Peugeot 208: Family tree

  • The 208 meets one of its ancestors
  • Shows how much cars have changed
  • There are a few similarities, though

Sometimes it’s interesting to stop and look at how much cars have changed over the last couple of decades. Having had access to a 1996 Peugeot 306 for some time, I drove it back to back with the 208 recently to see how the two cars compare.

Park the two Peugeots side by side and the immediate impression is of how much larger cars have grown since the 306 first rolled out of the factory. The 208 dwarfs the 306, despite the older car being from a market class above it. The 208 is shorter, but much taller and its 17-inch ‘Oxygen’ alloys look like gun carriage wheels alongside the 306’s titchy 13-inch steel items.

This particular 306 is in absolute basement-level 1.4-litre petrol XN spec, and has virtually no equipment to speak of – wind-up windows, unassisted steering and doors that need a real key in a lock to open are the order of the day here.

Our 208 long-termer is in swanky top-line Feline trim, but even the entry-level 208 these days gets remote central locking, power steering, electric  front windows and cruise control as standard, which shows how far buyers’ expectations in terms of kit have moved on.

Like most older cars, the 306’s dashboard seems very small compared with the 208’s vast expanse of material ahead of the driver and chunkier windscreen pillars. These are driven by the need for improved safety – the 208 has a five-star overall Euro NCAP rating compared with the 306’s three stars.

Mind you, you’re arguably less likely to bump into something if you can see better; the 306 has fantastic visibility thanks to its slim pillars and over the shoulder blind spot vision is excellent too. Things are a bit more obscured in the 208, although it’s not as obstructive as some other modern hatchbacks.

Another contrast is how much heavier the older 306’s major controls are. Depressing the clutch pedal is like pushing against a brick wall and the brakes need a good firm press too – drive the 208 immediately afterwards and the more assisted brake system means you’ll find yourself doing an emergency stop if you press the middle pedal with the same amount of force.

The lack of power steering means the 306’s steering wheel is very large by modern standards – it looks like it has come from an old sailing ship by comparison with the 208’s small-scale wheel.

On the road the 208’s wide tyres offer a lot more grip than the skinny items on the 306 and the steering is much faster, but once the car has settled into a corner the 306 gives the driver far more of an idea of what the tyres are up to and is ultimately more confidence-inspiring.

That’s not intended to be a dig at the 208, as it’s not a bad car to drive. It seems to be a trend of modern cars in general to feel a little remote in comparison with older models.

Unsurprisingly, the 208 is far quieter and smoother than the 306, which can get pretty tiring on long journeys. Motorway speeds really do feel like motorway speeds in the 306, while the 208 is so much better insulated that it’s easy to almost become too relaxed and lose concentration.

Interestingly there are a few similarities between the cars. Fancy touch screen aside, all the main interior controls are laid out in a similar way and to my eyes there are a few traces of the old 306 and 106 in the 208’s exterior design.

Both cars ride well, too. Peugeots have traditionally had a comfortable ride and the 306 is particularly good, smoothing out bumps while avoiding feeling wallowy and remaining fun to drive. The 208 manages to pull off the same trick. With much bigger wheels and low-profile tyres it can’t quite match the 306’s ride quality, but it’s high praise to say it’s not too far behind.

Time marches on and while the 306 might be a little more fun to drive and easier to see out of, the 208 is quieter, greener and better equipped. The 306 is a fondly remembered car and it’s good to see that the 208 measures up well against it. The upcoming 208 GTI is the car that really needs to channel the spirit of one of its ancestors, the much-loved 205 GTI. That really will be an interesting comparison…

Current mileage: 7,492 miles

Average mpg: 51.3mpg (ind.)