REMEMBER those great Peugeot ads of the past? The 405 literally scorching its way through the burning field of corn to the Top Gun theme tune of Take my breath away or the 205 sliding James Bond-style across a frozen lake while pursued by a sinister bomber plane which swooped low to scrape across its roof.
Or the apparently racy series on the theme of “nice car – want to show me what it can do?”, where what at first seemed like a bit of high jinks by an energetic young pair, turned out to be just an ordinary married couple grabbing a few romantic moments away from the kids.
You couldn’t do these ads now for health and safety, ethical or more likely financial reasons, but also because traditional TV advertising is, to some extent, a thing of the past. Which is why Peugeot have gone down a new route to make us aware of their latest supermini, the 208. You may see some TV ads about it, but they’re concentrating instead on social media and viral communication to get the word about. What that means is using Facebook, Twitter and the like to get people talking about the car to give it the “must-have” appeal which attracted us to the 2 series cars in the past, especially the iconic 205.
It seems to have worked. Before the car even appeared in the showrooms and became available for test drives this week, there have been more than 3,000 confirmed customer orders – more than have ever been recorded for a new Peugeot model in the past. What’s even more surprising is that the model it is replacing, the 207, was still selling so well in what would normally be the run-out wherein the biggest struggle is to actually shift the remaining stock of the old model. Peugeot even had to re-start production of the 207 to meet customer demand.
That in itself created something of a dilemma for the French company’s designers. How do you update something which is still popular without losing the solid customer base? There must have been some worried people at Peugeot HQ. The 208’s predecessors, the 207, 206 and 205 have between them sold almost one and a half million in the UK, and the 206 is still the best-selling car in Peugeot’s history, with 7.7 million already on the world’s roads.
So what they’ve done with the 208 is to hold onto the same general style and character but made it more relevant to today’s austere times by making it lighter and more economical, but with more space and some modern gizmos.
The new car is clearly part of the 200 family which began in 1929 with the first 201, but some nice work has been done on the styling front to give it more of a street presence, with sculpting on the body sides and a more significant front end. Behind the wheel, it feels noticeably lighter – the entry level model has saved 173kgs – which makes it nimble on its feet and happy to get going, even with the small, three- cylinder engine of the test car.
It is a car designed for the city, with good visibility, but the test car’s £270 option of rear parking sensors is still a wise investment to avoid annoying scratches and dents. It’s quite happy on the open road, although I found the clutch on the test car a touch light.
While the car is slightly smaller on the outside, it’s now bigger on the inside, and the five-door version is good for access to the rear seats, which looked a little bit of a squash in the three-door model. What’s most noticeable is the tiny steering wheel which reminded me of a sports replacement I fitted to a Mini in the Seventies. That allows the new-style instrument panel and dials to be clearly visible whatever the position of the wheel.
In the centre of the panel is a 7-inch touch screen which is standard in all but the entry level and that controls a whole range of functions including radio, navigation, Bluetooth, climate and music files. Peugeot are confident of selling 20,000 models this year and 50,000 in a full year with around 64 per cent going to private buyers.
Many will be from the younger generation thanks to Peugeot’s Just Add Fuel offer which is now available for the first time to 21-year-old customers. In a three-year deal, the car comes with full warranty, servicing and, most importantly, insurance. It involves a £1,500 deposit and, depending on the insurance rating of where the customer lives, the monthly payments for a 21-year-old could be as low as £285, with the option to make a final payment to hold onto the car after three years.
It’s not quite as Peugeot suggest, virtually free motoring, but it is a very good deal, especially for the younger generation.
CAR Peugeot 208 5dr Active 1.2 VTi 82
PRICE £12,795 (£13,510 as tested)
PERFORMANCE Max speed 109 mph; 0-62 mph 14 secs
MPG (combined) 62.8
CO2 EMISSIONS 104g/km
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Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 23 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 25 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 3 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 20 mph
Wind direction: North east