Treble chance with Peugeot 208 1.2 VTi

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Peugeot’s 208 might well be at its best with a tiny three-cylinder petrol engine. Andy Enright

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The 208 hatchback sees Peugeot return to form and the three-cylinder 1.2-litre petrol engine is an absolute cracker. If you thought the days of small, modestly priced hatches that painted a big smile on your face had gone, you need to try this car.

Peugeot tried to put a positive spin on the launch of the 208, but the truth was they were in a bit of a spot. It was clear from the longevity and the huge sales of the 205 and 206 models followed by the slump in numbers and early replacement of the 207 that the company felt some urgent remedial work was necessary. Many of us remember the simply wonderful Peugeots of the late 80s and 90s and wondered if those days would ever come back. There was a period a few years ago when virtually every car in the line up was singularly unedifying. Those days have passed and Peugeot is on a roll. Cars like the daring RCZ coupe, the innovative 3008 RXH all-wheel drive diesel electric hybrid and the fundamentally solid 508 mid ranger demonstrate that Peugeot has taken the blinkers off.

The 208 is the one model it can’t afford to get wrong though. The supermini segment is now the biggest across Europe and the French company can’t afford to lose ground to established rivals such as GM, Renault and Ford and the new, hungry contingent from Korea. Realising that diesel cars don’t add up on the balance sheet for all supermini buyers, it has added some three-cylinder petrol units to the range. Here we get behind the wheel of the 1.2-litre VTi.

After driving this car, I reckon Peugeot is back. Proper Peugeot - the Peugeot that we used to know and love. Yes, the car has had to make a few concessions to modern motoring, and the electrically-assisted power steering isn’t the wholly organic experience you got behind the wheel of a 205 GTI, but here is a car you’ll drive just for the fun of it. I tried some of the larger petrol and diesel engines on offer, figuring that more was better, but this 82bhp 1.2-litre powerplant aced the lot of them for sheer fun. Without wishing to sound detrimental, it has a holiday hire car kind of feel to it, where you just feel inclined to travel everywhere with the throttle buried into the carpet and a huge smile on your face. It’s not even particularly quick. 62mph comes and goes in 14 seconds while the top speed is 108mph. You’ll need to be pretty slick with the five-speed manual box to keep things on the boil, but as you punt it through corners you’ll be amazed at the sheer amount of front end grip on offer and its speed of turn-in, helped in no small part by the 110kg of weight saved over its larger predecessor. It’s a real hoot to drive, with a real willingness to rev and very little flywheel effect. It’s the first small car I’ve driven for a long time that suddenly gave me the pang of wanting to actually own.

The cabin is a big step ahead too and there’s some novel thinking afoot. Rather than peer through the steering wheel at the

gauges, Peugeot has instead made the wheel smaller and lower so that drivers will be able to look over it for an unobstructed view of the main instrument binnacle. Higher quality finishes and a very neat infotainment system feature, while both three and five door models offer plenty more occupant space. Not only do rear seat occupants get 5cm more knee room, they do so in a car that is 7cm shorter and 1cm lower than the 207 it replaces. That increased passenger space doesn’t come at the expense of luggage capacity either, with the 208 offering an additional 1.5 cubic litres in which to stow your gear.

Market and Model

The 1.2-litre VTi engine is offered in three midrange trim levels: Access+, Active and Allure. Choose the Access+ and you’ll find cruise control, heated door mirrors and air conditioning with a refrigerated glove box. The Active trim looks good value for money with 15-inch alloy wheels, the multifunction colour touchscreen, Bluetooth and USB connectivity and a split rear bench for added versatility. The Allure gets 16-inch alloys, LED daytime running lights, sports seats, dual zone auto air conditioning, some chrome and leather for

the cabin and automatic headlights, dimming mirrors and rain-sensing wipers. On both the latter two trim levels, satellite navigation is an option.

Cost of Ownership

Where diesel engines in superminis often fail to make sense is down to the premium charged for the more expensive engine when weighed against the fact that most of these cars do modest mileage and the benefits in fuel savings will never actually break even. No such worries with the 208 1.2 VTi. It’s an inexpensive engine that makes all kinds of sense on the balance sheet, both for you and for Peugeot. It’s not going to crucify you at the pumps, no matter how spiritedly you drive the thing. Any car enthusiast who knows their stuff will know how significant it is that Peugeot is back in the game with a genuinely good supermini. The 208 platform just works. Driving position aside, it’s nothing revolutionary, just solid good engineering.

There are a number of commendable engines to try but the three-cylinder 1.2-litre VTi engine just has likeability shot straight through it. It’s a fun and infectious little fizzer of a powerplant, not particularly quick but always up for a bit of sport. This is a small car that is priced well, looks good and is even respectably practical. Ongoing running costs are tiny and equipment levels are good. Downsides? There aren’t too many. The interface on the touch screen is decidedly clunky but it’s nothing a little familiarity wouldn’t conquer. All in, the 208 is a hugely pleasant surprise and the 1.2-litre VTi engine thehidden gem. Just go and try it, you’ll see.