Recently, Peugeot Malaysia organised a test drive for the media from Subang to Tanjung Malim via Ulu Yam. After the short briefing at the Peugeot Lounge at Subang Skypark (the first one in the world exclusive for Peugeot owners only), the hype about this spunky new 208 had us all in a frenzy to get started. At first sight, the 208 didn’t let us down.
Before that, let’s track back 13 years. Forget the 207. Peugeot did well but it didn’t live up to the super-hype of the 206. When it was first launched in Malaysia back in 2000, every twenty-something yuppie wanted it so badly they’d find any possible way to pay RM88,888 for it! Even some may have thought about banging their old cars into a 206; remember that famous Indian 206 TV commercial?
Good news is that the new 208 1.6 VTi costs less than that infamous RM88,888 price tag. It’s RM85,888 to be exact and that’s better news for Peugeot Malaysia. Why? This price bodes well with the usual trend of Malaysian car buyers preferring to forego local makes and top-up a few thousand Ringgit for an imported car, even if it is unreasonably small, under-powered and over-priced (not that the 208 falls under any of these descriptions). The 300,000th unit of the 208 rolled off the production line in February 2013 and that must mean something.
AMOUR AT FIRST SIGHT?
We’ll cut to the chase. It’s gorgeous! We’re glad Peugeot decided to leave their comfort zone and design a 20x series that looks fresh and inspired from all angles. Their signature chrome “PEUGEOT” brands on the front grille and at the back, and the curves too, show some hints of RCZ’s design being incorporated here, which is cool.
However, the 208 is a latecomer to the B-segment party, already dominated by the likes of Ford Fiesta and VW Polo with Suzuki’s all-new Swift raking in good sales figures too. Yet, the 208 has many creature features that could put all of them to shame, and perhaps even some larger C-segment cars too.
D-SEGMENT STUFF IN A SMALL PACKAGE
How do you fit big-car-gadgets in a small 208? It’s simple, really. Don’t lower the price but pack in more stuff! In the 208, perhaps the most noticeable key feature is the 7-inch interactive touchscreen in the centre of the dashboard. This award-winning touchscreen system packs radio, CD, MP3, USB, Bluetooth and audio streaming. But sadly it lacks the most important feature in huge in-car screens like this; GPS. That’s a huge disappointment.
Using the screen isn’t as user-friendly as an iPod and it proved to be a distraction while driving. It’s even named as “HD” even though its resolution is only 800×480. Perhaps sticking an iPad Mini on the dashboard with Velcro makes more sense; just saying!
Then of course, you’ll notice the nice ‘floating’ instrument panel that looks really classy, coupled with an expensive-looking compact steering wheel wrapped in leather that feels really good in your hands. The weird part is when you’re behind the steering (probably as small as a regular Logitech gaming wheel) and it blocks the view of the gauges, regardless of how tall you are. We foresee many buyers complaining about the glove box; it is literally big enough for only a glove!
Here are bits Peugeot got right. The Arkamys 3D 6-speaker sound system’s clarity was impressive and power was above average. Boot is great for its class with a total of 285 litres with 60:40 rear seat folding. The leg room at the back was pretty spacious too. To top it off, light-sensitive auto rear view mirrors and head up instrument panel make the 208 feel decently expensive and luxurious.
PEUGEOT = EUROPEAN COMFORT + HANDLING
The 208 lives up to Peugeot’s reputation for refinement and comfort. The seats may not be clad in leather, but it looks and feels extremely good. Another upmarket feature in the 208 is a dual A/C system, giving the front passenger more options for a comfortable ride.
The suspensions felt a tad too stiff at low speeds but you’ll appreciate it once you’re on the go. I got a bit of motion-sickness being a passenger at the front but otherwise it’s very comfortable elsewhere.
However, the handling characteristics were slightly disappointing. Unlike how a ‘certain British magazine’ described it as neutral and precise, we can’t say the same. The 208 felt very planted to the road in a straight line but the understeer and body-roll at high speeds were a bit too much for our liking as it felt uneasy going through winding corners of Ulu Yam. Even the new Suzuki Swift felt much better in this department.
The traction control does a good job curbing over-energetic driving and we felt it during the winding stretches at Kuala Kubu Baru. Its advanced electric power steering is progressive and well-weighted in any speed.
Best of all is when its ABS, traction control, Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD) all working together with its Emergency Brake Assist (EBA) to provide a phenomenally precise and responsive performance. Too bad its go-power doesn’t match its stop-power.
SPEAKING ABOUT POWER
On paper, the 1,598cc dual variable valve timing & lift powerplant looks decent with [email protected],000rpm and [email protected],250rpm, giving a 0-100/kmh sprint in 10.7sec. In real life, it felt much longer. And then when you look at its price again, you might go “What?!”
It looks fast. In its 1.6l guise however, it just doesn’t zip away quickly. It gets to 110km/h pretty well but you’ll start noticing the engine strain at 140km/h onwards. We only managed to take it to 178km/h going downhill (after a long minute of coaxing it into speed), even though top speed is rated at 190km/h. Well, maybe if we had clearer road and another minute, we could have eventually got there. A turbocharged version might change our mind too!
The fuel efficiency of the 208 on a mixed cycle is rated at 6.7-litres per 100 km. From our test, this figure seems fair.
THE OTHER SPORTY ONE
For RM10,000 more, you get two doors less and a whole lot more style. The seats are semi-leather, the wheels are the sporty two-tone 17”, and the best is the panoramic glass roof with mood lighting that outlines the glass roof at night.
AND OUR VERDICT
Get it for its:
• French beauty; superior European styling.
• bragging rights to multiple awards.
• pleasurable city driving.
• “feel-good” factor from all the D-segment standard creature features.
• EURO NCAP 5-Star & 6 Airbag System and a host of active safety features.
• good after sales value as Nasim Sdn Bhd, the official distributor for the Peugeot brand in Malaysia offers a five year warranty with unlimited mileage and complimentary Peugeot Lounge access.
Reconsider other options if you’re looking for:
• a true “hot-hatch”… The 208’s quick looks are only skin deep.
• an affordable imported hatch. At this steep price, you’ve got several alternatives that cost the same if not lower.
• more space. At this price, there are several C-segment cars you can consider if you’re looking for spacious cabins.
• good residual value; Peugeots aren’t well known for retaining their resale value here.
The 208 misses that legendary 206-impact by a slight margin at a time when competition in the B-segment compact cars is at an all-time high. Nevertheless, the 208 has been selling very well all over Europe since its launch in March last year. We’ll have to wait and see if it can convince Malaysians likewise.
My bet is it probably will. Not because it’s the best car option out there; it’s our car buyers who just love being spotted in imported cars and the Peugeot 208 happens to be one luxurious French beauty!
words & pix: Vinod Nair