208 joins the 'Lion-out'
Peugeot's new supermini, the 208, Declan O'Byrne reports, is likely to give its rivals a good run for their money
It's comforting when your initial, positive impressions of a car, driven briefly at launch, are re-affirmed over a longer and more searching test period.
So it was with Peugeot's new 208 which made its debut here earlier this summer and in which, at that time, we were afforded a short but nonetheless revealing spin along winding roads in the suburban environs of the capital.
More recently, we had the opportunity to subject it to a more thorough and lengthy examination when, happy to report, it came up trumps again.
That's not to convey the impression that the 208 is an overly exciting car of the type that, well, might take your breath away or set the largely depressed automotive world on fire.
In fairness, few if any models in the 'small urban', or supermini segment, would manage to evoke that kind of reaction.
Mind you, a planned GTi version of the car, long in the pipeline but which just last week was given the green light to commence production shortly, might well ramp up the emotional response just a tad when it eventually breaks cover. But that's for another day.
For the moment we have but the more sedate, bread and butter version of the car to consider. However, again, such a mundane description is not intended to brand the 208 as dull, blatantly boring and/or utterly uninteresting. Far from it.
In fact, for a start, it's considerably more handsome and attractive than the frumpy but, on a global scale, hugely popular 207 and, like its other sought-after predecessors, the 205 and 206, it is an accomplished addition to the Peugeot range which successfully marries sharper, revised modern styling to enhanced practicality, comfort and economy.
Top of the list of achievements of the car's designers is that they have managed to infuse the 208 with more interior space, despite the fact that it's smaller - a little shorter, that is - on the outside, than the 207.
And the effect is not just visual.
That extra interior space which manifests itself most noticeably in welcome, increased legroom front and back, together with a more accommodating boot, manages to radically transform the overall 'feel' of the car by conveying the impression that it is considerably bigger than it is in reality.
That impression is not just as a result of altered cosmetics either - the 208, thanks to a range of accomplished powertrains, actually moves with all the aplomb of a bigger car, too - as comfortable and as steady on the open road as it is commendably capable and re-assuring over rougher, more challenging surfaces.
The driving position is particularly appealing though that probably has more to do with the innovative, if initially controversial, small steering wheel, the talk of the town at launch, than the actual extra spacial headroom afforded by the clever in-cabin layout.
You will probably encounter a short initial spell of resistance to the small steering wheel but be re-assured - after a few kilometres you're likely to be completely won over by, and at home with, a feature that ultimately affords as much if not more control over the steering mechanism than the more conventional wheel.
On the outside the 208's softer lines were not just an accident of design - the French car maker, on its own admission, had real concerns that the 208's predecessor, the 207, exuded a more masculine and aggressive appearance, thus exposing itself to an increasing level of resistance from female drivers who, Peugeot research revealed, preferred more curvaceous and softer lines and who were abandoning the marque in significant numbers.
As a result the 208, grille to boot, is more rounded in appearance on the outside while, in the cabin, the highlights, other than the small wheel, include the raised instrument console strategically placed at the driver's eyeline, which allows easy access to and safe control over key in-car functions.
The raised console is a feature that, of late, at least one of Peugeot's competitors, Hyundai, appears to have completely mastered, making a significant contribution to safety while at the same time, through the astute use of ambient lighting, making the cabin more appealing and even downright cosy while driving at night.
In Active trim there's a new touchscreen system built in to the 208's console – a feature that’s expected to be fitted on 80pc of 208s sold here, thus obviating the need for the usual phalanx of buttons and knobs which can often make control of entertainment and key car functions so complicated and confusing.
The 208 test car, the five-door hatchback, was the mid-spec Active, 1.4 (70 hp) HDi, with 5-speed manual gearbox and a price tag, before delivery charges, of just under €19,000. Stop-start is available on the ecomatique version.
There's also a three-cylinder 1.2 petrol engine version, priced some €3,000 cheaper or, even more affordable, a 1-litre petrol in Access spec with three and five doors. All engines attract Tax Band A, the lowest rate.
At launch, Peugeot executives here made no bones about the fact that the 208 is an extremely important element of the firm's planned clawback to financial rectitude after the adverse effects, in common with many other manufacturers' recent experience, of these turbulent economic times.
They could have placed a worse bet. The 208 is a satisfying vehicle.
It's unlikely to set any records in the popularity charts and, after a short while, it will melt into the general small car milieu.
However with its build quality, high level of comfort for which the brand is renowned, softer lines and its undeniable pedigree, it should make an impact sufficient to lift the marque out of the doldrums and allow it to ride out the current, relentless economic storm with an increased level of confidence.
From a driver's perspective, the overall experience, like ours, is likely to be positive.
The 208 is facing lots of competition, of course, but it's big, bold and stylish enough to give any of its rivals a good run for around the same money.
The Celtic Tiger may be dead but the Lion may well roar again.