Peugeot 208 VS Mercedes-Benz A-Class
- Unique styling
- Sporty drive
- Spacious and comfortable
- Missing advanced safety
- Barely any cabin storage
- Ride comfort
- So-so warranty
- Okay only rear headroom
- Tight rear door apertures
In a world of cheap, popular and well-specified Japanese and Korean small hatchbacks, it’s easy to forget the humble French cars that once helped define the segment.
They’re still around, though. You’ve probably seen a few Renault Clios, you might not have seen the tragically underrated new Citroen C3, and there’s at least a chance you’ve seen one of these – the Peugeot 208.
This iteration of the 208 has been around in one form or another since 2012 and is due to be replaced by a second-generation model in the near future.
So, should you consider the aging 208 in a busy market segment? I spent a week behind the wheel of the second-from-the-top GT-Line to find out.
|Engine Type||1.2L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Meet the world’s most aerodynamically efficient passenger car. Mercedes-Benz says the drag co-efficient for this new sedan version of its fourth-generation A-Class is the lowest ever measured for a passenger vehicle.
Which is quite a claim, but you only have to look at it to see how much work has gone into marrying good looks with slippery aero performance.
|Engine Type||1.3L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
The 208 GT-Line is hardly a car purchased on its value offering; it’s an emotional purchase. Fans of the brand know it, even Peugeot knows it.
Here’s the thing, though, the GT-Line looks the part, is true-to-its-roots in how fun it is to drive, and will surprise most with its spacious dimensions and decent spec level. So, while it might be an emotional buy, it’s not necessarily a bad one.
Have you owned a Peugeot in the past? Share your story in the comments below.
Mercedes-Benz knows its way around a sedan, and this A-Class is a well-equipped, comfortable and efficient city-sized four-door.
But more than that, to my eyes anyway, it’s a perfect example of restrained form matching aero function with beautiful results.
Would your preference be an A-Class with a hatch or a boot? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
It might not be for you, but I had come around to the 208’s design by the time I handed the keys back. It’s a bit more upright and frumpy than the slick, conservative design of the Volkswagen Polo, or the swish, cutting-edge lines of the Mazda2.
It’s undeniably a European city car in its short and upright stance, but blazes its own path, even compared to French competitors. I grew quite fond of its weird, slopey bonnet, unconventional face and tough rear wheel arches. The way the rear light clusters clasp the rear to bring the design together is quite satisfying, as are the aluminium-brush alloys, recessed lights and the single chrome tailpipe.
It could be argued that this is a path well-travelled, with this 208 mirroring the design cues of the 207 that came before it, but I’d argue it holds its own, even in 2019. If you’re after something radically different, the styling on its replacement, due next year, is one to look out for.
On the inside, things are… unique.
There are cushy, deep seats for front occupants, with a super vertical dash design, leading up from the deep-set shifter (an older look) to the top-mounted media screen, which is slick, with its chrome bezel and lack of buttons.
The steering wheel is awesome. It’s tiny, strongly contoured and covered in nice leather trim. Its small, almost oval shape is super satisfying to wrangle, and enhances the way you interact with the front wheels.
What is extra strange about it is how far separated it is from the dash cluster. The dials are perched way atop the dash in a layout Peugeot refers to as the ‘iCockpit’. This is all very cool and aesthetic and French if you’re my height (182cm), but if you’re particularly short or particularly tall, the wheel begins to obscure vital information.
Other strange things about the cabin mainly involve little bits of plastic of varying quality strewn about the place. While the overall look is very cool, there are some odd bits of chrome trim and hollow black plastics about that probably don’t need to be there.
A global carmaker can’t hold its head up in public without a formal design strategy, and Mercedes-Benz uses ‘Sensual Purity’ as a guiding principle in developing the look and feel of its current models. It may sound airy-fairy, but I for one reckon it’s accurate in describing the A-Class sedan.
The overall form is flowing and minimalist, the major exception being a hard character line running down the side of the car from the trailing edge of the angular LED headlights and along the top of the doors to link with the tail-lights.
A rear-biased glasshouse emphasises the length of the bonnet, at the same time delivering a broad, muscular stance with short overhangs front and rear.
Ultra-fine panel gaps, careful sealing around the headlights and curved strakes either side of the bonnet keep the look clean and simple, not to mention super-slippery.
The interior has been styled to within an inch of its life, the dash dominated by the slick twin 10.25-inch widescreen ‘MBUX’ display covering instruments, ventilation, media and vehicle settings.
Five signature, turbine-style air vents (three in the centre, and one at each edge) lift the dash’s visual interest, and the quality of fit and finish is top-shelf.
The 208 hit me with some surprises here. Firstly, don’t drink and drive this car. And, by that I mean, don’t even begin to think you’ll find a good spot for a decently sized coffee. There are two cupholders under the dash; they are about an inch deep, and narrow enough to accommodate maybe a piccolo latte. Place anything else in there and you’re asking for a spillage.
There’s also an odd little trench there that barely fits a phone, and a top-box arm-rest thing that’s tiny and bound to the driver’s seat. The glovebox is large and also air-conditioned.
The front seats offer heaps of room, though, for arms, head and especially legs, and there is no shortage of soft surfaces for elbows.
The back seat was also a surprise. I was expecting it to be an afterthought, as it is in many cars this size, but the 208 delivers, with excellent matching seat trim and generous legroom.
Sadly, that’s where back-seat amenities end. There are tiny trenches in the door, but no air vents or cupholders. You’ll have to make do with just the pockets on the backs of the front seats.
Don’t be fooled by the 208’s cropped rear, the boot is deep and grants a surprising 311 litres to the shelf, and maxes out a 1152L with the second row folded down. Also surprising is the inclusion of a full-size steel spare, stashed under the floor.
At a bit over 4.5m long, a fraction under 1.8m wide, and close to 1.5m tall the A-Class sedan is 130mm longer and 6.0mm higher than the hatch version.
The A-Class sedan driver is presented with the same sleek widescreen display as found in the hatch, and storage runs to two cupholders in the centre console, a lidded bin/armrest between the seats (including twin USB ports), decent door pockets with room for bottles and a medium-size glove box.
In a swap to the rear, sitting behind the driver’s seat set to my (183cm) position, I enjoyed adequate knee and headroom, although stretching up a to a straight-back position led to a scalp to headlining interface.
In the A 200 a centre fold-down armrest incorporates two cupholders, again there are generous pockets in the doors with room for bottles, and adjustable ventilation outlets are set into the back of the front centre console. Always a plus.
There are three belted positions across the rear, but the adults using them for anything other than short journeys will have to be good friends and flexible. Best for two grown-ups, and three kids will be fine.
One snag is the size of the rear door aperture. Okay for taller people on the way in, but a limb-unfolding gymnastic exercise on exit.
But of course the reason we’re all here is the boot, and the sedan’s extra length translates to an additional 60 litres of luggage space for a total cargo volume of 430 litres (VDA).
Extra space is one thing, but usability is another. The benefit of a hatch is a large opening that allows bulky stuff to find a home, and Merc has pushed the sedan’s boot aperture to just under a metre across and there’s half a metre between the base of the rear window and the lower edge of the boot lid.
That’s made a big difference and access is good, with the rear seats folding 40/20/40 to add extra flexibility and volume. There are also tie-down hooks at each corner of the floor (a luggage net is included) and a netted pocket behind the passenger side wheel tub (with 12-volt outlet).
At the time of writing Mercedes-Benz wasn’t quoting towing specifications, and don’t bother looking for a spare wheel, the tyres are run-flats.
Price and features
This Peugeot is never going to be as cheap as a Mazda2 or Suzuki Swift. The current range spans from $21,990 for the base Active to $26,990 for the GT-Line, and that’s all before on-road costs.
Safe to say you’re looking at a $30k hatch then. For the same money you could be hopping into a decently specified Hyundai i30, Toyota Corolla or Mazda3, but Peugeot bank on the fact that this car appeals to a special kind of customer; the emotional buyer.
Perhaps they had a Peugeot in the past. Perhaps the quirky styling calls out to them. But they aren’t interested in value… per se.
So do you at least get a decent standard spec? The GT-Line comes with a 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, built-in sat-nav, 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped in some seriously low-profile Michelin Pilot Sport rubber, panoramic fixed glass roof, dual-zone climate control, self-parking function, front and rear parking sensors with a reversing camera, rain sensing wipers, sports bucket seats, auto folding mirrors and GT-Line specific chrome styling touches.
Not bad. The styling is certainly turned up a notch over the regular 208 range and the spec list makes it one of the better-equipped cars in the segment. However, there are some notable omissions which hurt on a car at this price. For example, there’s no option for push-start or LED headlamps.
Safety is okay, but it could use update. More on that in the safety section.
The A-Class sedan is launching with two variants, the A 200 at $49,400, before on-road costs, and an entry-level A 180, arriving in August 2019 at $44,900.
We’ll cover active and passive safety tech in the safety section, but above and beyond that standard equipment for the A 180 runs to 17-inch alloy wheels, ‘Artico’ faux leather upholstery, the ‘MBUX’ widescreen cockpit display (two 10.25-inch digital screens), auto LED headlights and DRLs, keyless entry and start, auto-dimming rearview mirror, climate-control, sat nav, multi-function sports steering wheel, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, ‘Active Parking Assist’ (with ultrasonic proximity sensors front and rear), tinted glass, plus nine-speaker, 225W audio with digital radio, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The A200 steps up to 18-inch alloy rims, and adds a dual exhaust system, four-way electrical adjustment for the driver’s seat (with lumbar support), a folding rear armrest (with twin cupholders), adaptive high-beam assist, and a wireless device charging bay.
Engine & trans
The regular (that’s non-GTi) 208s are offered with just one engine now. A 1.2-litre turbo petrol three-cylinder, which produces 81kW/205Nm. While that doesn’t sound like an awful lot, it turns out to be plenty for the little 1070kg hatch.
Unlike some notable French manufacturers, Peugeot has seen the light and dumped single-clutch automatics (aka automated manuals) in favour of a six-speed torque converter auto, which does its best to have you not notice it.
It also has a stop-start system, which might save fuel (I couldn’t objectively prove that it did) but will definitely annoy you at the lights.
Both models are powered by the same 1.3-litre (M282) direct-injection four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine as the hatch, the A180 tuned to deliver 100kW (at 5500rpm) and 200Nm (at 1460rpm), with the A 200 bumping that up to 120kW (at 5500rpm) and 250Nm (at 1620rpm).
The claimed/combined fuel number for the 208 GT-Line is a slightly unrealistic-sounding 4.5L/100km. Sure enough, after a week of city/highway combined driving, I produced a number of 7.4L/100km. So, a solid miss. Slightly less-enthusiastic driving should see that number drop, but I still don’t see how you could get it down to 4.5L/100km.
The 208 requires a minimum of 95RON mid-range fuel, and has a 50-litre tank.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 5.7L/100km for both models, with a CO2 emissions figure of 130g/km.
Over roughly 250km of open highway driving on the launch program the A 200’s on-board computer coughed up a figure of 6.3L/100km. So, the real-world highway cycle figure is higher than the claimed combined number. Which is a miss, but not a massive one, and fuel-efficiency is still pretty impressive.
Minimum fuel requirement is 95 RON premium unleaded, and you’ll need 43 litres of it (plus a 5.0-litre reserve) to fill the tank.
The 208 is good fun, and lives up to its heritage of making the most of its lightweight dimensions and small figure to make for an agile city-slicker. The engine outputs might look like just any other hatch in this class, but the turbo comes on nice and strong in an impressively linear fashion.
It makes for reliable and strong acceleration, with the peak 205Nm of torque available at 1500rpm.
A featherweight at 1070kg, you’ll find no complaints from me about its performance. It’s no GTi, but it will still be warm enough for most.
Despite its upright figure, handling is fantastic, too. The low-profile Michelins feel planted at the front and back, and, unlike the GTi, you never really feel at risk of understeer or wheelspin.
This is all enhanced by the intense helm, with the small steering wheel giving it a thoroughly engaging feel. You can chuck this car into corners and down alleyways with enthusiasm, and it feels like it loves it as much as you do.
The suspension is stiff, especially at the rear, and the low-profile rubber makes it noisy on coarse-chip surfaces, but you’ll barely hear a peep out of the little engine. Other notable downsides include the slow-to-react stop-start system (which you can turn off) and the lack of active cruise, which would be nice at this price.
Three things stand out on first meeting with the A-Class sedan – ride comfort, steering feel, and road noise, or rather the lack of it.
The ‘biggest’ compliment you can pay a small car is that it rides like a bigger one, and behind the A 200’s wheel you’d swear the wheelbase was appreciably longer than the 2.7 metres it actually measures.
Over long undulations, even higher frequency bumps and ruts, the A-Class remains stable and composed thanks to a thoroughly sorted (strut front, torsion beam rear) suspension, with beautifully progressive damping a particular highlight.
Electromechanically-assisted steering points accurately and delivers good road feel without any undue vibration. And despite the A-Class launch drive loop covering typically coarse-chip bitumen roads through rural Victoria, overall noise levels remained impressively low.
Acceleration is brisk rather than properly sharp, but in the A 200 there’s more than enough oomph to keep things on the boil for easy highway cruising and overtaking.
With maximum torque available from just above 1600rpm, and a seven-speed dual-clutch auto transmission keeping revs in the sweet spot, the A 200 breezes through the cut and thrust of city traffic, too.
Auto shifts are smooth and quick, with manual changes via the wheel-mounted paddles adding even more direct access to your ratio of choice. And the bonus is no sign of the slow-speed shuntiness sometimes exhibited by dual-clutch autos, especially in twisting, three-point parking manoeuvres.
Special call-out for the cruise control which responds to adjustments quickly (including 10km/h jumps up or down with a firm press of the thumb) and rapidly retards downhill speeds.
Several unbroken hours in the front seat couldn’t generate a twinge of discomfort, the brakes are strong, and over-shoulder visibility is marginally better than in the hatch (not that it’s a weakness in the latter).
Add the sleek and intuitive multimedia system, high-quality audio, plus excellent ergonomics and you have a neatly resolved compact sedan that’s easy to use in the city and suburbs, keeping solid road-tripping ability up its sleeve as well.
On the topic of active cruise, this car is showing its age in the safety department. Available active safety is limited to a camera-based city-speed auto emergency braking system (AEB). The lack of a radar, even optionally, means no active cruise or freeway-speed AEB. There’s also no option for blind-spot monitoring (BSM), lane-departure warning (LDW) or lane-keep assist (LKAS).
Sure, we’re talking about a car which largely dates back to 2012, but you can get cars a full size up with all those features for close to the same money from Korea and Japan.
On the more impressive side, you get an above-average set of six airbags, seatbelt pre-tensioners and rear ISOFIX child-seat mounting points, as well as the expected set of electronic braking and stability aids. A reversing camera is also now standard.
The 208 previously held a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating from 2012, but that rating is limited to four-cylinder variants, which have since been phased out. Three-cylinder cars remain un-rated.
Think automotive safety and Mercedes-Benz will be one of the first names to pop into your mind, and the A 180 offers in impressive suite of active features including ABS, BA, EBD, stability and traction controls, a reversing camera (with dynamic guidelines), ‘Active Brake Assist’ (Merc-speak for AEB), ‘Adaptive Brake’, ‘Attention Assist’, ‘Blind Spot Assist’, ‘Cross-wind Assist’, ‘Lane Keep Assist’, a tyre pressure warning system, the ‘Pre-Safe’ accident anticipatory system, and ‘Traffic Sign Assist’. The A 200 adds ‘Adaptive Highbeam Assist’.
If all that fails to prevent an impact you’ll be protected by nine airbags (front, pelvis and window for driver and front passenger, side airbags for rear seat occupants and a driver’s knee bag), and the ‘Active Bonnet’ automatically tilts to minimise pedestrian injuries.
The A-Class was awarded a maximum five ANCAP stars in 2018, and for smaller occupants there are three child restraint/baby capsule top tether points across the back seat, with ISOFIX anchors on the two outer positions.
Peugeot offers a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty on its entire range of passenger cars, which is up-to-date and in-line with most segment competitors.
The 208 requires servicing at yearly or 15,000km intervals (whichever occurs first) and has a fixed price to the length of the warranty.
Servicing is not cheap, with yearly visits costing between $397 and $621, although there’s nothing on the optional extras list, that price is all-inclusive.
Total cost over the five-year period is $2406 for an (expensive) average of $481.20 a year.
That lags behind the mainstream market where the majority of players are now at five years/unlimited km, with some at seven years.
On the upside, Mercedes-Benz Road Care assistance is included in the deal for three years.
Service is scheduled for 12 months/25,000km (whichever comes first) with pricing available on an ‘Up-front’ or ‘Pay-as-you-go’ basis.
Pre-payment delivers a $500 saving with the first three A-Class services set at a total of $2050, compared to $2550 PAYG. Fourth and fifth services are also available for pre-purchase.