Peugeot recently found itself in the middle of a political storm in France when it announced it would be looking to shed as many as 8,000 jobs across its manufacturing footprint and was subsequently castigated by President François Hollande.
Subsequently a government report castigated Peugeot for poor management and for singularly failing to create the sort of co-operative projects with other manufacturers which have borne fruit for so many other car makers.
But the fact that the PSA Group, of which both Peugeot and Citroen form a large part, is privately owned means that the government of President Hollande is effectively hamstrung in terms of what it can do to prevent the company from doing as it wishes.
As was pointed out to me recently by a visiting Frenchman, the government is not really in a position to be telling anyone what to do.
But the fact remains that the broader European car manufacturing business is not in a good place right now. This was highlighted by Renault boss Carlos Goshn at last week’s Paris
Motor Show when he said he could easily envisage a situation whereby his company could no longer manufacture cars in its native country.
That’s a fairly grim picture for the European car industry. In reality, market conditions are changing so quickly, it is next to impossible to predict how things will pan out. The situation could be summed up by paraphrasing Dorothy’s line from The Wizard of Oz: “We’re not in Kansas any more, Toto.”
So, for these and so many other reasons, the success of the Peugeot 208 is imperative for PSA and it is vital that it establishes itself across Europe very quickly. To do so, the 208 finds itself up against the new Ford Fiesta, the VW Golf and other pretenders.
I tried the car recently and I have to say that while there were many elements which impressed greatly, one was left with the feeling that in some regards the car is not quite what Peugeot hoped it might be.
The good points are thus: the 208 is a really good looking car; the 1.2 litre engine is a strong point; the interior dimensions are better than its predecessor; it is a value purchasing option and running costs should be moderate at worse.
There is only really one main bad point — but a very significant one: the ride and handling are not as sharp as many rivals and this factor alone will impact on many potential purchasers.
The car I tested is one of the two petrol versions. There are 1.0 and 1.2 litre options, both of which are three-cylinder designs, and it was the latter I tried. I liked this 60 Kwan (82 bhp) unit, which has that attractive characteristic three-cylinder ‘thrum’ about it. It has bags of power available — certainly enough about it to make it a handy tool both around town and on the open road.
Performance figures show it to be capable of a top speed of 175kph and a 0-100kph time of 14 seconds, all of which is reasonable. On top of that it will return 4.5 l/100 km over the combined cycle — a generous 58.3mpg.
All good thus far. However, once you are motoring a few things grab the attention. Firstly, I found the clutch action to be too sharp in that there was only a limited gap between the clutch being engaged and disengaged. This, I know, is something that you will get used to, but I found it annoying.
Then, when you are out on the road, the handling is nowhere near as sharp as it might be. The steering is sharp and light, but loose body control means the 208 is not as tight when cornering as it might be. On top of that, the ride is very jittery, particularly over patchy surfaces.
Getting back to the positives, however, the people at Peugeot have really moved things along in terms of the perceived quality of the interior décor which, quite frankly, is up to the standards you would expect from upmarket German machines. The materials are very good to both look at and touch, and stuff like the sophisticated touchscreen and the chrome ringed dials add greatly to the feeling of wellbeing one gets when you sit into the car.
In five-door Active trim as tested, the 208 also stood up well to close scrutiny. Stuff like cruise control, remote central locking, 15” alloys, steering wheel mounted stereo controls, manual air con, and — believe it or not — a full-sized spare wheel, add greatly to the package.
So, the 208 is a hugely important car for Peugeot, but will it do the trick for them? Well, it will certainly sell in good numbers because it has enough about it in terms of low running costs and creature comforts. But will it compete with such as Fiesta and Polo? Only time will tell.