QUICK TEST: Peugeot 208 1.6 VTi Allure
Although it doesn't appear to make any big cut-backs on the technological front, the new 208 is Peugeot's attempt to return to the roots of successful small hatches like its 206 of the nineties and 205 of the eighties.
The 208 is not necessarily a beauty contest winner, but its elegant lines are a step in the right direction for the brand.
Whereas the 208's predecessor - 207 - took the bigger, bulkier, fussier (and uglier) approach, the 208 is actually smaller, 173kg lighter and more tastefully styled. Yet despite its shrinking act, a more space-efficient design has resulted in even more rear legroom and a boot that's 15 litres bigger - at a competitive 308 litres in total.
As far as engines are concerned, much of the fanfare has surrounded the super-efficient new 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol mill. Even though it's a little gutsier than it sounds, with 60kW on tap, I suspect that many South Africans - particularly those living at altitude - are going to yearn for something with a little more spice in its pot.
Enter the 1.6-litre 208 range-topper featured here. Its engine is carried over from the 208 range, but it's still a relatively modern chunk of metal and besides, Mini still uses the exact same co-developed engine in its Mini Cooper.
Its outputs are certainly competitive, with 88kW on stream at 6000rpm and 160Nm at 4250rpm. To put that into perspective, it's got more shove than its nearest engine-capacity rivals, the 77kW 1.6 VW Polo and 83kW Renault Clio 1.6.
Sure, it's not exactly a hot-shot performer, but it's as strong as I'd expect from a hatch in this neck of the woods and it never really feels short of fizz. Only thing I'd add is a sixth gear ratio as it does rev a bit too high on the highway - although, despite this, it does cruise rather quietly at speed.
FUN TO DRIVE
Yet what I like most about the Peugeot 208 is that it's a hoot to drive. In the past I'd point my finger at the Ford Fiesta every time someone asked what's the most fun small hatch out there but now I'm not so sure anymore.
That numb, plasticy driving sensation of previous Peugeots has all but vanished with the 208. For starters, it's got a really small steering wheel and this makes it feel more direct and nimble. Although the steering's power assistance is a bit on the light side (which some will appreciate) it also feels reasonably communicative and the short-throw gear-stick feels solid and well-weighted.
All of this is backed up by a chassis that delivers agile road holding and a rather decent ride quality.
Also keeping the comfort factor in check is a set of front seats that are supportive and well-shaped.
The cockpit is functional too and it embraces modern times with an 18cm full-colour touch-screen interface perched high up on the dashboard. This allows you to play with the radio settings and connect to your cell phone but sadly there is no navigation system on offer at this stage.
The equipment level is otherwise impressive, the Allure packing in cruise control, electric windows and mirrors, dual-zone climate control, automatic headlights and windscreen wipers, electrochromatic rear-view mirror and six airbags.
The sixteen-hundred 208 comes in at R195 500, including a five-year/60 000km after-sales plan and though it's more than most people are accustomed to paying for a small hatch, it offers a lot of kit for the money and it undercuts all but the soon-to-be-replaced Renault Clio in price.
The new Clio (due within the first half of this year) looks quite exciting and may be well worth waiting for; but as it stands here and now, the Peugeot 208 is a winner in my book.
Peugeot 208 1.6 VTi Allure (88kW) - R195 500
Citroen C3 1.6 VTI Exclusive (88kW) - R225 900
Ford Fiesta 1.0T Trend (92kW) - R211 200
Mazda2 1.5 Original (76kW) - R208 058
Renault Clio 1.6 Advantage (83kW) - R189 900
VW Polo 1.6 Comfortline (77kW) - R203 600