By Jonathan Crouch
Peugeot's 108 demonstrated back in 2014 just how far city cars had come in recent years. In fact, this one's more sophisticated and efficient than you might ever have expected a model of this kind could be. This one was media-savvy, efficient and could even be had in open 'TOP!' form. Plus it was very personalisable. Let's check it out as a used buy.
Creating a city car is hard enough. Trying to differentiate a design shared with other brands must be even more difficult. Such was Peugeot's job with this car, the 108.
The French manufacturer has a long history in the market's smallest segment stretching all the way back to the 104 model of 1972. From 2005 onwards though, it shared its presence in this sector with sister company Citroen and their C1 and Toyota with their Aygo. This trio of brands together created a single city car design tweaked in each case to their own individual preferences. And established a Czech Republic factory to affordably build it for the next nine years.
To be frank, that period was rather over-long and by 2014, it was time for a re-think. For a car with more than one engine option, extra hi-tech, a bit more space and more complete safety provision. This 108 was that car. In all these areas, this model improved upon the standard set by its 107 predecessor - as of course did its very similar Citroen C1 and Toyota Aygo design stablemates. Of the trio, this Peugeot went for a classier, more mature look than the C1 and initially came with a 1.2-litre engine option you couldn't get in the Aygo. And all three cars were more efficient and personalisable than even the finest city runabouts from other brands.
Most customers wanted this car in 1.0-litre form (that 1.2-litre engine option lasted only until 2018) and in conventional hatch guise (the 'TOP!' version with its fabric-folding roof was deleted in 2020). The 108 range sold until early 2022 and wasn't replaced.
What You Get
All city cars set their stall out for younger customers. The difference with this one though - and the trump card it held over its Citroen and Toyota design stablemates - is in the way that its styling was calculated to appeal to the more mature folk usually ignored in the stampede towards youth culture. As a consequence, this 108 appealed to customers who might never have previously chosen a city car because they felt such a thing would be too insubstantial and cheap. These folk saw in this Peugeot a reassuringly grown-up proposition with discreet front end treatment and assured, mature detailing.
They also liked the option the TOP! version of this car offered of a full-length retractable fabric folding roof, creating that cabriolet feeling without the cost or buffeting associated with a fully-fledged convertible. It's a lovely touch - but even the standard fixed-top version has plenty of those. There's certainly very little on a 108 that looks contrived or gauche, Chief Designer Ivo Groen insisting on lots of chrome and a palette of restrained, smart colours. Take the nose section for example, bearing as it does the so-called 'floating'-style front grille that by 2014 was being applied to all the brand's most compact models, in this case flanked by hi-tech bi-focal projector lamp headlights.
Further brand family cues are found at the rear in the neat lamps with their illuminated 'lion claw' signature. They complete a more cleanly-styled tailgate topped off by an integrated roof spoiler that hides the external hinges that used to look so ugly on the old 107 model. We say 'tailgate': in reality, this lifting rear section is little more than a deeply sculpted hinged back window, doubtless there to reduce the cost of manufacturing but from an ownership perspective, a feature we've never liked. Unlike a proper conventional lifting rear hatch, this opening glass panel doesn't fully cut into the bumper, so there's quite a lofty lip over which you've to lift in your shopping, even if the height of this was here reduced by 20mm in comparison to this model's predecessor. The VW up! (along with its Skoda and SEAT stablemates) suffers from the same thing for the same reason.
Enough about access: what about actual luggage space, the lack of which put so many people off the previous generation version of this car. The news that this 108 was 40mm longer than that old 107 led us to hope for more in this area, but examine the small print and you'll find that all of this extra length was actually added to the front end to meet modern safety impact legislation. In fact, this car's platform was pretty much the same as it had been before, which disappointed previous Peugeot city car buyers wanting to trade up to a model with the kind of generous 250-litre-style boot space they'd have got in a rival Volkswagen up! or Hyundai i10. There was nothing like that on offer here. Still, on the positive side, cargo room did in a 108 usefully rise from the feeble 139-litre space you previously got in a 107 to a much more acceptable 196-litre capacity - easily enough for a couple of small suitcases or a set of golf clubs. Curiously, that's nearly 30-litres more than a supposedly identical Toyota Aygo.
Not that luggage space is necessarily the be-all and the end-all for customers in this class. Most of them rarely use the rear bench in their cars and therefore, have no issue in regularly pushing the 50:50 split seats forward to extend the space available. In this case, though the load area created has quite a step in it and the folded seats don't lie completely flat, you do get a very decent 868-litre capacity. If you need a greater capacity than that for your weekly shop, it might well be time to change your lifestyle rather than your car.
If you are using the back seat, then you won't be expecting it to be very spacious, given that this car is just 3.4-metres in length. It isn't. Still, with a bit of co-operation from those ahead of them, two adults could manage without too much grousing on short to medium-length trips, even if they were six-footers. You might even think of cramming three kids on this bench, were it not for the fact that, rather annoyingly, there are still only two belts provided. If you do have kids, then we'd definitely go for the five-door model, rather than the three-door version. By and large, kids in this Peugeot don't mind the restricted legroom but they do tend to object to a couple of features you find on a lot of small city cars - the lack of proper wind-up rear windows (you only get an angled panel) and the slight claustrophobia engendered by the upwardly sweeping waistline of the rear door.
Up front, it's reasonably easy to get comfortable, provided you've avoided an entry-level variant without seat height adjustment, something that's important to have because the steering wheel adjusts only up and down, not in and out. Settle in, then start to look around and if you've tried a few city car models from this period, you might conclude that the quality of the trim, though a step up from what was provided previously, isn't quite of the standard you'd find in, say, a Volkswagen up!. Still, the design is more interesting, which takes you mind off the fact. And it can be more interesting still, for the instrument panel, the centre console, the air vents, the gearshift knob and the gear lever surround could, from new, all easily be changed to a colour of the owner's choosing, something still possible on used models.
The wide dashboard's nice, trimmed in a cool matt finish and framed by refreshingly slim A-pillars that aid visibility. Talking of visibility, if you've got a 108 with the fabric folding roof, you'll need to accept the fact that with it open in bright sunlight, a number of the interior dials and displays will be difficult to read. It'll also be pretty difficult to converse with fellow passengers at higher cruising speeds too, despite the roof system's aero-acoustic deflector. Still, we all have to pay for our pleasures don't we? Fortunately, the inside of a 108 is quite a pleasurable place to be. And quite practical too. There are two cupholders, a good-sized glovebox that incorporates a bottle-holder, practical storage options for your mobile 'phone and loose change and door bins big enough to hold a 500ml bottle of water.
Ahead of you at the wheel lie a mass of different-shaped elements of trim. The round speedometer pod with its LCD central display is flanked by an optional vertically-stacked rev counter that as you accelerate, lights up like an Eighties Atari video game. Even more curiously styled is the trapezoidally-shaped central panel that holds the 7-inch infotainment colour display that Peugeot provided to dominate the centre of the dash on all but the entry-level model. This system really adds another dimension to the 108 and to be honest, we'd hesitate to buy one without it. It's operated using a fully integrated touchscreen and can include a rear view camera on plusher models. Wherever it's fitted, you get a DAB radio, along with vehicle and journey information and Bluetooth 'phone connectivity that includes the sending and receiving of texts.
What to Look For
Most 108 buyers we came across seemed satisfied. There was a report of a leaky boot. And apparently, the Bluetooth won't pair if the car's been parked on a hot day for too long: make sure that the central screen phone pairing system works properly for your handset. One customer complained of brake squealing and juddering. And another customer complained of window glass rattling. In another case, the hubcap nuts went rusty in all four wheels.
A key 108 product recall in this period occurred in 2016 regarding the steering column, advising customers that a component within in it might not be to the correct specification and therefore there might be an issue with potential loss of control. There was also recall regarding rear seat belts; they might have incorrect stitching on the belt material connecting the buckle to the anchor plate. Make sure that both of these recalls have been attended to where necessary. Otherwise, it's just the usual things; check the interior for child scrapes - and the wheels and rear bumpers for parking scratches. And insist on a fully stamped-up service history.
(approx based on a 2018 108 1.0 excl. VAT) Expect to pay around £3 for an oil filter, around £5 for an air filter and around £6-£22 for a wiper blade. Front brake pads vary in price between £13-£22 for a set. For front brake discs, think around £40-£50 for a pair. A radiator costs in the £100 bracket. A starter motor is around £93. A pollen filter is around £13-£14. A water pump is around £55 - with pricier brands up at around £126.
On the Road
More recent city cars seem to recognise that they won't always be used in the city. So here, refinement was improved and pokier engine options added. In fact, the two issues were here linked. From launch, the 108 offered a couple of petrol-powered three cylinder choices, with an 82bhp VTi unit from the 208 supermini arriving to join an improved version of the older 69bhp 1.0-litre unit. That 1.0-litre engine was unashamedly aimed at urban folk and might become a little aurally wearing if you were to use it over an extended motorway trip. If such a journey might be an occasional possibility, the 1.2-litre engine option (never incidentally available on this car's Toyota Aygo design stablemate) would be a better choice. But it only sold until 2018.
In fact, if you'll be doing almost any kind of regular open-road motoring, then we'd say that the 1.2-litre variant will probably be a better bet because overtaking is so much easier. The 1.0-litre model takes a yawning 29.8 seconds to accelerate from 50-70mph in its top 5th gear. In the 1.2, the same increment occupies just 15.9 seconds. Enough said. We'd suggest that this stat tells you a lot more than the usual 0-62mph reading, but for the sake of completeness, we'll give you that too: the 1.0-litre model takes either 14.3 or 14.6s, depending on whether its engine has stop & start fitted. The 1.2-litre model manages the same benchmark in 11s.
Having said all of that, there are a huge number of buyers in this segment who will only be using their cars on short shopping trips, people who'll probably have access to another vehicle for longer journeys. For these folk, the 1.0-litre VTi version of this 108 will probably be quite sufficient. This Toyota-engineered 998cc unit was improved for this car, the specific changes including a higher, compression ratio, an improved combustion chamber design and use of a low-friction timing chain, all these things combining not only to improve efficiency but also to boost power slightly over the previous 107 model, which only came with the earlier version of this engine.
If you were familiar with that car, then you should find this one to be a touch more driveable. For a start, in the old 107, you needed to really wind some revs onto the clock in order to get anywhere - which had a marked effect on your fuel consumption. In this car, nearly all of its 95Nm of pulling power is available right down low in the rev range, from as little as 2,000rpm. That means you won't need to rev the thing to death in order to get it going, though if you do, the 998cc unit sounds playful, its normally aspirated note filling the cabin with a characterful three cylinder thrum. This also has the advantage of making the car feel peppier than it actually is.
Once you've covered a few miles, the first thing you'll probably notice is just how light most of the controls are - especially the steering and the clutch. The exception to this is the gearchange, which needs more of a firm shove than you'd expect from a car designed with urban driving in mind. If that's an issue, then you might well be tempted by a model fitted with the automatic '2-Tronic' gearbox. That auto variant will certainly suit urban-bound folk, people who'll also appreciate the tight 4.8m turning circle and that light steering we mentioned. Parking is as easy as you'd expect in a car with an overall length of under 3.5m, with good all-round visibility marred only slightly by the chunky rear C-pillars. The wide rear wheel arches might be a bit vulnerable here but on top variants fitted with the multimedia system's standard reverse parking camera, that shouldn't be a problem. The big, clear mirrors should help too. The brakes also feel up to spec, despite this Peugeot doing with without rear discs and opting for a cheaper rear drum set-up instead.
And handling? Well the development team behind this car say that they benchmarked the Ford Ka in this respect, one of the results of which was that the steering was made 14% more direct than that of the old 107. True enough, it does provide more fingertip feedback than before. Other incremental dynamic improvements include re-tuned springs and dampers, plus a lighter rear torsion beam, one of the things contributing to a 60kg weight saving over this model's predecessor. The result is a slightly more agile, chuckable city runabout that could be driven with a bit more vigour but it still wasn't the driver's choice in this segment, though that's something few likely buyers will care much about. Pitch into a corner and you get the predictable helping of body roll and tyre squeal you'd expect from this kind of car. Stick with it though and this 108 can, nevertheless be pretty good fun to pedal along,
It might perhaps have been sharper in this respect had not Peugeot's engineers - rightly - been so mindful of the need to preserve a decent standard of ride quality. Because they were, this car handles road humps and potholes very well. It's that bit better in this respect than its predecessor. In fact, as you've probably gathered by now, almost everything about this 108 was that bit better than was the case with the old 107. No radical steps were taken here: the car just feels that bit more sophisticated and grown up.
There's one man who, more than any other, knows Peugeot citycars inside and out. Having previously been Chief Designer of the old 107, Ivo Groen also took on the role of Design Director for this 108. Asked if the differences between the two models made them like chalk and cheese, he demurs: "No, in fact, they're like cheese and cheese because they share the same roots. But while the 107 is the kind of cheese you would have with a baguette, the 108 is a cheese you would want to eat with a nice glass or red wine!"
There's something in that. This car does indeed feel a touch more sophisticated, not only than its predecessor but also in comparison to its two design stablemates, the Citroen C1 and the Toyota Aygo. Of course you may not care about that and if so, this car might have a harder job to win you over, particularly since, like its Toyota and Citroen counterparts, it still isn't as spacious as some other competitors in this segment. Its other attributes are compelling though: class-leading efficiency and enough clever infotainment to ensure that the fashionistas can Facebook their friends on their way to eat designer sushi. It was a car of our times and a city statement of intent.