Back in 2005 the Peugeot 107 joined the city car sector just at the right time - offering the combination of cheeky looks, super-low insurance costs and the option of 5-doors - before most rivals had cottoned onto the fact this was what buyers wanted. And Peugeot scored big with it, as did its partners Citroen and Toyota with the respective C1 and Aygo sister cars.
With the new Peugeot 108, the French car manufacturer is hoping to strike it big in the small car space once again. This time though, things are different. Before, your choice between 107, Aygo and C1 - all of which are effectively the same car - was likely to be based on how close the nearest dealer was.
With the new 108, however, there's real differentiation in how each of those cars looks and suspension tuning is different for each. Choose a Toyota Aygo, which looks like it's had a run in with an angry bird; select a Citroen C1, which looks like it's had its front lamps replaced by a pair of monocles; or opt for the 108, which looks like a perfectly nice, small car that isn't trying too hard.
We like the cut of the 108's jib, so can the Active 1.0 Top! model, as reviewed here, deliver big things for the smaller budget?
Anything but the city
There was a time not so long ago when these A-segment city cars were just that - great for the city but not much fun outside of it. Ironic then that, the week the 108 arrived, our schedule took in the Cotswolds, an early morning flight from Gatwick, followed by a midnight hack back from the airport to Cambridge - and eventually all the way up to Yorkshire a couple of days later. Or about 700-miles of motorways and A-roads.
Is that a fair test of a city car? Well, we weren't expecting Bentley-like levels of refinement. But it's fair to say that if a car can cut it on long journeys like the ones we made, it's probably good. And we came away pretty impressed by the tiny Peugeot.
You wouldn't expect electric performance from a 1.0 engine, but you also might not expect great refinement at motorway speeds. However, due to some very long gearing, the Peugeot might take its time to get up to the legal UK limit, but once there it thrums happily along. And after four hours at the wheel our ears weren't ringing.
Next positive point was the ride. City cars are (or should be) built to deal with potholes and speed humps - not slicing round the Nurburgring. But they can be tricky to make ride well because their wheelbase is so short. Peugeot has struck a nice balance with the 108 - it lollops over urban speed humps, but out of the city the ride remains compliant.
Add to that the one-piece seats that are surprisingly supportive and adjust much lower than we expected of a basic model, and you've got a fairly faithful companion for miles of motorway.
Since the earlier Peugeot 107 launched, in-car connectivity and tech has become arguably the big differentiator of modern cars. And it's inside and on the dash where you'll find some of the biggest surprises in the Peugeot 108.
The gauge setup in front of the driver is basic - with just a large speedo and fuel gauge to feast your eyes on - you don't get a rev counter or temperature gauge at this entry point either. It's a shame because with an engine this small, yet happy to be thrashed, having a rev counter would be a useful addition. It's standard on the next trim level.
Cast your eyes to the centre console, and from the Active trim upwards, you get a large 7-inch touchscreen as standard which stands proud at the top of the console. You use it to drive the radio, phone, media, navigation and so on.
Surprised to see navigation mentioned on an entry level city car? So are we - and it's by no means standard, but through the Peugeot's AppinCar App, you effectively get a portal to a series of apps that run on your phone through the touchscreen. These currently include Pioneer's NavGate Drive Europe - available to download for £70. Other options include Parkopedia and Mixtrax and we'd expect this list to be extended over time.
At first we felt the graphics and screen looked a little clunky and old school. But the more we used it, the more we appreciated it - because the slightly simplistic graphic resolution means you're presented with massive great buttons which are easy to hit while on the move - making changing station or settings much easier than in many premium cars.
More to the point, as standard you get a USB port, DAB radio, Bluetooth music streaming and steering wheel volume, channel and phone controls. Perhaps nothing to write home about, but nice to see at this level when premium brands are still charging hundreds of pounds extra for such things.
Chirpy, chirpy cheap, cheap
That set of features will, we suspect, cause many buyers to agonise about going for the "one from bottom" Active trim level, over the entry level Access trim. Although the entry-level car is £1,200 cheaper, you lose the touchscreen, DAB and Bluetooth, don't get a folding rear seat, nor air conditioning, height-adjustable driver seat or body coloured door mirrors and trim. Yet that cost represents over 10 per cent of the total value of the car - so it's a chunky step up in cost. We'd be tempted to find the extra money if we could, but if you can't, just remember it doesn't detract from the fundamentals of the car underneath.
And that's the bigger story here - because car companies make very little money out of city cars, their development costs are big and the profits on them are tiny. So they tread a fine line in working out what you'll accept as reasonable cost saving and not. Therefore cheap, hard plastics are pretty much a given in any city car. And the Peugeot is similar to most at this level in allowing the steering wheel to only adjust up and down, but not for reach.
There are a few bad surprises though. The fact you have to manually adjust your own mirrors, and the release button for the boot is mounted in the rear bumper (because the boot's just a single piece of darkened, toughened glass). Which - because the button's stiff and awkward to use - is an ergonomic challenge when you're carrying anything.
But the good points help to counteract. The driver's side window control includes a switch for the passenger side - something lacking in a Volkswagen up! - and the seat trim is really rather nice, in a jazzy, jersey-style fabric way, which on our test car was neatly colour keyed to the Aikinite exterior. Also known as "brown" to any normal person.
On top of that, we were driving the special Top! model - which is Peugeot's grammatically challenged way (it's oh so on trend right now) of saying it's got a canvas roof, which folds back the full length of the 108's roof and turns it into a Fiat 500C competitor - we can see some summertime appeal. Although we didn't find much use for it in a wet October week it has to be said.
With the roof open, the Peugeot's interior feels light and airy. For a city car it's surprisingly spacious up front too. You'll need to pull the seats forwards if your rear passengers have big legs, but cabin space is otherwise impressive. Only the comparatively small boot counts against it.
Cheerful inside, cheap on the wallet
While it might impress in the environs of a motorway or A-road, the reality is that most cars like the Peugeot 108 are bought for their economy and use around town. Be they a first car or a cheap second-car runabout, two factors high on most buyers' priorities will be affordability and cheap running costs.
We increasingly find these factors hard to judge in the parameters of our tests: we can only judge on list prices, when many cars are bought on finance where tempting deals are available, nor do we insure or tax these cars ourselves.
What we can tell you is that the 108 is almost identically priced and specified to its sister Citroen C1. The third car in the triplet set - Toyota's Aygo - starts a little cheaper, but when similarly specified seems to cost a little more. And the Peugeot is slightly cheaper than a Fiat Panda - our current favourite in this class.
Fitted with the stop/start technology our car featured, the 108 in this 1.0 form officially produces just 88g/km of CO2, which means it attracts no vehicle tax. In our hands it returned 62 mpg, which might not view as amazing for such a small car - but remember we spent much time driving it on the motorway, at realistic motorway speeds, where it's never going to be at its most efficient.
Ultimately, the Peugeot 108 should be a cheap car to run. And one of the reasons you might also choose it over the equivalent Citroen C1 or Toyota Aygo is you can run on it on Peugeot's "Just add fuel" lease scheme for £149 per month.
The Peugeot 108 neatly encapsulates just how far cars have come in the last couple of decades. Usefully compact for the city, the 108 is easy to drive, economical and should prove cheap to run.
But it's beyond the city limits, when you've longer distances to cover, where the Peugeot impresses most with its refinement. We were dreading having to drive so far in such a small car but in the event it proved to be a better companion for long journeys than some bigger, more expensive cars we've driven this year.
The 108 does lack in certain areas though. It isn't as sophisticated as a Volkswagen up!, not as fun as the Fiat Panda in its TwinAir format, nor as chic as Renault's new Twingo. But as a neat, no-nonsense and affordable form of transport, it shows you that for less than £10,000, it's still possible to buy all the car you ever really need.