you push forward the rear bench.
Market and Model:
You'll pay somewhere in the £10,000 to £18,000 bracket for most 208 derivatives, pricing that's pretty much par for the course in the supermini segment. There's a £600 premium to go from the three-door car to the five-door body style. If you're shopping at the bottom of the range, think carefully about paying the £1,300 premium to go from the entry-level 1.0-litre petrol model to the 1.2: that's quite a lot extra to pay for an extra 14bhp. Talking of premiums, the £2,000 extra necessary to go from the entry-level 68bhp 1.0-litre petrol variant to the comparably-performing 68bhp 1.4-litre HDi diesel is unlikely to pay for itself in terms of the running cost benefits
No matter which three or five-door 208 model you opt for - petrol-wise the excellent 1.0 or 1.2-litre three cylinder units or their 1.4 or 1.6-litre stablemates or for diesel drivers 1.4 or 1.6-litre HDi diesels - you'll find a competitive level of standard equipment included. Yes, you'd probably get more if you bought something from a budget brand but nevertheless, even the entry-level version of this car is decently kitted out with cruise control with a speed limiter to help you keep your licence in urban areas, a stereo with an AUX-in jack and wheel-mounted controls, remote central locking and electric front windows.
Trying to please too many people too much of the time is a sure-fire recipe for failure - or at the very least, a distinctly compromised and forgettable end-result. As Peugeot now knows, a bolder more innovative brand these days, the kind of maker you'd need to be to create a supermini as good as this 208.
There may be a few supermini buyers who don't like the cabin layout, want something better suited to cornering on its door handles or who might prefer the value proposition of a budget brand - but I'm guessing they'll be in the minority. Most will recognise that in this 208, Peugeot has brought us the supermini it was always capable of. A smart small car choice — in more ways than one.