A new contender from France wins on looks and the fun factor
Peugeot’s 208 GTi is nimble, fast and fun as well as stylish and well-equipped — it’s everything any car should be
THIS is a little car with big shoes to fill. The Peugeot 208 GTi wants to reclaim the halo of its legendary ancestor, the 205 GTi— the feisty bantam that set hot hatch benchmarks in the 1980s and ’ 90s— and erase the blander footprints of the generations in between.
Despite Peugeot wanting the new GTi to revive the old reputation, it can’t be completely old school in the approach. Despite nostalgia for the bare-bones attitude of the 205, today’s cosseted buyers would shun its Spartan fit-out.
The 208 descendant salutes the 205’s basic tenets— including being manual only— yet it’s far from base spec. Australian pricing hasn’t been confirmed but the current 208 top spec is $26,490 so you can expect the GTi is likely to be about $30,000, for which you get a well-equipped package with park assist, 7-inch infotainment touchscreen and enough premium fit-out to make it feel special.
It faces savage competition. The Volkswagen Group twins, theVWPolo GTI and Skoda Fabia RS, are $28,990 and $27,990 respectively with seven-speed twin-clutch auto as standard. Sticking with a manual keeps Peugeot on the path of the righteous but it won’t enhance its appeal.
The next model of Renault’s Clio RS 200 waits in the wings with a 1.6-litre turbo engine that delivers more than the current model’s 2.0. But even when the newcomer is being tipped to come in under the current $36,490 price tag, it’s a big stretch.
The GTi squeezes 147kW/ 275Nm from its 1.6-litre turbo petrol four (shared with the RCZ and the Citroen DS3), delivered to the front wheels.
There’s no start button: you kick it into action with a conventional key. Not is there any of the exhaust-note tweaking wizardry found in some rivals.
The little firecracker hasn’t completely spurned tech trickery, with accelerometer data fed to a cornering-assist system that trails the inside brake caliper on the bigger, beefier discs.
It’s all about agility but there’s enough urge on tap as well. It posts 0-100km/h in 6.8 seconds (80-120km/h in 8.4sec), peaking at 230km/h. It’s slung lower and wider than lesser 208s, riding on 17-inch wheels. Woven into the greedier footprint is a stiffer version of the suspensions. And some of the best news: Peugeot has trimmed the weight to 1160kg— 165kg under the 207 GTi and to varying degrees also lighter than the main rivals.
The 208 is already a looker and the GTi builds on that with subtle sporty flourishes: flared arches, bodykit, mesh grille flanked by daytime running lights, trapezoid twin exhausts embedded through the rear fascia and GTi badging on the roof pillar, saluting the 205.
A scatter of satin chrome and red accents inside set off the dash and deep-bolstered leather sports seats, aluminium pedals and gearknob and tiny, chunky steering wheel with its red centre.
The car is small but unless you’re of massive build you’ll feel snugly embedded rather
than cramped. But it can take some jockeying to get the wheel and yourself to a drivable position where you can take in all the instruments. If you have the wheel low enough to clearly see over the top, long legs will tangle with it every time there’s pedal action.
You get class competitive 285 litres of boot space, so it offers some practicality, but you won’t be carting any fridges home.
The 208 gets a five-star safety rating, with six airbags on board, stability control and anti-lock brakes with extra assistance for panic stops and to counter uneven loading.
The GTi is all about response and getting the job done without fuss. The styling isn’t attention-seeking and if the exhaust note isn’t as rorty as you’d like, it won’t matter— once you get going the attitude will be rousing enough.
Push that pedal and the engine answers instantly; keep the revs high enough and it keeps giving more. Up above 3000rpm is where it really generates heat but a wide torque band means it’s smooth and strong in the lower register for normal jaunts. At that level it’s surprisingly comfortable, with the firm suspension still managing to isolate all but the worst ruts.
There’s joyous snicking through the close-ratio gear slots with the sharp, precise shift feel. And while the GTi may not lead for firepower, it’s not falling behind in the fun stakes. Get it going and the car feels suctioned to the road, sashaying through corners with smooth glee. Pushed hard, it’ll betray a touch of body roll but overall it’s well-balanced and confident.
There’s no argument about the steering accuracy. Turn the wheel and the Pug obeys. And that all-round tractability is the 208 GTi’s charm. You can fire it from corner to corner, then tickle it around town and it will step up to the plate at either end of the job sheet.
It’s nimble, fast and fun— everything a hot hatch could be. And it’s stylish, wellequipped and good quality, which is everything any car should be.
Big shoes to fill: Thenew Peugeot 208 GTi and its ancestor, the legendary 205
Looks and personality:
The GTi’s subtle sporty
a sharp, precise drive