HAUTE HATCH

A new con­tender from France wins on looks and the fun fac­tor

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive - KARLA PIN­COTT karla.pin­cott@cars­guide.com.au

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.

VALUE

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.

TECH­NOL­OGY

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.

DE­SIGN

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.

SAFETY

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.

DRIV­ING

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.

VER­DICT

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

flour­ishes com­ple­ment

a sharp, pre­cise drive

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