Parkers overall rating: 4.4 out of 5 4.4
  • Three petrol and one diesel option
  • Mixture of manual and auto ‘boxes
  • Electric version covered in separate review

The Peugeot 208 engine line-up includes a single 1.2-litre, three-cylinder engine, available with a choice of three power outputs. There’s also a sole diesel, which is becoming unusual in the supermini class but could prove a good option for those who want to undertake regular long journeys.

The range kicks off with a 75hp petrol engine, which makes do without a turbocharger. It’s pretty lethargic – 0-62mph comes along in 14.9 seconds, but if you’re willing to drive with the throttle mashed into the carpet at all times it proves to be quite a sweet little engine that’s ideal for town use.

However, Peugeot expects – and we recommend – that most buyers will opt for the 100hp version instead. It’s turbocharged for extra grunt, and it’s the sweet spot in the range. It’s peppy around town and totally at ease on faster roads. The hottest version is a 130hp version of the same engine. It feels very sprightly indeed and can be great fun to drive, but you don’t really need the extra power.

The 75hp engine comes paired to a five-speed manual gearbox, which has a rather long throw but is quite nice to operate. There’s a six-speed manual for the 100hp model, which is better to use but does suffer with a rather awkwardly-shaped knob. Regardless of this, we’re glad it’s available – the Renault Clio doesn’t offer a six-speed gearbox with any petrol engine either, but both the Ford Fiesta and SEAT Ibiza have them fitted.

Available as an option for 100hp models and as standard on 130hp models is an eight-speed automatic. We think it’s the best self-shifter in the supermini market. It’s got more ratios than any of its competitors, yet rarely feels like it’s struggling to make a decision. It keeps the engine responsive at low speeds and really relaxed when you’re moving faster, thanks to its very high top gear – at motorway speeds, it’s barely ticking over at 2,000rpm.

Diesel engines

Only one version here – a four-cylinder, 1.5-litre motor with 130hp and 250Nm of torque. This is available only with the six-speed manual gearbox and takes 10.2 seconds to go from 0-62mph.

This is our least favourite drivetrain in the 208 and this is reflected in the small proportion of sales Peugeot expects – just 5%, which is less than the electric version. It’s admirably quiet but is also pretty laggy and doesn’t suit the 208’s fun handling one bit.

Handling

  • Light, easy steering
  • Roly-poly handling with standard chassis
  • Still fun to drive in most configurations

The 208’s tiny steering wheel means it feels impressively darty and responsive at lower speeds – this is a superb car to nip about town in. It’s good on faster roads, too, though on the motorway the steering assistance can feel a little inconsistent leading to an over-light, floaty sensation. Cars with the Sport driving mode benefit from heavier steering, which improves this enormously.

There's plenty of body roll on cars with the standard chassis thanks to a softly sprung set up. It feels more pronounced from the passenger seat and a nose-dive can be easily provoked by braking. The diesel-engined 208 seems to suffer from an even greater lack of composure, especially when driven quickly or over broken tarmac.

Still, the lighter petrol version seems more fun to drive and at times a genuine pleasure to hustle on a twisty road. This only improves with the lowered GT Line version, which is nearly as entertaining as a Ford Fiesta. Just beware that this, plus the larger wheels associated with this trim, has a detrimental effect on ride quality.