Peugeot e-208 prototype review

With the new, electric Peugeot e-208 hatchback due to arrive in 2020, we drive a prototype model

This does not look like a momentous car, but it is. Because this isn’t any Peugeot 208, it’s an electric 208. A car that every household has heard of, and that rings with an aura of familiarity and dependability. It’s electric power gone mainstream like never before.

And when it arrives in showrooms at the beginning of next year, you can pick your colour and which of the four trims you’d like, and then you can pick your powertrain – petrol, diesel or electric. As ordinary a choice as choosing ketchup or mayo with your chips.

Go electric, and the Peugeot e-208 is what you get. Almost indistinguishable from its siblings - other than for a blue-green tinge to the lion badge and the ‘e-208’ moniker - it’s a smart-looking five-door hatchback that’s pitched as an upmarket yet affordable option next to rivals like the Renault ZOE and the Vauxhall Corsa-e (which shares the Peugeot’s platform and powertrain).

Underneath the stubby bonnet is a 134bhp electric motor that powers the front wheels, and is fed by a 50kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Official WLTP driving range is pegged at 211 miles, and charging happens via a CCS and Type 2 port that’s tucked into the flank where a fuel filler cap would normally be.

The car comes with all the cables you need to plug into public chargers, or even a three-pin domestic socket, although the latter will take a full day to charge the car.

Plug the e-208 into a 7kW home charger and you’ll have a full battery in some 7.5 hours, at a cost of around £7 on an average domestic utility tariff in the UK. Or, you can set the e-208 (and every electric car) to charge up within certain hours to make the most of cheaper off-peak tariffs, which could see that cost more than halved.

Conveniently, the e-208 will come with an app for your smartphone that’ll allow you to check on the car’s status and control charging, pre-set the cabin climate control and more.

Not only that, but Peugeot is also expected to offer free use of a petrol or diesel equivalent for a certain number of weekends per year to take the anxiety out of those occasional long journeys.

If you do want to take the e-208 on a road trip, plug into a 100kW rapid charger and it’ll take on a 20-80% top-up in around 20 minutes, while a 50kW charger will do the same in 40 minutes.

You might want to road trip it, too, as the e-208 is peachy to drive judging by our brief go in a prototype model. Not terribly exciting or even terribly fast, but it’s smooth and assertive, and has a gutsy turn of speed that will make merging into fast traffic feel easy and satisfying.

Sure, it’s not as fun as the more light-footed Ford Fiesta, but the steering feels light yet easy to judge, and there’s a wieldiness to the e-208 that’ll be perfect for driving around town. Ultimately, it feels confident and instantly easy to drive.

The Peugeot is offered with two levels of brake regeneration, the system that automatically slows the car when you lift off the throttle, thereby using the car’s own forward momentum to harvest energy and top-up the batteries.

In its default mode, the brake regen’ is so light as to be almost unnoticeable, but nudge the gearshifter into ‘B’ mode and it weights up, improving efficiency and range, and offering retardation that’s easy to judge. Look far enough up the road and you rarely need to use the brake pedal at all.

Ride comfort, too, is well suited to the e-208’s laid-back character.  You can feel that it’s a fairly heavy car in the way it leans a lot through corners, but most of the time the e-208 is calm and quiet.

There’s very little whine from the motor and only a distant rumble of tyre and wind noise, even at high speeds. If you’re used to driving small petrol cars and are thinking of going for an e-208, the lack of noise will probably feel disconcerting at first. Just give it a bit of time, and soon you won’t ever want to go back.

The interior of the e-208 could well be what sways it for you over the alternatives. The minimalist dash, with its stepped architecture and tactile blend of gloss plastic or metal and dense-feeling textiles, looks absolutely great.

The floating touchscreen is standard, and while we’d prefer separate air con buttons so that you don’t have to exit the nav screen to change the temperature, it’s a well equipped and mostly user-friendly system.

Space in the e-208 is exactly the same as that in the ‘normal’ 208, so there’s plenty of room in the back for a couple of average-sized adults to get comfortable.

Meanwhile, the 311-litre boot is a good size and shape. What is hard to forgive is that there’s no dedicated storage space for the cables. Nor is there room for a space saver tyre, so the e-208 is only offered with a repair kit.

It does have masses of other safety kit, though. Adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition, autonomous emergency braking, a rear parking camera and a semi-autonomous driving modes will all be on offer, with much of the high tech driver aids standard across the range.

Equipment levels are yet to be confirmed, but you can expect keyless entry and dual-zone climate control on top-spec models, while even the cheaper options will get air con, cruise control, smartphone integration for the touchscreen and digital dials for the driver.

Pricing is also to be confirmed, but expect the e-208 to start at around £25,000 after the Government’s £3,500 discount has been applied, which is no small chunk of cash. That’s likely to work out at around £7,000 more than an equivalent 1.2 petrol 208, which will make it difficult to stomach for many buyers.

Still, Vauxhall has already confirming that the Corsa-e will be available from £270 per month with a £5,000 deposit, so here’s hoping that Peugeot will be in the same ballpark for monthly finance.

The battery warranty is also included in this price, of course, covering 160,000km (99,419 miles) and eight years of use. If the car’s range drops to below 70% of its as-new range in that time, Peugeot will repair or replace the battery under warranty.

Of course, with company-car tax for the next three years confirmed as being so low that these more affordable electric cars virtually free to business users, the craking e-208 promises to be a hit in that market.

While it’s far from flawless, the interior design and finish, easygoing dynamics, useful range and practicality mean that the e-208 will almost certainly steal sales from cars like the Nissan Leaf and Kia Soul EV. Soon-to-arrive rivals like the updated Renault ZOE should be worried too.