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Peugeot 208 Hybrid FE (2013) review

Published:30 October 2013

Peugeot 208 Hybrid FE (2013) review
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The Peugeot 208 Hybrid FE is PSA Peugeot-Citroen’s salvo in the ongoing war to build viable 100mpg+ cars. Lessons learned from building two lightened, streamlined, hyper-economical 208 superminis should soon permeate into showroom Peugeots. To find out what there is to look forward to, CAR tried out the 208 Hybrid FE on a test track just outside Paris.

So it’s just a part-electric Peugeot 208 then?

That’s only one aspect of a four-pronged approach to create one of the world’s most frugal superminis. Peugeot wanted to car to spit out no more than 49g of CO2 per kilometre (eventually trimmed to 46g), while maintaining the ability to run to 62mph in a spritely 8.0sec. It’s supposed to be ‘Fun and Efficient’ with outstanding ‘Fuel Economy’ – hence the FE tag.

What powers the 208 Hybrid FE?

Under the bonnet, there’s a naturally aspirated three-cylinder petrol engine, essentially based on the 1.2-litre, 68bhp powerplant used in CAR’s 208 long-termer. However, thanks to a huge list of tweaks, it’s 10% more economical. The engine is lighter, thanks to a gorgeous cylinder head milled from a single block of aluminium, and titanium conrods from the Peugeot 908 HDi Le Mans winner. Compression ratio is up, low-friction lubricants are in, and a diamond-carbon coating is applied to the aluminium pistons and camshafts.

Then there’s a 40bhp electric motor from the ill-fated Le Mans hybrid program, powered by a 25kg battery pack which lives under the rear seats. Because the electric motor powers the front wheels, and the battery is bolted next to the shrunken fuel tank, the 208 Hybrid is still a five-seater – a fact which Peugeot is only too keen to emphasise in the face of the two-seater VW XL1 project.

Why does the 208 Hybrid FE look different to a road-going 208?

The bespoke front bumper, filled-in grille and carbon-slatted 19in wheels are all designed to help the 208 Hybrid FE slice through the air, but it’s the redesigned rear that is most eye-catching. Peugeot Sport, which finished the project in only 16 months at a cost of around £4.2m, calls the sharp tail its ‘cutting edge’: airflow off the rear of the car is far less turbulent than the regular car, and it looks smarter too. A 25% overall drag reduction was aimed for, helped by a flat floor and rear diffuser, plus those skinny 145-section tyres. Its coefficient of drag is now a new low of 0.25.

Anything else?

Yes – the big one. The 208 Hybrid FE is much lighter than a regular 208, thanks largely to new resin composite pieces, which are bonded together rather than weaved, like pricey carbonfibre. Suspension wishbones have been binned in favour of one-piece flexible resin items, interior trim is fashioned from the natural fibre, and so is all of the new bodywork. Even the chrome brightwork uses a new plating method to shave vital grams. At a claimed 780kg, the whole car is a huge 200kg lighter than a series production model.

And how does that translate into the drive?

Far from an extensive road test, we were only able to grab several short test track runs in the 208 Hybrid FE – but that’s more than enough to spot the potential in Peugeot’s thinking. The car is far from a finished article: wires dangle from the footwell, the electric motor squeals like a Stuka dive-bomber, as do the straight-cut racing gears, forced to work in a watered-down 208 automatic transmission. The roar of the diminutive petrol engine also leaves the driver in no doubt this is a vehicle designed and built by a racing team.

We start off in ‘Eco’ mode, which runs purely on electric power and gives adequate urban performance. Lifting off the throttle engages the re-gen effect to recharge the batteries, which is maximised by dabbing the rock-hard brake pedal. Above 50kph (31mph), the petrol engine chimes in – make that clatters and roars – into life, cutting out once again when the throttle is released.

Steering is unassisted, saving yet more weight and reducing the strain on the batteries. It’s by some margin the best steering in any 208 because of it, though the teeny steering wheel makes low speed manoeuvring nightmarishly heavy, despite the anorexic rubber.

Switch into ‘Fun’ mode via the centre console rotary switch, and the rumbling engine stays on at all times. Floor the throttle and it joins forces with the electric motor to punch the 208 forward as fast as possible, with genuinely impressive acceleration. Between 10 and 50mph, it’d stay with a 197bhp 208 GTi – in a straight line.

The 208 Hybrid FE doesn’t really do corners. Project chief Christophe Mary warned that no testing of the dynamics had taken place, simply because it wasn’t part of the brief. Predictably, the resin suspension sags under any sort of lateral load – and alarmingly when passengers hop into the Recaro bucket seats – but the technology is far closer to production reality as a means of making eco-friendly interior trim than it is chassis hardware. Watch this space.

Verdict

When you consider that the 208 Hybrid FE has gone from brainwave to test drive in 16 months, championed by a team of only 12 people, and plundered finances from one of Europe’s most beleaguered car makers, it’s more impressive than a glance at the spec sheet and short test drive suggests. Most encouraging is the sheer range of improvements made, from less weight to new lubricants, engine refinements, electrical systems and better aero. Engine supremo Julien Lidsky puts it best: ‘ten years ago it would’ve been impossible to use this technology in a car. It is not ready for production now, but in ten years, maybe…’

And in the meantime, take heart from the fact that car makers are indeed working hard on saving not just fuel and resources, but saving driving pleasure from the doldrums too.

Specs

Price when new: £4,200,000
On sale in the UK: Never
Engine: 1233cc three-cyl petrol engine, 68bhp, plus 40bhp electric motor
Transmission: Five-speed automative, front-wheel drive
Performance: 8.0sec 0-62mph, 100mph, 141mpg, 46g/km CO2
Weight / material: 780kg/carbonfibre, resin, aluminium
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm):

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  • Peugeot 208 Hybrid FE (2013) review
  • Peugeot 208 Hybrid FE (2013) review
  • Peugeot 208 Hybrid FE (2013) review
  • Peugeot 208 Hybrid FE (2013) review
  • Peugeot 208 Hybrid FE (2013) review
  • Peugeot 208 Hybrid FE (2013) review
  • Peugeot 208 Hybrid FE (2013) review
  • Peugeot 208 Hybrid FE (2013) review
  • Peugeot 208 Hybrid FE (2013) review
  • Peugeot 208 Hybrid FE (2013) review
  • Peugeot 208 Hybrid FE (2013) review
  • Peugeot 208 Hybrid FE (2013) review
  • Peugeot 208 Hybrid FE (2013) review
  • Peugeot 208 Hybrid FE (2013) review
  • Peugeot 208 Hybrid FE (2013) review
  • Peugeot 208 Hybrid FE (2013) review
  • Peugeot 208 Hybrid FE (2013) review
  • Peugeot 208 Hybrid FE (2013) review
  • Peugeot 208 Hybrid FE (2013) review
  • Peugeot 208 Hybrid FE (2013) review
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