Down the years there have been many generational cars – automobiles that have transcended accepted norms, perceived class parameters and their manufacturers’ expectations – by becoming part of our daily landscape.
Such icons – the Mini (the original one), the Golf (all of them) and, say, the Model T Ford – brought motoring to millions of people irrespective of their social status and each, in their own individual way, revolutionised the way we consumers thought about cars and how we use them.
Sure you can throw in all sorts of exotic stuff into this mix – the Ferrari 250 GTO, the Jaguar E-Type, the Bugatti Veyron, the Porsche 911 or even the much more humble Mazda MX-5 – but it was the likes of the Model T, the Mini and the Golf that revolutionised motoring for the masses. And, credit to Volkswagen, they had two of them as the Beetle was the precursor of the Golf and it wasn’t exactly shoddy on the popularity front.
Now I am not saying this week’s tester, the fantastic new Peugeot 208, is going to follow any of the above into the pantheon of the greats, but of its time – which is right now – the 208 is a beacon of light in an automotive world which is entranced more by shade and shadow than it is of creativity, fresh thinking and innovation.
We live in the era of the photocopy; our cars these days are designed by default to be the best possible reproduction of other people’s good ideas, with a little bit of stylistic trickery thrown in to make the facsimile seem different. Duplication and deception are the order of the day.
In a mass-market world – or it least it was until a few weeks ago when we were consumed by a virus that will have many, many massive implications for our lives going forward – it can be next to impossible to tell one product from another.
How many of us can readily identify a brand of television simply by looking at an unbranded one; or a washing machine; or, sad to say, a car. I am sure there are TV and washing machine columnists out there who could readily identify a Candy from a Hotpoint or a Panasonic from a Samsung and good for them.
A lot of non-motoring enthusiasts could not tell a Hyundai from a Ford (and not just because the South Korean brand is particularly good at borrowing styling cues from just about everyone else in the business), so that’s my job.
But I have to say that in these copy-cat days it can often be hard for non-experts to differentiate one from another.
Duplication has become an accepted norm – and not just in the motor industry. Originality is the hard part. The same applies to songwriting, a fact I was reappraised of in the wake of the sad death as a result of Covid-19 last week of Adam Schlesinger, the creative powerhouse behind The Fountains of Wayne and so many other musical ventures.
Schlesinger maintained that his writing was honed by sticking to the imperatives of the craft.
So too with making cars – and the Peugeot 208 is a very pertinent case in point. The supermini segment, in which this is a dazzling new addition – has been with us since Jehovah was a lad and pretty much every variation of the genre has been tried, mulched around, biffed about and innovated upon.
When you see a new one you are rarely taken aback. Invariably you can throw epithets such ‘gosh, that’s nice,’ or ‘my, my look what they did to the front of that one,’ but invariably the sameness of the product is its outstanding virtue. Not here.
Sure the Peugeot follows the rules – largely.
The general dimensions are in keeping with convention; engine sizes and outputs are pretty normal; ride and handling parameters are within accepted decrees. But when the new 208 hooves into view for the very first time, there is a definite sense of something new and, well, different.
Of course the supermini class is stuffed full of good stuff right now what such the perennial class leaders like the Fiesta and Polo, as well as upstarts like the SEAT Ibiza and regular midfielders such as the Yaris, Micra, i20, Rio, Mazda2 and the new Opel Corsa (which is related to the 208).
And then you’ve got something like the Renault Clio, a recent recipient of a rare five-star rating here at Examiner Motoring, which for the first time in yonks actually lived up to Renault’s claims about it.
Although very similar in appearance to the previous Clio, the new one stands out because it has been invested with a driving dynamism rarely seen outside of the Fiesta or Polo. It’s also bursting with tech.
Traditionally, the 208 (previously the 205, 206, 207 etc.) has been a solid midfielder.
Not anymore. Buoyed by the successes of such as the 3008, the 5008 and the 508, Peugeot is on a roll and the confident look, stunning lines, tech overload and general ‘voulez vous coucher avec moi ce soir’ vibe of the 208 illustrate this clearly.
If the exterior looks are hot, then the interior is mind-boggling; sure there are smoke and mirrors going on, but from the concave swathe of faux carbon fibre which characterises the dashboard, to the 3D instrumentation, the ‘piano key’ switchgear and the by now eponymous i-cockpit, this car stretches well beyond what is needed in a supermini – let alone expected.
Innovative, flash and very user-friendly, the 208 raises the bar like few others in the class have managed in eons. The 3D layout is neat, engaging and informative. Sure it is a little compromised by the tiny steering wheel, which has to be lowered to its lowest setting just to see all the 3D trickery, but it is still fresh and easy to adapt to.
Performance too is impressive. The power plant is a 1.2 litre three-pot petrol engine with 100 bhp (there are actually three variants of this – one less powerful, one moreso) and a six-speed ‘box.
Top speed is 190 kph and the 0-100 kph dash is done in 9.9 seconds. It will return 5.3 l/100 km (52.8 mpg) and emits 126 g/km for an annual tax bill of €180.
On the road it is a sprightly performer and while the ride is a little non-gallic in that it is on the stiffer end of the scale than you might imagine for a French car, the handling is actually redolent of the original 205 in that it is sure-footed and certain at all times and spirited when you ask it to be.
Sure you can pick holes in certain elements of the car’s character – limited rear legroom and a tad plasticky under the eye-line – but has so much going for it in the looks, sophistication and engineering departments, it is one of the best cars Peugeot has made in this class in years.
I would not quite go as far as to say this is one of the ‘generational’ cars mentioned at the outset, but in supermini terms it is very close to being revolutionary and more exciting to drive and live with than most. That being so, it joins the five-star brigade.
The Cost: From €18,300 - €23,595 in GT-Line trim as tested.
The Engine: Excellent three-pot petrol.
The Specification: Pretty hot.
The Overall Verdict: A game-changer for Peugeot.
Star Rating: *****