ONE car that I have really been looking forward to spending some time with this year is the Peugeot 208, writes Tony Lewis.
While its predecessors, the 206 and 207 have been hugely popular the 208 is the car that Peugeot hopes captures the spirit of the legendary 205, the supermini that saved the company in the 1980s.
Like all of Europe's volume car makers with the exception of Volkswagen, Peugeot is struggling as the euro crisis continues. It is not alone in having too few buyers for the number of cars it is geared up to build and wants to close one of its French factories.
So the 208 needs to succeed for Peugeot to be able to put a little clear water between itself and the red ink on its bank account.
The signs are good. The car went on sale at the end of June – at the same time the weekly motoring magazine Auto Express named it Best Supermini.
Peugeot UK has already taken more than 7,500 orders for it – a sign which the company says is "incredible and positive and a tremendous start for the car".
And not altogether unsurprising because the 208 really is a very attractive car. Being the newest car in the showroom is always an advantage; the added bonus with Peugeot is that it has some great deals as well.
These include its excellent Just Add Fuel offer which is available to new car buyers aged over 21. For £208 a month (yes, really) you can be driving a three-door 208 Access with a 1.0-litre engine. The price includes three years' insurance, servicing, road tax and roadside assistance. If would rather buy on finance, Peugeot is offering a 208 Active from £189 a month. Prices for the range start at £9,995 on the road and there is a choice of three and five-door body styles and ten engine options including a new three-cylinder unit.
The test car was a 1.6-litre diesel with 115bhp and stop-start - what Peugeot calls an e-HDI. It was in top Feline spec and costs a slightly eye-watering £17,445 – but that's competitively priced against top spec Vauxhall Corsas and VW Polos but well above what you might pay for a Fiesta. But you do get a lot of equipment for the money, including a seven-inch multifunctional touchscreen.
The small steering wheel is provoking controversy. The idea is that it helps the sporty feel of the drive and allows the driver to look over the wheel at the instruments; in all other cars you look through the wheel and there's a reason for that – it feels natural and it's what we are used too.
Although the 208 looks completely new, it is based on the 207. But because it is lighter and smaller on the outside with more room on the inside you would be hard pushed to know that. It has shed some 110kg (depending on model) and that translates into a much livelier, sportier drive than the 207 or 206 offered.
Peugeot makes much of how it has concentrated on improving the quality of the cabin and it has although it is no better than the Fiesta and Polo in that respect.
Similarly performance matches the class but isn't class-leading.
I returned 50mpg over 140 miles of mixed urban, rural and motorway driving.
CO2 emissions for the 115bhp engine are 99 g/km. Where the 208 does score is that it is surprisingly roomy and comfortable for a small car. And very good looking.
You also get a full-size spare wheel which says much about the clever packaging.
â Tony Lewis is consultant editor at headlineauto.co.uk