Peugeot's striking new design language finds another worthy recipient in the form of the new 208 hatchback and here we're driving the most contemporary version of all, the pure-electric e-208. Is it the model to go for in the French firm's impressive supermini line-up?
In the Metal:
It's incredible to think that Peugeot used to knock out such amorphous blobs as the 207, 307 and the original 5008 just a few short years ago. But a renaissance of its aesthetics has been ongoing since 2012's Peugeot 208 Mk1 and 2013's Peugeot 308 Mk2, which appears to have reached a magnificent crescendo right now. This new 208 is nothing short of extraordinary to look at. A condensing of the successful design language seen on the Peugeot 3008, 5008 and 508, this is a beautiful little supermini and it manages to look almost as good in base spec with smaller wheels, duller colours and plainer headlights (the 'triple-claw-marks' light signatures are reserved for higher-spec 208s) as it does in top-ranking GT design with a bold body paint and big alloys in its black-lined arches. Put simply, there is nothing in its class, not even the SEAT Ibiza, that can match the 208's visual appeal.
This one, though, is an e-208. And that little honorific in front of its model number means this is the pure electric variant. You'll be hard-pressed to tell the visual difference between this EV version and the regular combustion-powered 208s, as Peugeot hasn't done what some rivals have and made the e-208 wilfully idiosyncratic in the design department, but there's a smattering of signifiers to let you know this is Peugeot's planet-saving conveyance - such as a body-coloured, chequered front grille, a bespoke 'e' monogram on the C-pillar, a brilliantly-named 'dichroic' Lion emblem (which means it changes colour when viewed from different angles) and, of course, the 'e-208' badging on the back. You won't even spot an additional charging port, because the e-208's plug-in point is housed underneath what would be the fuel filler cap on the petrol and diesel models.
Inside is also the best-looking cabin in the segment. Peugeot's i-Cockpit ethos steps up to a new level now with a 3D digital display, which we admit not everyone will get on with, but which we thought was utterly brilliant. So good is it, in fact, that the previously perfectly fine graphics on the central ten-inch (it's a seven-inch affair on lesser models, which is still OK to look at and use) infotainment screen suddenly appear a trifle dated. Nevertheless, the quality of the materials used is largely excellent (some cheaper plastics are employed lower down, but this is to be expected in the supermini class), the ergonomics are all good and it looks really interesting with its sculpted 'two-tier' dashboard, carbon-effect trim and wraparound details. Plusher-spec models, like this GT EV, also have contrast-stitched leather dash uppers, so it's all very nice; it's therefore just a shame that the rear-seat space isn't very generous, even by the standards of this compact class. Good news, though - due to clever packaging, the e-208 loses nothing on the practicality front to its more-conventional siblings, with the same 311-litre boot in play.
While no new Peugeot 208 is outright thrilling to drive, the petrol models are sweet and just about involving enough to make you start thinking of the inevitable combination of letters and words that reads 'GTi by Peugeot Sport.' The diesel, meanwhile, is best avoided, as it feels cumbersome in the corners and leaden to steer. It comes across as a token gesture by Peugeot to still offer a diesel, in a market segment where the fuel has never been that popular anyway.
The e-208, then, is the interesting alternative to the petrol-powered cars. It employs a perfectly decent 100kW (136hp) electric motor, driving the front wheels through a single-speed reduction transmission and with the whole lot fed by a 50kWh lithium-ion battery pack mounted in the floor of the car. No other 208 can match the EV's 300Nm torque figure, delivered from the minute you brush the accelerator, and no other 208 can get down to the e-208's 8.1-second 0-100km/h time. With single-phase charging as standard due to be supplemented by an optional triple-phase connection in the near future, and with rapid DC charging compatibility (up to 100kWh) meaning the e-208 can hoover up an 80 per cent battery charge in half an hour, you'd think the e-208 would have this all sewn up.
However, its most glaring problem is weight. Everyone knows that electric cars' running gear is heavy, especially the battery pack, and going for a 50kWh item to give the e-208 a 340km potential range means the electric Peugeot tips the scales at 1,455kg. That's a whopping 290 kilos heftier than the next porkiest model, a 130hp petrol with the EAT8 automatic gearbox, and it shows in the way the e-208 goes about its business. For starters, it doesn't ride with anything like the grace and fluidity of the lighter petrol versions. There's a constant, underlying shudder to its ride quality that simply isn't there in other 208s, this only exacerbated by the bigger 17-inch alloys fitted to top-spec models like our test car. Sticking with the 16s of plainer models might help both your wallet and your spine (in the long run.
You can also sense that weight in both the handling and performance departments. Press the throttle in the e-208 and you don't experience the usual neck-snapping, small-of-the-back-kick sensations you get in bigger EVs. It all feels rather... mundane and prosaic. Sure, it's smooth enough and instant enough in its responses to make it all worthwhile, but you'll surely never think it is as quick as its on-paper performance stats suggest. And that battery pack is curiously an easily detectable ever-present, more so than in any other EV we've tried; you can feel it as you turn the e-208 into corners, in the way the body loads up the suspension differently and the manner the car is reluctant to get its nose into line. It's as if you're in something very light sitting on a platform of lead. This is not a good sensation for driving enjoyment.
Don't get us wrong, the e-208 is a visually and conceptually more interesting city-biased EV than some of the competitors we list below, and it drives in a perfectly acceptable fashion for what it is. But we can't help but feel that if, as the company says, its expected target buyers for this car do an average 50km a day, then a 340km overall range is, strictly speaking, probably wholly unnecessary. It means you're forced to cart around that lumpen 50kWh battery all the time, even if you never need its full range. Perhaps Peugeot would have been better served by offering two e-208s, a short-range city version with a smaller battery and then this one as the headline-grabber.
What you get for your Money:
Pricing for the Peugeot e-208 in Ireland has yet to be confirmed in detail, though we do know it will start at about €26,000 after the SEAI grant and VRT rebate. It should make up for this relatively high price by having a decent basic specification, with items like Active Safety Brake with pedestrian detection, electric and heated door mirrors, LED daytime running lights with the 'Tooth' design, pre-heating functionality and automatic air conditioning on the equipment list; again, though, exact Irish specs are yet to be ratified. Where the e-208 truly accounts for its purchase price, however, is with much lower running costs than the internal combustion alternatives, meaning the total cost of ownership across a three-year period could work out roughly the same, depending on your annual mileage.
The e-208 is a car Peugeot absolutely had to make. No manufacturer can ignore the electric-car revolution and no manufacturer can reasonably expect to get away with nothing more than a selection of combustion engines for a given model, even a small one like a supermini. The execution of the e-208 is also pretty decent, and as this electric drivetrain is installed in one of the best-looking compact cars we've seen in many a year, it will doubtless find keen buyers. However, its portly kerb weight compromises its driving manners too much in our eyes, especially as it will likely be the most expensive 208 of all. We think, then, that unless you're a staunch global eco-warrior, you'll be better served by sticking with a petrol model of this classy Peugeot as a result.