Ic­ing on the birth­day cake

Peu­geot marks 30 years of its GTi with a grown-up’s two-door fun­ster

Herald Sun - Motoring - - THE TICK -

IF you’re very quick you can still get a Peu­geot 208 GTi with all the fruit. Just a hand­ful of the 26 An­niver­sary cars that ar­rived in Aus­tralia — with a sym­bolic 208 horse­power, or 154kW — are still avail­able for peo­ple who want a compact city car that’s a bit spe­cial.

I don’t mean the straw­berry-dipped-in-choco­late bodywork that came on many of the cars but the go-faster gear that turns the ba­sic 208 into a much more in­volv­ing drive as a GTi.

It’s not a point-and-squirt toy like some pocket rock­ets that fight you all the time but it’s a grown-up’s fun­ster that also will work for young fam­i­lies and long coun­try runs.

Hav­ing run com­fort­ably from Syd­ney to the Bathurst 12-Hour race last week­end, I park it sit­ting proudly among the Bent­leys and Fer­raris and McLarens that dom­i­nate the park­ing lot at Aus­tralia’s big new sports car clas­sic. It also sprints a bit when I find some wind­ing roads on the re­turn leg.

Peu­geot is just about to add a new 308 GTi to its lo­cal line-up, which prom­ises to be a crack­ing car to go head-to-head with Volk­swa­gen’s Golf GTi and which ob­vi­ously has more space and a newer chas­sis than the smaller 208.

I ponder how the baby car would go with the ex­tra 50kW promised in the up­scaled en­gine in the hot 308.

Its iconic Peu­geot fore­bear, the 205 GTi, landed 30 years ago. I’m old enough yet still young enough to re­mem­ber the fun we had with that car.

There were prob­lems with the air­con and power steer­ing, plus the cabin rat­tled and squeaked, but there was noth­ing on the road back then that could com­pete or com­pare to the 205.

Ever since my time with the

orig­i­nal French GTi I’ve used it as a per­sonal touch­stone and the con­nec­tion is even more ap­pro­pri­ate when I jump into the GTi An­niver­sary.

As well as the punchy en­gine and six-speed man­ual gear­box, the An­niver­sary pack­age adds beefier brakes, up­rated sus­pen­sion with wider stance, great Re­caro-style front buck­ets and a Torsen me­chan­i­cal lim­ited-slip dif­fer­en­tial.

Once the last of the An­niver­sary cars are gone that pack­age will dis­ap­pear al­though there are some hints that buyer pres­sure could get Peu­geot to re­con­sider it for Aus­tralia. It’s avail­able over­seas, where it’s called the 208 GTi by Peu­geot Sport.

Right now, I’m hap­pily set­tled into the ex­cel­lent front bucket and en­joy­ing the surge of turbo power fed eas­ily and com­fort­ably to the front wheels.

The Torsen diff — un­like so many fake lim­ited-slip dif­fer­en­tials that rely en­tirely on re­vers­ing the work of the anti-lock brakes to pre­vent wheel spin — en­sures good grip at all times with min­i­mal tug­ging through the steer­ing. It’s so un­ob­tru­sive that most peo­ple would not re­alise it’s fit­ted.

Fur­ther en­joy­ment comes from the com­pli­ance in the sus­pen­sion, the wide foot­print that keeps the car planted in cor­ners, the touch­screen in­fo­tain­ment setup and the compact 208 pack­age gen­er­ally. Did I men­tion the seats?

But there are some things that re­ally an­noy me.

Peu­geot calls its dash­board lay­out iCock­pit. It does not work for me. Not in the 208, not in the 308, not in any­thing else.

The in­stru­ments are good and I love the sports steer­ing wheel but when I put the wheel in the right po­si­tion for me to drive it ob­scures the dig­i­tal speedome­ter com­pletely and blanks half of the other di­als. It’s a mas­sive fail; Peu­geot in France in­sists that I’m wrong.

Nu­mer­ous peo­ple oc­cupy the seat this past week and reckon they are ei­ther com­fort­able with­out in­for­ma­tion or in­formed with­out com­fort.

Con­sid­er­ing the po­lice pres­ence on the Syd­ney-Blue Moun­tains-Bathurst route, I even­tu­ally com­pro­mise by drop­ping the wheel down near my knees so I can keep an eye on the dig­i­tal speedo.

The drive shows the car to be very dif­fer­ent from the other hot hatch on my re­cent radar, the Re­nault Clio RS. Where the Clio is youth­ful and taut and feels very small, the 208 is roomier and more re­laxed and bet­ter on the coun­try run.

I’m also re­minded of the Ford Fi­esta and Fo­cus STs, which have great en­gines but feel cheaper and more mud­dled in­side.

Back to the Peu­geot, and peo­ple re­ally turn to look at the red splashed-on-black bodywork. It prompts lots of ques­tions, too.

For me, I like the en­gine re­sponse (apart from a slight lag as the revs drop slowly be­tween shifts), the sporty feel of the gear­box and the ex­cel­lent power of the brakes. It’s nicely re­laxed for tour­ing and com­fort­able al­though the old Peu­geot bug­bear of a cramped footwell re­mains.

I cut loose a lit­tle be­fore I park the car for the fi­nal time, en­joy­ing the tac­tile re­sponse and its pace and the rorty sound of the ex­haust.

THE TICK

It’s not as overt as the Clio and def­i­nitely a long way be­hind the Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG that tops the pops for ex­haust ex­cite­ment while also de­liv­er­ing huge smiles for much more money.

The Peu­geot is a dif­fer­ent style of car to the Re­nault and I like them both, for dif­fer­ent rea­sons.

For that rea­son, the 208 GTi gets the Tick and I have an­other one ready and wait­ing for the Clio RS.

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