Peugeot 208 review: small car with a big heart
Exciting, scary, adrenalin-pumped, zany, other worldly – one of the most bizarre drives of my motoring career was a madcap dash from end to end of Wales, battling mist and drizzle, over wild moorlands and through the grandeur of majestic Snowdonia, all in a seemingly hopeless bid to be on time for the grand opening of the Welsh National Opera Company season at the elegant seaside resort of Llandudno, birthplace of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland fantasies.
Nothing springing from Carroll’s fertile imagination could have been more surreal than that helter skelter, rollercoaster, white-knuckle ride.
The car involved in the adventure was a pert little Peugeot 205 GTi – no standard car this but one whose wheel arches had been flared, tyres widened, suspension hardened and engine boosted by twin turbochargers – high performance kit installed by Northampton-based tuning wizards Turbo Technics to lift the car into a whole new league.
This was all back in the era when hot hatches were replacing twin-seater sports cars as the boy racers’ wheels of choice.
VW had introduced the iconic Golf GTi, Renault offered a wild mid-engined hatchback and Lancia were dominating rallies with their glorious but shoddily built Delta Integrale, a true pocket rocket that seemed to be held together with a combination of sticking tape and chewing gum but just kept on winning.
It was a white-hot arena but the 205 kept burning the opposition yet was fine for everyday use too. The basic car was fun, Turbo Technics added fury.
Of course, the little Pug could not match a supercar in flat-out top-speed but it was insanely quick round the corners and I don’t think there was anything in the Ferrari catalogue of the day that could match it point-to-point on winding back roads.
Our route through the twilight gloom of that wild winter’s day was mainly on remote single-track lanes, often with grass growing up the middle.
There were swooping descents and insanely steep uphills to master while the road surfaces varied from loose gravel to oil-slicked slippery-smooth tarmac. We were running desperately late and in an all cautions to the wind hurry – and managed to make it with just five minutes to go.
I was physically, mentally and emotionally drained, so it was no surprise that I fell asleep during the concert – though my daughter has never forgiven me for my loud snoring occurring in the middle of a major violin solo.
Sadly, just two days later the 205 was written off in a road traffic accident. Ironically, we were stationary at the time, sitting in a traffic jam, when a Canadian tourist came rocketing down a side street and ploughed straight into the side of us.
The memory of that incredible weekend – part nightmare, part fond reverie – has stayed with me ever since so I eagerly anticipated a week-long test session with the latest iteration of the Peugeot supermini fomat – not a GTi this time but a bog standard lower-level car with economy rather than performance its prime calling card.
Of course, things move on over time and in 1998, having notched 5.3-million sales worldwide, the 205 bowed out before, in 2011, morphing into today’s 208.
While the £17,045 five door Allure BlueHDI model that rolled up at my door bore little visual likeness to its antecedent, the spirit is still alive, with a punchy little 1560cc diesel engine good enough for a 116-mph potential top speed and a 107-second 0-62-mph sprint time while capable of a frugal 83.1-mpg in the combined cycle fuel consumption stakes.
A full raft of 20 other versions of the 208 is available, including two updated GTi models.
With upgraded styling, a comprehensive slate of gizmo’s, extra safety systems, a wide palette of colours and a selection of personalisation packs, today’s rendition of the time proven Peugeot hatchback format – a little car with a big heart – seems certain to remain the French brand’s big seller, just as the 205 was back in the day. It was a pleasure to get re-acquainted.