By Tim Saunders
Each generation should better the last.
So said my late grandfather. I look at my parents and question whether they did in fact achieve this and wonder whether I will. And I look at Peugeot and ask the same question about the 208 over the legendary 205.
Its great ancestor the Peugeot 205 set the standard in the 1980s and was many a boy racer’s aspiration. The 208 has to try and surpass this. And that is a tough thing to do. Where the 205 was small, nimble and a great sports hatchback the 208, like many vehicles (and people) these days seems to have added the pounds and is, as a consequence, less agile, it feels. The 205 was basic, even though some models did feature electric windows and there were certainly no safety features like ABS braking or all round airbags. It was, though, more stylish and able. The 205 GTi won The World Rally Championship Manufacturers’ Championship (WMC) in 1985 and 1986, something that was later achieved by the 206 from 2000 to 2002. Indeed the 205, like the 206 was a worthy adversary to the Golf GTi. The 208 is yet to match this magnificent achievement although it was named Rally Car of the Year at the Autosport Awards in 2013.
But times have changed and life moves on. The 208 GT Line with its touch of red on the bonnet that continues onto the alloys and into the interior does have style and the fixed panoramic glass roof certainly throws a lot of light into an otherwise dark cabin. Its ancestors never indulged in such extravagance. It would be even better, though if this could be actually opened, and electrically. There is a manually operated cover that can be pulled across if the extra daylight bothers you.
The seats are supportive over a long journey. Although the GT Line with its low profile tyres does feel sporty, gripping corners well, it doesn’t feel as competent as I would like despite all the gadgetry including the anti-skid switch. What has happened to the dashboard? Did the designer forget that the driver quite likes to see the speedometer and rev counter? Preferring not to have them obscured by the steering wheel. I know the steering column can be adjusted but not so as to allow a comfortable driving position and a decent view of the instrument panel. Aside from this the interior is finished to a good standard and it’s definitely a driver’s car, with plenty of oomph, if required. However, it can feel sluggish if not worked hard in the right gear. If pushed too hard the engine will stutter demanding a gear change. Those low profile tyres do mean that there is extra road noise inside the cabin, too. The fuel tank is not the largest and so it is necessary to refuel fairly frequently.
I find the five speed manual gearbox a little notchy but the cruise control on the left handside of the steering wheel is easy to operate. I cannot fathom how to operate the satellite navigation but the air conditioning and other little luxuries are thankfully easier on the intellect.
Incidentally, sometimes I like to pull away in second gear especially when on a hill; I try this in the 208 only to find that the stop/start doesn’t like it and the engine stalls.
Although a capable family hatchback with its distinctive looks I cannot help but feel that something has been lost in its overall character and that technology does not overcome this issue.