We couldn’t have chosen a worse day to go on a near 500-mile trip in the Peugeot 208, heading straight into the teeth of Storm Desmond. And yet we couldn’t have chosen a better day to go on a near 500-mile trip in the Peugeot 208, heading straight into the teeth of Storm Desmond.
Even in top-grade Allure spec, a 99bhp diesel supermini such as the 208 wouldn’t be many people’s first choice of car to spend hundreds of miles and many, many hours in. Which is exactly why we set out on just such a journey, to find out if a supermini can be a car for all seasons – quite literally, as it turned out.
Our destination was the pretty Welsh seaside town of Harlech, set deep in the heart of Snowdonia, for no other reason than I lived there for a few months 20 years ago and hadn’t been back since. The journey didn’t start well, and not just because we knew we were heading into appalling weather. My co-driver for this adventure, James, arrived with a migraine and the 208’s infotainment refused to recognise my MP3 player.
So we weren’t in exactly high spirits as we struck out west. No matter, though, as the 208 proved to be a perfectly competent motorway cruiser as we hacked along the M4 and A419. The ride just on the smooth side of firm, and the half-leather seats on our Allure-spec car are extremely comfortable. It’s a shame, then, that refinement doesn’t quite match, the drone from the 1.6-litre BlueHDi engine never going away entirely.
We leave multi-lane roads and head across country to Ross-On-Wye. The road is packed with fantastic corners, but traffic and speed limits mean progress is frustratingly slow. Still, the 208 is an entertaining thing to thread through corners, even at half-speed.
The day is dank and dull, but the rolling Heresfordshire country is picture-postcard perfect. We laugh riotously passing through the village of Boxbush. Which prompts a discussion about the Yorkshire town of Wetwang.
Since the River Wye is in flood, we skirt round Ross and head north to Leominster, then turn west towards the very heart Wales.
The weather deteriorates and we the lose the DAB radio signal. This is properly Welsh Wales, this. The scenery looks like its been lifted from the pages of a Tolkien story. We turn onto the A483 and Crossgates and discover a proper little gem of a road. Through forests, alongside rivers, up and down hills, it’s as if all the best corners of the world’s race tracks have been laid out end-to-end.
Conditions as they are – driving rain, howling wind – it seems prudent not to go too mad. Traffic keeps getting in the way, too, but I get a few stretches of clear and really open up the 208. There is real talent in the chassis, but there’s a fuzzy layer between it and you. It easily answers every question I ask it, but it’s not an animated conversation. The chassis and steering tell you want you need to know, but filter out the fine detail a Fiesta would provide.
The fast and flowing A470 leads to the A487 at Machynlleth which takes us deep into Snowdonia. The weather is properly appalling. The mountains glower down on us, insignificant specks in a tiny little car. This is one of those days that reminds you of the overwhelming power of Mother Nature.
Still the Peugeot plows on, completely unruffled. More to the point, so are we. James has recovered from his migraine, my dodgy back isn’t complaining; we wouldn’t be much more relaxed in an S-Class. More entertained, though. Even the FM radio signal is breaking up and the aux-in socket still isn’t working.
With so many hills, the ultra-long gearing becomes a drag. Our mid-level BlueHDi 100 car has five gears, spaced to eke out the fuel consumption in the very specific circumstances of the NEDC test as far as possible. Though the engine has plenty of torque from the the mid-range, the gearing means there is absolutely nothing below about 1,250rpm. So you end up constantly changing gear to keep the motor in the sweet spot. At least the gearbox is easy to row through.
We take the coast road up to Harlech, alongside an apocalyptically angry Irish Sea. It’s not even three o’clock and night is drawing in already. The road is narrow and there are vicious dry stone walls on either side, but the 208 is easy top thread through. We finally pull into a windswept car park in Harlech town centre, six hours after setting off (we were hoping to get there in four).
Swapping seats proves to be the most dangerous part of the journey yet, the howling gale nearly taking doors off hinges and us off our feet. On a sunny summer’s day Harlech is very pretty, but there are few worse places to be in the midst of a biblical storm.
With James at the wheel we head out of town and start the long slog back. After we’ve negotiated several minor floods on the A496, it’s an uneventful drive. We finally clear the weather around Welshpool, though it’s still windy as we drive two-thirds of the length of the M40. And the 208 takes every single yard of it in its stride.
12 hours and 463 miles after leaving, we arrive back in Reading. What started as a test of the 208’s endurance became a test of our own. Non-functioning aux-in port aside, the car performed faultlessly throughout, ploughing resolutely on even when it seemed like the world was ending.
The Peugeot 208 is certainly one of the best superminis on the market right now. That it turned out be no worse than any other type of car over a very long distance underlines just how good it is.
Peugeot 208 1.6 BlueHDi 100 Allure 5-door
Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cylinder turbo diesel
Transmission: 5-speed manual; front-wheel-drive
Power/Torque: 99bhp; 187lb/ft
Economy/Emissions: 80.7mpg; 90g/km
Top speed: 116mph