By on May 8, 2015

2015 Peugeot 108

They say simple, affordable and fun cars are not made these days, but maybe we’ve been looked for them in the wrong places. Maybe affordable fun still exists, buried under a skin not cool enough to capture petrolheads’ interests…

James Dean behind the wheel of his Porsche 356 Speedster, tearing up Mullholland Drive, a cigarette hanging coolly from the side of his mouth, his hands wrestling the unassisted steering. The air-cooled flat four barking. Tires screeching. That’s the petrolhead dream. That’s the legend.

And as an important part of this mythology, something driven by the epitomes of cool like Dean or McQueen, the 356 Speedster (or any 356, for that matter) is revered and prized. Buying a nice example requires the kind of money that would get you a brand new 911. Or three. Or a 911 and a perfectly fine aeroplane.

But you don’t want a 911 and you don’t want a Boxster because, as they say, each 911 is worse than the previous one. It’s faster. It’s more comfortable. It’s got better soundproofing. It is better at isolating you from what’s going on. And you don’t want to be isolated. You want experience.

2015 Peugeot 108

So engineers spend months and years fine-tuning electric power steering to feel as hydraulic as possible. They play around with the suspension to make the car quick enough, but at the same time leave space for you to expend effort. They engineer the exhaust and soundproofing in just a way to get the sound you want.

And we moan about it being too artificial.

We talk about old cars from old times when everything was for real. Or, to be more precise, we dream about them. Because most of us have never even sat in a 356, let alone drive one.

So, why was the 356 so great? Or was it even so great a car?

No – it was horrible.

I know that you’re probably about to skip the rest of the article and jump right to the comments to make shreds of me. But, please, wait a moment and hear me out.

The Porsche 356 wasn’t much more than a VW Beetle, shortened a bit and fitted with a sleeker body. The Beetle was the pinnacle of automotive engineering in the Third Reich, but in 1950s America, its main virtue was it was cheap, reliable and well-built. It was something you bought for your wife for the weekly shop. Or to your teenage son as a method of birth control. It may have been a typical family car in Europe, but Europe was, at the time, poor and recovering from the war.

2015 Peugeot 108

The Beetle was cheap. It had terrible suspension – even by the standards of the day. And it was slow.

The Porsche 356 was a bit quicker – not by much. Your grandmother’s Buick station wagon would whip its ass in a drag race.

But it became legend because of how predictable it was, how well it handled on the limits of both the driver’s and its own abilities. To make the most of it, you had to try. It gave you the feeling of being alive.

With each and every new Porsche generation, the numbers on the speedometer grow, but at the same time, the feeling on connection with the machine diminishes. The sense of being the hero taming the wild machine was getting lost. And it’s not just Porsche. First, this affected the “big sportscars“ and GTs. Later it happened with “people’s sportscars“ and hot hatches. And today, almost everything that calls itself “sporty“ is too fast for you to really make the most of its abilities on the public road.

Take the Peugeot 208 GTi I drove last year. It’s said to be a spiritual successor of the raw, exhilarating 205 GTi. But in reality, it’s more of a slick GT car, packed in a hatchback body. It’s great, if you want a damned quick car for a (relatively) modest sum of money. But, if you want to enjoy the feeling of driving like a superhero and pushing the car to its limits in everyday traffic, you’d have to be a psychopath or Ayrton Senna. The 208 GTi is too quick to really make the most of it on a public road.

Vojta looks impressed with the 2015 Peugeot 108

Vojta looks impressed with the 2015 Peugeot 108

And that’s the reason for most of the laments today’s petrolheads throw at the current crop of sportscars. They’re too quick. They isolate you from the driving experience too well (in the words of a normal human, they’re too comfortable). They have to fake the experience with artificial exhaust sounds and similar cheats. They’re too big and heavy. They have too much grip.

But aren’t we just looking at the wrong place? What if the problem is in our fixed idea of how a fun car should look? After all, we tend to forget that some of the most famous sportscars in history had humble roots – be it the 205 GTi, the original Mini or even that 356 Speedster we mentioned in the beginning.

DSC_3615

Which is the right time to start finally getting to the point – the Peugeot 108.

We’ll start with some boring numbers. The base 108 weighs 840 kg (1,850 lbs) and its three-cylinder engine has 69 hp. The lightest, most basic 356 Speedster did weigh 771 kg (1,700 lbs). And its flat four, in its most powerful form, offered 75 horsepower.

Replace the Speedster with a base Cabriolet or just consider the smaller of engines offered and you have almost identical power to weight ratio as today’s small city car. Of course, the numbers aren’t everything.

The three-cylinder engine has a nice, raspy sound. It’s not nearly as special as the hollow growl the boxer four made thanks to engineers of Kraft durch Freude before WWII, but it’s interesting enough to entice you into revving it up. And because you’re sitting in a small, cheap city car with little soundproofing, you can enjoy the natural engine note without having it pumped through the speakers.

The gearshift is quite light and precise (at least for a cheap French car), but its mechanical roughness reminds you that you’re driving a machine and not a video game.

The electric power steering gets no points for communication or feel, but it has a natural heft. The large, thin steering wheel feels pleasantly old-school – in fact, it’s much nicer to hold than the tiny one in the 208 GTi hot hatch.

And then there’s the suspension with tiny, narrow wheels and high-profile rubber. It’s surprisingly comfortable, even on rough roads, but as expected, it doesn’t provide much grip. In turns, the body rolls a bit more than a modern driver is used to and it definitely doesn’t invite you to test its limits. But at something like 80 percent, it’s surprisingly fun to drive.

I’m not talking pouring adrenalin and squealing tires. I’m talking a slightly spirited drive at speeds maybe not totally legal, but at least socially acceptable, which still gives you the feel that you really have to drive. You have to work the gearbox to keep the tiny engine at its best, you have to watch the braking and cornering lines to ensure you won’t loose much pace – because gaining it back won’t be easy.

You can drive as fast as you want – or as you can – without risking your driving licence. When you get to a straight, you don’t have to think about how long you can keep your foot down. Ten seconds? Twenty seconds? No, you can keep the pedal to the metal nearly all the time. Corners? Don’t worry about it. You aren’t going fast enough.

And because everything takes place at sane speeds and the hard-revving engine is a paltry one-liter four, you can do this dance all day. You won’t have to stop because your hands are shaking and your forehead is sweating, nor will you have to interrupt the fun by a trip to the gas station. Even in “spirited driving”, the 108 is quite happy with some 6.0-6.5L/100km (35-40 mpg). In normal driving, it’s to score under 5.0L/100km (over 50 mpg).

All this makes it seem that the 108 is more of a toy that you would buy for pleasure. It most certainly is not. In the first place, it’s a totally rational, practical city car, for sale less than $10,000 USD at current exchange rates. Its main virtue is not driving fun, but the fact it’s small, cheap, frugal and easy to park. It much like the original VW Beetle – just at least 1,000% better thanks to decades of development. And compared to its predecessor, the 107, it isn’t hideous to look at.

Negatives. For one, the Peugeot 108 isn’t as cheap as it probably should be. As every new PSA product, it’s slightly overpriced, just waiting for massive discounts to happen. This time, it’s even pricier than VW’s excellent Up!, while being smaller inside, less well made and probably even slower. But it does seem a bit more fun to drive.

The real trouble is the 108 and its many peers are in a similar position as Mitsubishi Mirage in America. Not the same position, of course – tiny cars are pretty much the norm in many places of Europe, and these things are much less ugly and probably much nicer to drive (I haven’t driven the Mirage, but the reviews are enough for me). But certainly not in the position of “style symbol”. You won’t look like James Dean driving one of those. Not even in a white tee and a leather jacket. On the other hand, isn’t the ability to pull off driving a tiny, cheap vehicle the ultimate sign of coolness these days?

So, our pro-tip: If you want to be as cool as James Dean, skip the old Porsche. He wouldn’t buy it today, he bought it because it made sense then. Today, it’s for old fart collectors. Buy a Peugeot 108. Three-door hatch. With a canvas roof. If possible, pick a pink one with floral stickers. This will let others know you don’t need to prove anything. And you’ll enjoy the drive, because it’s always more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow.

@VojtaDobes is motoring journalist from Czech Republic who previously worked for local editions of Autocar and TopGear magazines. Today, he runs his own website, www.Autickar.cz, and writes for various other Czech outlets. After a failed adventure with importing classic American cars to Europe, he is utterly broke, so he drives a ratty Chrysler LHS. His previous cars included a 1988 Caprice in NYC Taxi livery, a hot-rodded Opel Diplomat, two Dodge Coronets, a Simca, a Fiat 600 and Austin Maestro. He has never owned a diesel, manual wagon.

Photography: David Marek

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39 Comments on “2015 Peugeot 108 European Review...”


  • avatar
    Vega

    I think it is physically impossible to look more Czech than you do in that second picture. Amazing.

  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    Ha! I thought the same thing.

    Great review as well. Could the LHS take it on a twisty road?

    • 0 avatar
      Vojta Dobeš

      Depends on how twisty. Super-twisty backroad in the hills – no chance. Ordinary, mildly twisty road in the lowlands – maybe, if the LHS driver was brave enough. And maybe little insane. But it wouldn’t be fun in th Chrysler.

  • avatar
    cwallace

    I enjoyed your take on the whole “slow car fast vs fast car slow” discussion. Thinking back, the simpler, less-powerful cars I’ve owned were indeed more fun than the fancier, faster ones.

    I also like how the dashboard on this car reminds me of a Soviet pay telephone for some reason. Either that or a rice steamer.

  • avatar

    You know, I don’t think I’d mind the Mirage if its interior looked as cheerful as this car’s. Instead, the Mirage just looks like a 90s penalty box.

  • avatar
    mshenzi

    Yep, this sent me back to the memory of flogging my first car, a hand-me-down 1972 Dodge/Mitsubishi Colt. Learning to push it to its puny limits was fun and formative– and hitting those limits made you a public nuisance but not a public menace. I think it had around 80 HP, but if you switched on the dealer installed a/c it felt like about a third of that evaporated.

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    How much extra is it to have them delete the bar code on the dash? The digital simulated tuning band on the radio is an amusing touch. It seems like a much nicer car than the similarly spec’d Mirage, for even less money.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Is the wrapping paper on the mirrors a delete option as well? Blech.

      • 0 avatar
        Yuppie

        No way I totally dig that!

        There may be an error in the article. The first reference to the engine says 3 cylinder, but later the article says 1 liter 4?

        • 0 avatar
          CRConrad

          I interpreted this as telling that the base model has the three, but the one tested the four. Could be me got it wrong though, and you right it’s an error.

    • 0 avatar
      Vojta Dobeš

      It’s better than that. The whole “Barcode” theme (you can have six different ones as well) is a “true bargain” at something like $500. It includes stickers on the dash, mirrors, and the stripe over the car.

      Which is pretty great, considering that a whole-car wrap, including the design of your choice, would cost at least $600 here in CZ :-)))))

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Reminds me of the Panda I drove in Italy, which was one of the most memorable drives I’ve had in my life.

    Highway, mountain roads, city, it didn’t matter. The thing was engaging and quick enough to keep up with traffic (I have the 100 MPH speeding ticket to prove it!). With a small turbo (it got wheezy in the mountains), bigger tires/wheels/brakes and either better shocks or more rear suspension travel it would have been damn near perfect.

    I just halved the horsepower of my daily driver in a move for practicality and cost, and I am really enjoying the ability to bump up on my car’s limits on the road. In my old car even approaching the limits was scary. I didn’t have the balls or the room to breach them.

    I think small cars can be a ton of fun if they are just set up properly. I would buy a Panda 1.4T in a heartbeat.

    • 0 avatar
      Jerome10

      Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t the Jeep Renegade pretty much exactly that? A 1.4T Panda?

      Speaking of… Never driven a Panda but they always kinda appealed to me on the surface. And in Germany I see them advertised for something like €8900 new.

      I think I am content, however, to just keep that appeal in my head. That is a cheeeeeaaapp car.

      Peugeot. Meh. Doesn’t look bad though.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    When people talk about slow cars being more fun than fast cars, they’re talking about a Boxster/S being more fun than a 911 turbo. They’re not talking about 75hp.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Naw. On the street, any Porsche with the engine behind the seats… scratch that, any gasoline engine Porsche for sale today is “too fast to exploit on public roads”. Barring maybe the base Cayman/Boxster, a Miata or BRZ would probably be more fun and engaging.

      300-600HP performance cars on the road are like greyhounds in NYC studio apartments. It just doesn’t work.

      Like I said one of my most memorable driving experiences was in a 70HP car. That wasn’t the key metric though. The key metric was its ~2100lb curb weight. It could have used more power for sure but I wouldn’t trade any power for more weight, and that’s what’s lost in most performance cars today. What good is 400 HP if it’s saddled with 4,000 lbs? I’d definitely have the “slower” car if it’s the “significantly lighter” car too.

      • 0 avatar
        S2k Chris

        I drive a 240hp, 2800lb car on the road regularly, flog the crap out of it, and could use more power. And I ain’t Andretti. My car is give or take as fast as a base Boxster/Cayman. You can “exploit” them just fine.

      • 0 avatar
        juicy sushi

        I agree with the sentiment, but my sister has a greyhound and they’re shockingly good house dogs. This is down to be slightly more lazy than a sloth on codeine, but it was surprising.

        The dog is a bolt of lightning when in the mood, but if you ask her to run more than 100 metres, she’s going to give up and lie down. She also dislkes long walks and spends most of her time (18 hours a day) sleeping on the couch.

        Actually, I suppose that is essentially the Ferrari ownership experience, so nevermind…

  • avatar
    SELECTIVE_KNOWLEDGE_MAN

    It’s a shame that you waste so much time on tangents but don’t mention the other two similar cars (Citroën C1 and Toyota Aygo). They are styled more diverse than any other platform sharing city cars. If you want conservative you get the Peugeot 208. If you want more style the C1 is a better option and if you want manga-like craziness you get an Aygo. Volkwagen showed that styling is extremely important in this segment when they introduced the iPad styled Up!(sic). It took some years, but now the PSA/TMC triplets follow suit.

    That styling plays an important role is further shown with the Hyundai. It is larger, cheaper, has better warranty and widely agreed upon as being superior to the VAG and PSA/TMC triplets, but the sales are pitiful in comparison. This can almost only be because of the boring styling.

    • 0 avatar
      darex

      Aren’t we essentially getting this car as a Scion in the near future (based on Toyota Aygo)?

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        The only new Scions on tap at the moment are a rebadged Avensis hatchback and a rebadged Mazda2 sedan.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        This 108 looks like a Yaris to me anyway, only the front is interesting.

        And I’d certainly choose the Up exclamation mark for less money – who does Peugeot think they’re kidding?

        • 0 avatar
          SELECTIVE_KNOWLEDGE_MAN

          There are some markets where the Up!(sic) is more expensive than the 108. I have driven both and would also choose the Up!(sic) if they were at the same price. It felt heavier… if that makes sense.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            It does. It’s a VW, it’s supposed to be solid and heavy. They only subtract the solid + heavy part from US models.

          • 0 avatar
            spw

            if you actually add same equipment, Up! is always more expensive than the triplets… but it has lower base price with 60hp engine and no equipment where triplets are almost always “loaded” by Up! standards. At least around here in eastern europe.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    “And today, almost everything that calls itself “sporty“ is too fast for you to really make the most of its abilities on the public road.”

    This thinking is why Toyota put a peaky 200hp engine in the FT86 and gave it “Prius tires”. Too bad it’s considered fatally slow by people who believe mashing the gas pedal for 2 seconds in a Mustang will somehow generate 400hp.

  • avatar
    madman2k

    That looks great, I’d love to have one if I lived in Europe.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Toyota should bring the Aygo here and make it their entry level car, the Yaris has gotten too expensive and its not competitive in its class.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    This article explains why I enjoyed driving a base Fiat 500 around even in automatic rental form. There was a certain plucky attitude about it that makes me contemplate a stripper 500 “convertible” with a manual trans. With two kids now, another Miata would rarely get used but one of these would be a reasonable daily driver for three seasons here in Northern MI.

    Have you seen the resale on these? Terrible. Which makes a used one seem like a bargain. For some reason, however, almost every one I see has an automatic.

  • avatar
    Joss

    108 Looks pudgy like current Micra. Four fat yanks – should they fit – would kill the 108. The Mirage, once optioned-up isn’t as cheap as it should be.

  • avatar
    jdmcomp

    I am fondly thinking of the hours my wife and I spent at the Cafe Menilmontant, sipping a happy hour cheap blond ale and watching traffic and people (oh those stylish ladies of Paris)go by. I was amazed to not see even one car of size come by. But then in Paris, with no parking, low speed limits and traffic traffic traffic this would be the perfect car. I later in that trip got to see many more examples at the Paris Auto show, and long to see something like them here. The americanized examples just seem to lose all style in the process. Cheap simple and joyful is great.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    “isn’t the ability to pull off driving a tiny, cheap vehicle the ultimate sign of coolness these days?”

    No! Driving a heavy, expensive vehicle which uses tons of premium fuel is the ultimate sign of coolness!

    AMERICAAAAA!

  • avatar
    kablamo

    A very enjoyable review.

    There is great driving pleasure in playing at the limits of a vehicle, but if the performance is too high it becomes dangerous and wreckless.

    A manual transmission is essential to enjoying this kind of car, with an auto it would probably simply be frustrating.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    I agree very much, to a point. When I want a raw, fun driving experience, I have a ’74 Triumph Spitfire in the garage. Even with an engine that has had all the old-school tuning tricks done to it, it has 75hp on a good day. Not bad for 1.35L though, and it weighs ~1900lbs. You can beat the ever loving snot out of it and never break the speed limit. Feels like you are going 900mph. Just tremendous fun. It even rides nicely with Koni dampers and 175/70-13s on it. But it is also a LOT of work. It is never relaxing. It is loud, the seats suck, you can’t hear the stereo, and it is not much fun in any sort of traffic. You broil on a hot day and freeze on a cold one. So best kept for fun days while the various modern cars do the daily driver duty. I really don’t see the point of having something like this Peugeot or a Mirage because it is fun to beat on. It’s just not fun enough, while still being a little too miserable. As low as I could see going in the slow/cute/cheap range would be a basic Fiat 500 in a cool color combo. They look and feel a lot more special than a super cheap econobox at the expense of well, a few grand of expense and some space that I don’t need anyway.

    I do have a certain level of fear in the back of my mind that my M235i will prove unsatisfying long-term because the performance will be largely unusable in the US. That was certainly something I loved about my Abarth – I usually didn’t bother with sport mode, 130hp was more than enough for the thing to be a laugh riot without getting into trouble.

  • avatar

    The most fun I ever had driving a car was in a base model 1.0 litre, four-speed 1990 Peugeot 205. It had skinny tyres and unassisted steering. I will never forget the way it took a sharp right, short straight and sharp left over a bridge over the Liffey one summer’s night nor the engagement of a three hour thrash across the mountainous Dingle peninsula. Nothing I have driven since then has been so entertaining. I have driven the Toyota equivalent of this Peugeot 108 and did judge it to be fun but only 10% as fun as the 205. You can read the first of three reviews here to get a more in-depth description and review here:
    http://driventowrite.com/2014/09/02/2014-toyota-aygo-1-0-vvt-i-review/
    The boot is too small and compared to the 205 is not as practical. The 205 was a superb package as well as being a hoot to the power of two-oh-five.

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