There was already a lot to like about the Peugeot 208. More stylish and more comfortable than almost any of its rivals, and offered with a choice of efficient propulsion systems, it has long been among the better small hatchbacks on the market. So much so that it has become one of the top sellers in Europe. But in a bid to expand the 208’s appeal, Peugeot has updated the all-electric version, the E-208, with a new electric motor and a fresh look. The question is, will that be enough to ensure the 208 remains among the best in the business for the foreseeable future?
The outgoing 208 was already a bit of a looker, with its fang-like daytime running lights and cat’s-claw tail lights, but the new one is even easier on the eye. There are new, sharper headlights and a fresh front grille that’s both more premium and more aerodynamic, while the new Peugeot lion insignia adorns the nose. And there’s a new Agueda Yellow colour (pictured here) that looks quite upmarket.
Aside from that, it’s more or less business as usual, and the 208’s basic shape is unchanged. But the E-208 gets a few extra accoutrements, including Es on the rear roof pillars and tailgate. By and large, however, Peugeot’s policy for electric vehicles is to ensure they look very similar to their more conventionally powered counterparts.
That’s especially true inside, where the new 208 gets a fresh touchscreen infotainment system and some new switches, including a new gear selector, but that’s about your lot. The new screen is an improvement in some ways — it’s crisper and more stylish than before — but it’s still quite confusing to use at first, and the new ‘hotkey’ buttons to help you navigate the system aren’t as helpful as you might hope.
But otherwise it’s similar to its predecessor, and you won’t see us complaining about that. The outgoing 208’s cabin was a bit of a highlight in terms of style and solidity, both of which were up there with the best in class, and the new model is more or less identical. The materials are largely very good compared with rivals, and they are all solidly bolted together.
Getting comfortable in the E-208’s cabin, however, is not always easy. For a kick-off, the tiny steering wheel and high-set instrument display combine to create quite an awkward driving position depending on your own shape and size, and though the front-seat passenger will enjoy ample space to stretch out, things aren’t quite so good for those in the rear. Four adults will fit in, but they won’t be especially comfortable on a long drive. I guess that’s par for the course at this end of the market, however.
Then there’s the question of boot space, which is more complex than it first seems. You see, ‘normal’ 208s, with petrol power under the bonnet, get quite decent 352-litre luggage bays that put them on an even footing with the VW Polo and others. Yet the electric E-208 has to hide some tech under the boot floor, and that cuts the space available to 309 litres. It’s hardly a disaster, but it is a little less impressive.
Key to the appeal of this electric version of the 208 is the new propulsion system. The 51kWh battery is just under 10 per cent larger than that of the outgoing 208, and that has allowed a noticeable increase in range. In fact, it’ll cover between 346- and 372km on a single charge, which Peugeot says is more than enough for most drivers’ daily needs.
And if you need to charge up, the car will take on power at up to 100kW, meaning it can be topped up from 20 to 80 per cent in around 25 minutes at maximum charging speed. You’ll need to use a 100kW-plus public charger to achieve that, mind you, so charging from empty to full with a domestic ‘wallbox’ charging unit will take just under five hours.
That makes the E-208 more usable than its predecessor, and a new, more powerful electric motor has helped with that, too. With 156hp, the new E-208 is 20hp more potent than the old car, and though the difference isn’t huge — you only really notice it when you put your foot down hard — it ensures the E-208 feels fairly perky when you push it.
Small cars are at their best when they’re fun, and the E-208 definitely manages to achieve that. The steering is just about communicative enough without being too heavy, and the electric motor makes it feel nippy, so it’s great for zipping around in town. And it’s surprisingly good on the open road, where it corners keenly and has more than enough get-up-and-go.
Perhaps more surprising, however, is the way the car irons out bumps. Sure, we tested it on fairly smooth roads, but it dealt with the few bumps that existed with impressive composure, giving it a degree of suppleness not normally found in small hatchbacks. In fact, the only thing preventing the E-208 from feeling properly relaxing is the noise, which is noticeable at any speed. It doesn’t come from the motor so much as the tyres and the air – noises made more apparent by the lack of a petrol engine to cover them up.
But that’s a small price to pay for what is generally a fun car to drive in any situation, except perhaps on the motorway. But even there, the electric motor makes overtaking easy enough and the noise isn’t so intrusive that you can’t drown it out with your music of choice.
The 208 has long been one of the best small hatchbacks on the market, and the new version, however it’s powered, is set to continue that trend. The electric E-208 version is comfortable and peppy, and easier to use than ever before, but every iteration of the 208 will be an improvement on its predecessor. And while it won’t come cheap – prices for the E-208 start at just under €33,000 - it is at least well equipped. Our range-topping GT-spec test car came with a reversing camera, digital instrument display and navigation, as well as climate control and wireless phone charging.
What next for Peugeot?
The French company is getting busy with its push towards a future that very definitely includes batteries. Not only is the new 208 offering a choice of petrol, hybrid and electric power, but there are new E-308 models on the way and a new E-3008, with a long-range battery. Other all-electric cars of various sizes are sure to follow over the coming year or so, and Peugeot has expressed a desire to be a leading electric car maker in Europe in 2025.