Petrol is the new diesel in small cars like Peugeot 208

FOR SEVERAL years now I have been banging on (are you listening at the back) about the merits of small capacity petrol engines, believing them to be much more capable of saving the planet than their diesel counterparts which motor companies have spent so much money marketing in recent years.

Of course the recent Volkswagen dieselgate scandal — which, by the way, is only just beginning to get into its stride — blew diesel power out of the water for many people who now find themselves completely unable to trust diesel anymore and VW diesels in particular.

There is, of course, a lot of over-reaction going on here, but in truth the writing has been on the wall for diesel as the be-all answer to economy and environmental friendliness.

Pretty much everyone is getting on the petrol bandwagon in recent years with Ford leading the pack and pretty much everyone else — Volkswagen included, believe it or not — following suit.

Indeed, it is worth noting that Formula One cars are currently powered by 1.6-litre petrol hybrid (hybrid, but not as we know it through Toyota Prius and the like) engines which are reputed to be producing somewhere just south of 1,000 bhp.

That just goes to illustrate where the technology is leading us right now that it is no surprise that in recent weeks there has been a rush by several companies — Volvo, most notably — to highlight the raft of new technologies it is developing, primarily along the petrol/electric axis. Indeed the launch in the past week of the new Nissan Leaf with an extended range is a further indication of the growing determination to move away from diesel technologies.

For some companies, this presents something of a dilemma. Toyota, for example, has on the one hand invested a lot of money bringing BMW diesel technology to power its Avensis range and there is little or no petrol availability across the model lineup and this might be difficult for them in the current climate.

On the other hand, Toyota has been almost the sole standard-bearer for hybrid technology and is thus set to reap a massive reward by being ready to cash in on the massive numbers of people that will be coming its way thanks to Volkswagen’s mega cock-up.

Away, however, from hybrid and electric solutions to our automotive emission woes, the re-emergence of the small capacity petrol engines — invariably turbocharged — as a potential answer is something which is gaining much credence among the buying public.

Aside from Ford, which scored such a winning PR coup thanks to its EcoBoost range of engines, ironically it has been the French, so long the pioneers of diesel technology, who are possibly closest to them in the development of these types of units.

And so it was that we got to try the latest Peugeot 208 which is fitted with the PSA Group’s latest small petrol ‘PureTech’ engine. Petrol has always had a fair share of 208 sales, but I am predicting that in the headlong rush away from diesel, that share is about to get much bigger.

It is a sad fact that innocent motorists have, for many years now, swallowed whole the guff given to them by motor companies and car salesmen that diesel was what they needed because of low CO2 figures and the fantastic consumption levels.

Yet, for a majority of people, diesel was probably the last thing they needed because diesel engines need a big workload to make them as efficient as possible. If they don’t get it, they don’t work as well as they should.

An awful lot of people don’t rack up the sort of mileage necessary to make diesel work properly for them and they should really be driving petrol cars. And it is a car such as this they should be in.

The 208, of course, competes in the wildly competitive supermini segment and while it might not trouble the class leaders in sales volume terms, it remains a strong and viable contender and this excellent engine can only, in my view, propel it closer to them as more and more people discover the wisdom of this one litre wonder.

Characterised by the singular thrum unique to the three cylinder design, this is a buzzy and very willing unit. At 1.2 litres in size it produces 110 bhp, will hit a top speed of 190 kph, do the 0-100 kph dash in 9.8 seconds, emit just 103 g/km and consume 4.3 litres per 100 km (65.1 mpg), all of which puts it up there with any comparable diesel.

It is the bottomlessness of the engine which most impressed me. You can really flog this thing and it simply buzzes along merrily. Flogging it, of course, will not do your consumption levels any good, but it is mighty fun. But that willingness makes this car/engine combo such a decent proposition for any urbanite who still has to get out into the country every now and then.

IT WILL buzz its way around town merrily, but out on the open road the lack of a fourth cylinder is more than made up for by turbocharging and you will have to smile at the manner with which it just keeps giving. It is a fine thing indeed.

it handles well too and the chassis is well able to cope with the verve offered by the powerplant. Grip levels are up to class leading levels and general handling is not bad either. Comfort levels, as you’d expect from the French, are well up to scratch.

While the 208 — tested in Allure trim, which means it has a lot of bells and whistles — comes as standard with a full suite of all the infotainment wizardry the yoof of today demands, so it will have broad appeal across the range.

One thing worth noting — and a surprising number of people stopped me to comment on it — was what Peugeot call the “textured” paint scheme which is really a deep matt finish which gives the car an extraordinary depth of character. The lime green personalisation elements sets off this most unusual colour and is wildly different from your more normal metallic options, even if it does cost some €600 extra — about €200 more than metallic.

The 208 is pretty much as good as anything it competes with in terms of providing for passengers and their luggage, so there is nothing really surprising there.

But this little petrol engine gives it a whole lot more personality and usefulness — not to mention potential efficiency — than any diesel. Indeed, it proves a point: petrol is definitely the new diesel — particularly in small cars.

COLLEY’S VERDICT

The Car: Peugeot 208.

The Cost: €20,410 as tested.

The Engine: A fantastic little petrol unit.

The Specification: The Allure trim tested left little wanting.

The Overall Verdict: Peugeot are on message here, big time.


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