Take only what you need. That’s been the main lesson of the coronavirus crisis so far. Feed your family, but don’t hoard; shop properly, but don’t panic-buy. Acts of selfishness may have reached the front pages, but Britain’s response to the pandemic has so far been characterised by kindness, bravery and stoicism – attributes that many hope will linger after the covid-19 catastrophe is over.
And perhaps we’ll apply these cooperative principles to cars, too. I’ve written before about how illogically selfish Britain’s automotive landscape has become, and about how the popularity of large, heavy, inefficient SUVs is driven by the most awful part of our species’ psychology – the impulse to take more resources than we need, including, in this case, space and energy. It’s possible that in three, six or twelve months’ time, when the worst of this crisis is over, we’ll look upon SUV drivers with the same scorn we viewed the loo roll hoarders and pasta panic-buyers of March 2020.
Admittedly, choosing a car is a tad more complicated than picking groceries, and some drivers really do need seven seats, or a four-wheel-drive system, or 500bhp engine, just as some shoppers really do need 10kg of penne. But once the virus has been thwarted, I at least hope we can approach car buying with the same honesty that we’re now taking to the supermarket, and perhaps reconsider some of our assumptions. In particular, I hope we can truthfully assess our own needs before purchasing something inherently wasteful.
Because when you strip away the excess, you’re left with cars like this Peugeot e-208. It’s a battery-electric hatchback, with five seats, a generous boot, and a compact overall footprint. It can travel over 200 miles on a full ‘tank’, and can be refilled from empty to 80 percent in about half an hour at a rapid charger. It’ll reach 60mph in eight seconds, it’s easy to park, it’s pretty, and it doesn’t cost too much. Everything about it is just… enough.
What is the e-208 like to drive?
I won’t spend too many words on the dynamics, because they aren’t relevant. It’s more than fast enough to keep up with modern traffic, both in terms of acceleration and cruising speed, and it handles pleasingly. This isn’t a car for “spirited B-road blasts”, or the kind of person who wants to go on one; this is a car for somebody who has approached their requirements with pragmatism and, probably, a spreadsheet.
You can put it into ‘sport’ mode if you want to lie to yourself for a few minutes. Even without it, the e-208’s performance outstrips what we might have described as a hot hatch a few years ago. But that really isn’t what the e-208 is about.
Is the e-208 practical?
This model follows in a long line of fiercely pragmatic French cars. The 2CV is perhaps the best-known of the breed, but the original Twingo, 205 and Espace are also tremendous examples of cars that meet their design brief with laser accuracy. Just like its ancestors, the e-208 perfectly meets the needs of its buyers, and just like its ancestors it will probably become a new Europe-wide benchmark for the segment, too.
The cabin feels upmarket and relatively grown-up. Gone are the days of French superminis trying to be ‘playful’; this feels and acts like a serious car. The infotainment (not my favourite but some people love it) dominates the dashboard, with piano-style keys controlling many of the car’s functions. Clever cruise control, extremely good parking cameras, a cheerful little steering wheel and probably the coolest instruments in the business make the e-208’s interior one of the best – if not the best – I’ve encountered in recent years.
Rear passengers get a slightly worse deal. Four of me could probably endure a journey of medium length, but it wouldn’t be an ergonomic treat. The rear bench folds, which adds an element of versatility; you could transport a bicycle in here if you removed the front wheel.
How do I charge the e-208?
If I had a quid for every time we published the words “let down by public charging infrastructure”, I’d probably have enough money for half a tank of diesel. Electric car ownership is terrific if you have your own driveway on which to charge up, and starts to unravel a bit if – like me – you are a flat-dweller reliant on public chargers to keep the batteries topped up. Had we left for the weekend with a full charge, we would have made our journey from Blackheath to the Cotswolds in one fell swoop; as we set off with around 60% battery, we had to stop at two barely-functioning chargers on the way, which was frustrating. My girlfriend had stronger words.
When I later found a fast charger, though, I charged the tank from about 20% to over 80% in under half an hour. And charging overnight using a 7.2kW wall box – the sort many electric car owners choose to have installed on their driveways – left me with a full battery with over 200 miles of range. A 150-mile journey on fast-flowing motorways and crowded pre-lockdown streets left me with around 25% battery. Opportunities for me to run out would be rare indeed.
So its 200-mile range is probably no good if you commute from London to Glasgow, just as its 311-litre boot isn’t much use if you own a St Bernard. But if you park on your own driveway overnight and travel less than 150 miles in a given day, largely alone or with one other person – a description that applies to millions of motorists and billions of driven miles – the e-208 is what you’d buy if you were being sensible.
TESTED four-door hatchback: with AC synchronous electric motor, 50kW gross (46kWh net) lithium-ion battery and single step-down gear, front-wheel drive
PRICE/ON SALE from £25,050/now
POWER/TORQUE 134bhp from 3,673rpm to 10,000rpm, 192lb ft @ 300rpm to 3,673rpm.
TOP SPEED 93mph
ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 8.1sec
RANGE 217 miles
EFFICIENCY 4.54miles per kWh
CO2 EMISSIONS zero at tailpipe
VERDICT The Peugeot e-208 is one of my favourite all-time cars. Comfy, cute, practical and affordable, it's everything it needs to be and nothing more. That authenticity is a rare quality in a market all too easily swayed by pretense.
TELEGRAPH RATING Five out of five stars
Peugeot e-208 – main rivals
Mechanically identical yet, somehow, completely different, the awkwardly-named Corsa-e is a strong contender in this relatively new market. It's slightly more expensive to buy outright, but leasing deals will be comparable.
Something of an OG in this segment, the Zoe has (until now) been the benchmark electric hatchback. Affordable, cute and similarly French, it's been slightly overtaken by this new generation. Some fantastic used bargains, though.
The adorable 'e' isn't exactly form over function, but uncharacteristically for Honda, we suspect that they might have prioritised the former over the latter. That said, it remains a good buy for those needing a short-range runabout.
Would you buy something like the e-208 or its rivals, either as a main or second car? Let us know in the comment section below, or join the conversation in the Telegraph Motoring Club.