Not too long ago Citroën announced its departure from the South African market and immediately it put the future of its South African partner, Peugeot, in serious doubt. Here you have two automakers that produce cars that, internationally, are not performing too bad, but here in SA they are just not making that big a claim.
Rivals such as Volkswagen, Toyota, and Ford are running them into the ground and with Peugeot, the only one of the two left standing, there is a huge weight on the automaker’s shoulders.
Their product offensive the last few months have seen good cars coming to market, including the highly acclaimed 3008 that leads Peugeot’s passenger car charge in South Africa. But bringing in the rear of Peugeot’s passenger cars is the smallest vehicle in its range, the 208. Not a big car, the 208 does battle against the likes of the Volkswagen Polo and Ford Fiesta.
It may be slightly smaller than its rivals, but it does not have any intention of letting them walk over it. It’s a car that offers a great package – especially the drive – but it has to contend with opinions and stereotypes that, more often than not, cause more damage than it does good.
At the heart of every car sits an engine, but the 208 GT Line we have here is fitted with a 1.2-litre three-cylinder unit. The displacement is slightly bigger than Ford and VW’s 1.0-litre units with the same number of cylinders, but the advantage of this engine is that it delivers its punch in a smooth manner. Peugeot’s managed to extract 81kW and 205Nm of torque from the turbocharged engine, but fortunately the latter is available from a very low 1 500rpm. That ensures good in-gear acceleration and lively performance from the small hatchback.
Though power figures may not seem like much, the low weight of 1 090kg does wonders for the smallest Peugeot and it helps that the engine does not have too much weight to haul around. It works, this combination, and the car has an eagerness to keep going about it. The five-speed manual gearbox feels delivers in droves and flicks over to the next gear with surety. Be mindful, though, to ensure that first gear is fully engaged. The assured feel of the gearbox can have you mistaken for engaging this gear fully and having it pop back into neutral.
One of the attributes of the engine is the engine note. Whether it be a three- or five-cylinder motor, these have a distinctive hoarse sound about them. Please don’t think it’s an obtrusive sound, because it sounds much better than some four-cylinder engines. It’s a sound one wants to hear continuously and when pushing the engine to its limits, there is no trace of under-stress whaling. A smooth, small capacity engine that does not scream? You best believe your ears!
Peugeot pulled quite a number on the 208 GT Line’s exterior by decking it in this striking red paint. From the offset the short front and rear overhangs hints at the small dimensions of the car, but in reality it only masks a rather spacious cabin – or as spacious as a small hatchback can be. Upfront the grille has some nice touches, including red inserts, to make it stand out a bit, as well as the “GT Line” badging. At the rear the stout bumper houses a single exhaust pipe, finished in chrome and showing just enough to onlookers. But what is really nice about the outside is that the four rims each have a small red dot to hint at the top-of-the-range credentials of this car.
While the 208 GT Line has a youthful exterior and beautiful 17-inch rims rounding off the package, the interior continues to carry that youthfulness. A stubby steering wheel is the contact point between car and driver and from here most of the functions can be controlled. Though the wheel is adjustable, one cannot see the cruise control hiding underneath the indicator stalk on the left. It’s a matter of finding your way in the dark and almost relying on feel and instinct when engaging the function.
The dashboard and materials used are very well laid out, and it makes familiarity a breeze. The dials are well placed and navigating through everything is easy. But while the overall build quality of the interior gets the nod, rear legroom is not of the best. Especially when the driver has a frame in excess of 1.85m. The sensor in the front passenger seat that warns passengers to buckle up is also very sensitive. When the driver should just apply pressure with his left hand or have a parcel on the seat, the warning indicator comes on. Having the sensor there is not a problem – in fact is should be there – but it could perhaps be made less sensitive.
On the upside, the seats are decked in both leather and cloth and offers enough support on any journey.
The Peugeot 208 GT Line faces tough times in South Africa. Not only does it have to contend with a weakening Rand, but also have to convince buyers of its prowess over the Polo and Fiesta. It’s not an easy task, but the car does have merit. It has a strong engine; not the most powerful, but a well-balanced unit. The design offers enough to attract attention while the interior continues to do it.
The sales figures the Peugeot 208 accumulates on a monthly basis does not do the range justice, but this underrated car, especially the GT Line, has one of the biggest hearts in all of the motoring world.
France may have won the 2018 Soccer World Cup, but this little Frenchie can do little wrong to not win you over.
Price: R286 900