My two previous encounters with the all-electric new Peugeot 208 left me flat. The first was last autumn during a week-long test event for European car of the year. As one of our long-list of entrants, it was in the mix with electric rivals like the Audi e-tron, the Tesla Model 3 and the Porsche Taycan. Tough crowd.
And that's before you consider the likes of the Nissan Leaf, Hyundai e-Kona and Renault Zoe, regular sights on the roads around us.
With the addictive surge of electric acceleration fresh in our minds we took the then prototype e-208 out for a drive. It came with a senior engineer in the passenger seat, who could see my disappointment at the lack of surge. Asked if they had sacrificed driving fun in favour of battery range, he explained the car’s lack of pace was a purposeful attempt to make it drive like an ordinary fossil-fuelled variant. People don’t enjoy the sudden acceleration of electric cars, it was suggested, and the engineers wanted to make the electric car seem normal.
I’m not buying that: why remove one of the most attractive characteristics of electric cars?
Sure, the small Peugeot is stylish and beautifully dressed up inside, but why do driving dynamics and performance take such a back seat?
My second encounter with the car was on a mix of track and road, as it had qualified for our more detailed test event for shortlisted cars. Again the positives of this little Pug stood out, but still I felt shortchanged by the lack of pace when pulling away. My colleagues, however, clearly saw the bigger picture and in March the 208 was awarded the coveted European Car of the Year.
Still feeling like a member of the placebo test group, I approached my proper road test in the electric Pug with some doubts. After all, I'd also recently tested its twin, the all-electric Opel Corsa, a car that basically takes all the engineering of the Peugeot and rebadges it.
First comparisons, then are between these two and for style and interior substance, you have to say the Peugeot wins hands down. It doesn’t even need to leave the car park to have the beating of the Corsa. There’s little difference in the entry prices between the electric Corsa and e-208 – even at the top end when the price gap opens up the French car is both better looking and better finished inside.
Let’s stick with the interior for a second. Peugeot revolutionised its offering with the arrival of its latest fleet of crossovers and has continued apace, with the piano key button layout, it’s so-called i-Cockpit touchscreen system and 3D display of dials for the driver. While we had our qualms about it all, perhaps being too gimmicky for a French family car brand, the tech ensemble combines with quality soft-touch surfaces to give a proper premium feel to Peugeot interiors these days. For the 208, the added feature is the small steering wheel, a love it or loathe it feature carried on from the last generation. Personally I love it, for it gives a real go-kart feel to a car that is meant to be agile and nippy.
And that sense of small stature belies the fact there is more room in the back than with many rivals, while the bootspace at 311 litres (1,105 litres with the rear seats folded down) is big enough for a small child buggy. Even with the electric version the bootspace remains the same.
But that still brings me back to the original sense that it’s not as nippy – or agile – as I’d like. After a week in the car, that sense of disappointment dissipated. I stopped judging the e-208 unfairly against Teslas and Taycans and started considering the life of the average small car buyer.
A claimed range of 370km from its 50kWh battery pack is enough for the vast majority of Irish drivers to complete multiple daily commutes. The styling and the functionality of the car is better than most of its similarly-priced electric rivals. The 134bhp from the electric motor is very credible for a car this size, while the 8.1 second time for 0-100km/h is also faster than many “sporty” fossil-fuelled rivals. It just lacks the drama we’ve come to expect of new electric cars. Even on the GT top-of-the-range version on test, the raw passion we’ve come to expect from Peugeot higher-end performance versions.
Yet weigh up all the angles and you can see why it can be regarded as a more premium and complete package than the longer-range Renault Zoe, better finished than the sibling Opel Corsa, better looking than the Hyundai or Kia rivals (both at €40,000 or thereabouts) and better value than the new Mini electric or otherwise impressive BMW i3.
The e-208 starts at €27,334, rising to €32,980 for this GT version, when all the grants and tax rebates are taken into account. The GT comes loaded with sporty styling kit and some nice interior features, although €685 for upgrading the touchscreen from seven inches to 10 inches is a bit steep for a small car. That’s the same price you have to pay for the panoramic roof, which frankly has far more appeal: still not worth the extra spend though.
Despite initial impressions of a car company that failed to put its new all-electric car on its strongest footing, I’ve come to accept that this e-208 is probably the best all-round package. It’s a sign of the ever-shifting and expanding choices for electric car buyers these days: earlier this year I was convinced Renault had stolen the show with its new longer-range Zoe, but build quality let it down. The same issues have held us back from awarding top points to the Tesla Model 3. Right now, for €30,000 or so, the Peugeot is the one to beat.
Peugeot e-208: the lowdown
- Power 134bhp electric motor powered by a 50kWh battery pack
- Range 370km ( official WLTP)
- 0-100km/h 8.1 seconds
- Price €32,980 as tested (From €27,334)
- Verdict A hit on price, premium finish and useable range – pity it doesn't deliver a bit more in terms of full-on electric performance.