The South African narrative that goes along with a certain Peugeot model or the brand itself is one both the lion marque and parent company Stellantis are probably sick of hearing.
“Yes, they look good and you get a lot of features, but it is a Peugeot, so it will break down, cost a lot of money to repair, sit in the workshop for months due to parts issues and be worth nothing when you eventually sell it, blah blah blah”.
Leave the past in the past
In truth, these attributes have been traits of a brand once vested in local folklore for years, until the mid-1980 when the plug got pulled in protest against the political system of the time.
Relaunched in 2019, the Peugeot perception after years of toil and trouble was one that needed changing, aspects former Managing Director of then PCSA South Africa, Xavier Gobille, emphatically emphasised at the mentioned restructuring three years ago.
Come 2021 with the emergence of Stellantis, the already rolling ball of change gathered further momentum, with the long-awaited reveal of the second generation 208 Europe had been privy to since 2019.
However, soon after arriving for the weeklong stay, it quickly became apparent why it had become Stellantis’ best-selling model.
Aesthetically, there is little doubt as to which one of the trio stands-out the most.
More importantly, the 208 also dispenses with the cutesy pug-like look of its predecessor for a more aggressive design unlikely to fade into the segment background anytime soon.
Adopting an appearance similar to the disapproving look of a cobra, i.e., the angular headlights and flat, downwards sloping bonnet, the oversized grille with the new Peugeot lion logo and claw-like LED daytime running lights makes for what is arguably one of the best looking B-segment offerings available today, despite the pearlescent white paint option doing its best to reverse any visual gains.
Often glanced over, the rear facia is just as eye-pleasing in the guise of the three-claw LED light clusters connected by a gloss black central panel with Peugeot lettering, the clean tailgate and sporty spoiler integrated into roof.
Interior says modern and tech…
Just as big if not bigger, the 208’s interior is as pleasing as it is an improvement from that of its predecessor.
Employing Peugeot’s latest i-Cockpit, the cocoon-effect dash houses a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system angled toward the driver, while the instrument cluster is a digital setup complete with the trademark “backwards” dials and a smart 3D effect.
Along with piano key black finishes, the grippy, tiny steering wheel and mint green (always a winner with this writer) inserts on the doors, the interior looks modern and classy in typical Peugeot fashion.
… but the quirks remain
However, cracks start to appear just as quickly.
Although neat-sounding on paper, the faux carbon fibre inserts feel cheap, while the infotainment system is not the easiest to decipher – on top of looking dated.
Adding further frustration, the system serves as the interface for automatic climate control, which turned out to be massive irritation when on the go or standing still.
Seated behind the wheel is a struggle in itself as the driving position feels unnatural, an aspect that also thwarted the previous 208.
The ergonomic foibles, fortunately, don’t extend to the cloth seats with their green stitching, which are comfortable and supportive.
Spec on top, space not so
Although our tester arrived in the shape of the mid-spec Allure, it lacked in the specification department.
In addition to the items already mentioned, it gets 16-inch alloy wheels, folding electric mirrors, all-around electric windows, front and rear parking sensors, a tyre pressure monitor, push-button start, a six-speaker sound system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a reverse camera, six airbags, Electronic Stability Control and Hill Start Assist.
In a case of “giving with one hand and taking with the other”, though, the 208’s 2.5 metre wheelbase and 1.4 m height badly impacts on rear passenger head-and-legroom, the latter being the worst affected regardless of the driver or passenger’s seating position.
Claimed boot space is more satisfactory at 311-litres, or 1 106-litres with the rear seats down. Aside from the usual storage areas, a nifty cubby features on the centre console that can hide items such as smartphones and wallets from prying eyes.
Shut up and drive
In a Peugeot trait of old, the 208 makes up for its limitations as soon as you get going.
As with the entire line-up, motivation comes from the long-serving 1.2 PureTech three-cylinder petrol engine, which in the Allure has been turbocharged to the tune of 74kW/205Nm.
One of the standouts, if not the centre piece, of the 208, the unit is paired to fantastically slick six-speed manual gearbox, that makes for an overall driving experience unlikely to emit a frown or distain.
Although available with a six-speed automatic, which comes with respective gains of 22kW/25Nm, the instant low-down shove, 1 159 kg kerb weight and well-matched ratios never had the 208 feeling underpowered or sluggish.
In fact, it felt faster and livelier than what the figures suggests.
While admittedly prone to running out of puff on hilly sections, the amount of poke is more than sufficient, and in stark contrast to that of its French rival, the new Renault Clio.
What’s more, the ride is smooth, with imperfections well-dampened, the steering endowed with good feedback, and the handling complaint.
As for fuel consumption, the seven-days in mixed conditions netted an indicated best of 6.4 L/100 km.
Competing in a segment headed by the Volkswagen Polo is never easy, and while flawed in a number of areas, the Peugeot 208 still provides an interesting alternative that looks good, drives well and offers a lot for its R365 900.
While the automatic variant of the Allure, and possibly also the flagship GT that costs a heady R443 900 is likely to prove more popular, the row-it-yourself option warrants for little, as it adds to the appeal of a package more determined than ever to vanish the horrors of the past.