REVIEW | Peugeot's new 208 has the looks to turn heads, but is it better than the VW Polo?

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  • The 2022 Peugeot 208 1.2T Allure has the looks to make everyone smile.
  • Not the cheap and cheerful kind of car (Peugeot 206) that we fell in love with.
  • Light on fuel and easy to drive, but manual shifting became tiresome in stop-start traffic.
  • For motoring news, go to Wheels24 

"Wow, that looks gorgeous." That's the first thing most people said about the 2022 Peugeot 208 1.2T Allure with six-speed manual we recently had come through the Wheels24 test garage in Johannesburg. Captivated by its looks, the follow-up statement was usually: "I'm sure it's not cheap." 

Of course, they would be right, as cars are not cheap these days. The recently introduced 208 hatchback is a premium vehicle in our market, specced up compared to European versions. For the mid-ranger 1.2T Allure model, you'll have to part with R365 900, but before you gasp and write it off as a potential ride, let's unpack it.

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2021 Peugeot 208
Peugeot 208 (GT-Line shown)

Catwalk presence

Measuring 4055mm in length, standing 1960mm wide with its mirrors unfolded, and 1430mm tall, the new Peugeot 208 is marginally shorter, slightly narrower, and stands somewhat lower to the ground than the recently facelifted VW Polo. 

The Peugeot's sharp lines and bold styling is undoubtedly fresh and enticing, and we like how they've incorporated the significant LED daytime running lights in the front bumper to give it that sabretooth look that you get with the 2008 SUV. At the rear, too, the Peugeot's LED taillights and sculpted rump give it a contemporary look without being over-styled or fussy-looking. 

Compared to a Polo, which is also quite lovely to look at after the recent upgrade, we'd still pick the Peugeot in terms of looks and presence.

What do you think of Peugeot's styling direction with the 208? Please let us know your thoughts here, or use the comments section below.

Peugeot 208
2022 Peugeot 208

Inside's a bit tight

We were a little surprised by the tight packaging of the interior in the 208, as it felt a little bit too cosy with four adults in the vehicle. I felt as though I was sitting too close to the front passenger and the rear passengers complained that they didn't have enough legroom to get comfortable.

Considering the car offers a wheelbase of 2552mm, we expected more room between the front and rear axle, offering respectable space in the cabin, but we suspect that the gorgeous, comfortable seats consume a lot of the interior volume. If you are single or part of a young couple and you don't travel with rear-seat passengers, the slightly cramped interior won't be a deal-breaker for you.

2021 Peugeot 208 interior
Peugeot 208 (GT-Line shown)

It's packed with features

To ensure your safety and those of your passengers, the Allure model we had on test came standard with anti-lock brakes, electronic brakeforce assist, hill start assist to prevent you from rolling backwards during tricky uphill pull-aways, traction control and stability control, and six airbags. It's a good array of standard safety kit for the money and is as well-appointed as the Volkswagen Polo Life.

We also enjoyed the comfort features that came as standard, including rear privacy glass, automatic headlight and windscreen activation, climate control, keyless engine start, electrically operated windows and mirrors (that fold when you lock the car), and ISOFIX anchors for the kiddos chairs. You can even lock out the rear window switches (like you can in other premium models) from the driver's switch to prevent the little ones from constantly lowering and raising the window.

We haven't had a chance to assess the VW Polo Life yet, but we reckon this Allure version of the 208 from Peugeot will trump it on features that matter.

2021 Peugeot 208 rear
Peugeot 208 (GT-Line shown)

Moves with confidence

Powering our Peugeot 208 test car was a 1.2-litre in-line three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine that punches out 74kW of power and 205Nm of torque. The VW Polo Life competitor model is blessed with 70kW and 175Nm from a 1.0-litre three-pot turbo motor. We found the Peugeot eager to pick up the pace, with torque coming in from just under 2 000rpm on the rev counter. Peugeot claims a zero to 100km/h sprint time of 9.9 seconds, which is respectable, while claimed fuel consumption is 5.8 litres/100km in a combined cycle. We averaged 7.4 litres/100km after five days of stop-start school-run traffic with the odd stint on the highway just to see what its cruising ability was like.

Read: REVIEW | Hyundai i20 or Hyundai Kona: finding the sweet spot for the family car

Our car was brand new, with less than 500km on it, so we didn't want to ride it to the redline until it's run in a bit more, but we can tell you that you won't feel like you're driving something underpowered here. We particularly loved the manual gearbox for its smooth, lightweight gear throw action, and the clutch was also easy to modulate. Manuals are becoming less sought after in the premium segment, and they are a bit annoying to use in traffic, but this car has an excellent six-speed transmission, and you won't mind changing cogs on your own if the automatic version is out of your budget.

Volkswagen Polo
2022 Volkswagen Polo R-Line

Better buy than a VW Polo?

On numerous occasions, we've been fortunate enough to have assessed previous generations, including the pre-facelift version of the current generation Volkswagen Polo. It's a fantastic car that drives well, uses little fuel, and offers just the right amount of space to get by with a small family. South Africans love this car, and it makes sense that it remains a best-seller as we build it for us right here in the Eastern Cape.

The new 208 follows closely in the vein of the latest Polos when it comes to desirability, but the Frenchie is just a little bit too compromised in critical areas to make it "better" than a Polo. For example, we love the touchscreen interface for the multimedia system, but we find that the 3D-Cockpit (with digitalised instrument cluster) is too gimmicky. I struggled to read the digital instrument panel at night.

Read: REVIEW | Mazda2's out-of-its-depth pricing does not justify ageing product's relevance

We mentioned earlier that the car felt cramped inside, and I have to touch on that again as its boot is decent at 311 litres, expandable to 1106 litres with the rear seats folded. I mainly found it challenging to secure a comfortable driving position as the chunky, tiny steering wheel kept blocking the instrument panel. If I cranked the seat height up slightly, it felt like I was sitting on top of the car instead of in it. The position of the cupholders is also a bit awkward between the handbrake and front seats, making it frustrating to have that morning coffee on the go.

2022 Peugeot 208

Overall Summary

The 2022 Peugeot 208 1.2T Allure proved exciting to drive, and it was light on fuel with more than enough features to keep us safe and comfortable. I enjoyed the manual gearbox when we weren't sitting in traffic, and the ride and handling proved sure-footed enough even in poor rainy weather. The car feels like it's solidly put together with nothing in the way of creaks and groans and thunks. Even the plastics and the materials used inside the cabin give you a premium feel.

If you want to be a little bit different, but you don't want to buy anything bigger than a B-segment car, the 208 might be great for you. It's a head-turner, it comes with a decent warranty, and it's now backed by Stellantis, one of the largest car companies in the world. Stellantis South Africa allowed us into its massive warehouse of parts and spares in Johannesburg last year to show us that they are working on the aftersales side of things for the Peugeot brand. 

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It might seem expensive, considering the cost of some crossovers and SUVs we've tested recently, but it's an excellent traditional hatchback and will give you endless smiles and loads of comfort. Seriously, we haven't driven a new car recently with more comfy seats than this 208 Allure, so while they eat into the cabin space and make things a little bit cramped, they're a godsend if you plan to spend lots of time on the road.

All Peugeot 208 models come with a five-year or 100 000km mechanical warranty and a three-year or 60 000km Service Plan.

Would you buy a Peugeot 208 or a VW Polo if you were in the market for a compact hatchback? Let us know which car you prefer and why in the comments section, or please send us an email here.

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