Peugeot revise the 208 hatchback as new Partner drive rolls back the years
Nearly 20 years ago I drove a small Peugeot van in the Sahara. It was in Mauritania, one of poorest countries in the world and the van was the Partner.
The latest manifestation of the Partner was recently rolled out - this time in more salubrious surroundings - near Graz in Austria. How the world has changed and how the rate of change has accelerated.
Just three years ago, Peugeot rolled out the brand new 208 supermini hatchback. But such is the pace and nature of our 21st century, it now gets a makeover to keep it competitive and continue Peugeot's move upmarket. It was the main focus of our visit to Graz.
There are changes to the front, rear and cabin, a fresh engine lineup and - among lots of other things - a paint job with a difference. The textured paint will cost €800 (the same as pearlescent). It isn't smooth like conventional. It has a slightly tactile feel - like fine Saharan sand.
Anyway, there's more 'personalisation' (you can order packs and all sorts of bling) in the 208 and a spread of new colours (I liked the Orange). There's a lot of customisation and personalisation, unimaginable three, never mind nearly 20 years ago.
And there are plenty of bits and pieces and packs to give the car a different look as well. They've added, upgraded and included comfort and safety equipment while the range now embraces GT Line and GTi models.
There are new gearboxes (6spd auto especially) and engines (1.2-litre 3cyl turbo petrol and excellent 1.6 diesels).
Driving remains the 208's best asset, I think. I have always liked the 'i-cockpit' with the small steering wheel that allows you to see key instruments and dials straight in your line of vision.
Diesels, of course, form the backbone (60pc of 208 Irish sales) but they were anxious for us to test the new 3cyl petrol: a 5spd 110bhp 1.2-litre 3cyl petrol (Allure spec, 3dr) and a 6spd auto 5dr GT Line.
That 110bhp 1.2-litre (103g/km), in the 208 for the first time, was lively and had impressive levels of pulling power. It comes with with a 5spd manual or 6spd automatic gearbox (104g/km).
It's an interesting addition to the other 3cyl lineup of 1-litre PureTech (68hp) and 1.2-litre PureTech (82bhp) engines. The latter has been their petrol best-seller.
But the 1.6BlueHDI 100bhp diesel, also for the first time in a 208, got my vote. It was excellent and well worth a drive if you are putting up reasonable mileage. It will ultimately replace the 1.4-litre. However, I see the petrols making inroads over the next while; they make more sense for urban users and, slowly, that is beginning to dawn.
Worth noting on the diesels is that the 5spd 75bhp, 100bhp and (6spd) 120bhp 1.6-litre versions are below 95g/km (only the entry 75bhp doesn't have stop/start).
We'll know specific price and spec details before the new range arrives in July. Expect a lot of infotainment and connectivity stuff. The 7ins touch screen will be standard from Active trim. It permits access include audio, sat nav, phone, internet etc. There's Bluetooth, USB and mobile applications.
And MirrorScreen (allows you transfer smartphone screen to the main display so you can use apps) is there too.
Ther new trim level spec - GT Line - is based on Allure trim (it has an 'Equalizer grille' with red 3D markings, gloss black grille, 17ins alloys, red lettering etc).
And there's a 'GTi by Peugeot Sport' with lowered height, wider tracks, 18ins wheels etc,
Technology such as Active City Brake and a reversing camera are also being included.
Then we moved onto the Teepee, a practical, flexible 5/7 seater people carrier that costs around the €23,000 mark. Hadn't driven one before. It struck me as value for a family, for example.
Finally, that 1.6-litre BlueHDI diesel powered our Partner van drive. It only confirmed my earlier impression in the 208. We had a quick nip in the electric version of the van too. There seemed to be a lot of load-carrying room.
This is the real-world economy where practicalities such as lashing points and sliding doors are vital for owner/drivers.
Yet I was more struck by the level of equipment in the cabin - unthinkable all those years ago. Like the shifting sands, nothing remains the same and change accelerates by the year.