The new Peugeot 108 is one of the new city car trio from Peugeot, Toyota and Citroen. If our drives of the latest Aygo and C1 are anything to go by, then it may have its work cut out in this rapidly expanding class.
However, the brand seems to have got its sales strategy right, and has tried to set the new 108 apart by pitching it squarely at the female buyers who make up the majority of city car sales. That means a wide range of bright colours, three interior themes and seven styling packs that include stickers for the exterior, patterned seat fabrics and dash stickers all for an additional £350.
The 108 is slightly longer than the old 107, with a bigger boot to help improve practicality. From launch it will be available as a three-door, five-door, and (for a reasonable £850) a Top! model, with a folding fabric roof.
Unlike the Aygo, there is a choice of three-cylinder petrol engines available. The 68bhp 1.0-litre from Toyota is available as a five-speed manual or with an semi-auto 'ETG' gearbox, but there is the option of Peugeot's own 80bhp 1.2-litre Puretech engine.
Whichever motor you choose, every version emits less than 100g/km of CO2.
What is the 2014 Peugeot 108 like to drive?
Our biggest gripe lies with the 108's refinement. Both the 1.0- and 1.2-litre engines send a lot of buzz and vibration through the steering wheel, gearstick and seat bases, and it’s a near constant irritation. Ultimately, the 108 is more refined than Toyota's Aygo, but its still some way behind the class leaders.
Driving on the motorway highlights further issues. Although the engine, wind and road noise are also better isolated than in the Aygo, they're still really noticeable. On a longer motorway journey you'll arrive feeling pretty worn out by it all.
We also drove the Top! version, and with the large fabric roof pulled back, there is a lot of buffeting and roar from the wind, and even at moderate speeds we soon found ourselves quickly shutting it again to allow the conversation inside to continue at a normal level.
Of the two engines we preferred the 1.0 litre, certainly for city driving. It feels very slow and needs to be worked hard, but its five-speed gearbox has a smoother action than the loose, notchy 'box in the 1.2, and it also seems to send less buzz through the pedals at idle. Bear in mind, though, that with two or more people on board, it will struggle on steep hills.
Accelerate hard in the 1.0-litre model when joining the motorway and it really does take too long to get going. Even with your foot to the floor the 108 builds speed very gradually, and once the power does arrive at high revs the engine note becomes really strained. The 1.2-litre engine is a little better in this regard because it doesn't need to be worked quite as hard.
As with the majority of automatic city cars, we'd avoid the 108 'ETG' if at all possible. The robotised manual is slow and clunky, often getting caught out when pulling away from the lights, or when you require a burst of speed – but it does at least only have a small impact on the official economy figures.
Drive along a typical stretch of bumpy UK road littered with potholes and speed bumps, and while the 108 never crashes over them, it does jostle its passengers around. It deals better with longer crests and dips, but never settles into a composed cruise.
This firmness would be less of an issue if the body control were better, but the 108 still leans over into faster bends, and runs out of grip pretty quickly in tighter turns. As a result it never feels as planted or reassuring as a Skoda Citigo or Hyundai i10, so it never feels quite as enjoyable to drive as those cars.
The steering is light and reasonably accurate, and although there is a bit of slack movement around the straight ahead, the tight turning circle and light controls make it easy to park or fit into tight gaps in traffic.
What is the 2014 Peugeot 108 like inside?
Good in parts. Even with its tiny exterior dimensions, there’s loads of space in the supportive front seats, and enough head- and shoulder room to suit most passengers. Every version bar the entry-level Access trim has a height adjustable driver’s seat, but the passenger seat is always fixed, and mounted oddly high in the cabin, so you feel perched on the car rather than inside it.
Space in the back suffers from the sloping roof, though. Even teenagers will find their knees pressed hard into the seats in front, and rear headroom on the fabric roof Top! model is very poor. Things are a little better in the hard-top version, but it still feels cramped compared with the best in this class.
Cars in this price range are always built down to a price, but the dash, door cards and centre console in the 108 are all covered in hard, scratchy plastics that are a constant reminder of that tight budget. Buyers have the option to add one of three interior themes; the different-coloured plastic inserts for the dash improve matters, but they're a £100 option even on the highest trim levels.
On all but the entry-level cars, the 108 features a simple 7.0-inch touch-screen system for controlling the infotainment, and it can also link to certain smartphones (but not the latest iPhone) and project a mirror image onto the screen, allowing you to use Google maps navigation, read your messages or play music.
Our experience with the system was largely positive; the display is bright and clear, but with the roof down on the Top! model the glare from the sun makes it impossible to read, and the screen would go blank if the phone went into sleep mode.
On solid-roofed 108s this is less of an issue, though, and the on-screen buttons themselves are big, bold and very responsive. Bluetooth and DAB radio are also both standard with the screen; you'd need to buy a top-of-the-range i10 to get Bluetooth, and you can't get DAB at all.
The load bay is larger than before, and with 180 litres of space there is room to squeeze in a pair of weekend bags behind the rear seats, or a small weekly shop. Fold the 50:50 split rear seat backs down and this space expands to 780 litres, but there is a big step in the boot, and the seatbacks lie at an angle.
Safety technology was another priority, so every 108 gets hill start assist to prevent it rolling away on a slope, electronic stability control and six airbags, although it's yet to be crash tested by Euro NCAP.
Peugeot says the most popular spec will be the mid-range Active model, which comes with a plastic steering wheel and gearknob, and no rev-counter (it's a £40 option) but does have electric front windows, that neat touch-screen, manual air-con, and 15-inch steel wheels.
Splash out a little more for the Allure and you get quite a few gadgets, including keyless entry and start, a colour reversing camera, a speed-limiter, foglights, chrome details and electric and heated door mirrors.
Should I buy one?
Peugeot has given its little city car a boost thanks to extra technology and wide variety of styling options available to customers, and it's certainly an improvement on the previous model.
However the class-leading Hyundai i10, Skoda Citigo and VW Up are better in almost every area, from passenger space to practicality and performance. They're offered for a similiar price, too, although they're not quite as well equipped as the Peugeot.
The 108's biggest issue is its refinement. Both its engines are thrashy and send a lot of vibration through the controls, and wind and road noise are a constant companion.
It's for that reason that, although it's better than its sister car the Toyota Aygo, it remains a decent, well-priced alternative choice rather than a class contender.
What Car? says...
1.0 VTi 68 manual
1.0 VTi 68 ETG auto
1.2 Puretech 82 manual