Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Fire up the... Peugeot 208

PEUGEOT'S back on the ball, if the new 208 is anything to go by.

The French firm's built up a fine reputation for building feisty hatchbacks with a sense of fun - as anyone familiar with the 205, 306 and 106 will surely testify - but to my mind at least the more recent models, particularly the 207, never really caught the imagination in the same way. Deep down, I reckon that's why Peugeot's pulled out all the stops to get it right with its latest supermini contender.

For starters, it looks good, with a sharply-sculpted shape and carefully chosen proportions which at a stroke render the old 207 a bit blobby and comparision. It's the same story on the inside too, with interior fabrics and plastics which owe plenty to its big brother, the 508 saloon. The main thing which strikes you is the unusual way the controls are laid out - you look over the steering wheel to see the dials, rather than through it - but it's as intuitive as it is innovative. Same story goes for the tablet-style computer sitting atop the centre console, although I suspect having an actual iPad dock there instead might have been a smarter move.

But the best thing about the 208 by far is the way it drives. You'd expect that the 1.6 Feline version I tried wouldn't be lacking in pace - at £16,895, it's holding the warm hatch fort until the eagerly-anticipated GTi version arrives - but where it really shines is in the fluidity of its handling and in its natural agility in the sort of low-speed urban darting in and around town.

For the past three years I've always argued the Fiesta is the best of the superminis but the 208 is now a better looking, more entertaining and technologically superior package to Ford's finest. After a couple of years in the hatchback wilderness, Peugeot's got its mojo back and produced one of the best cars I've driven all year.

Now all they need is for the 208 GTi to be an absolute belter.

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