Cockburn Gazette - - SPORT - Bill Buys

CETHANA, Tas­ma­nia is re­garded as the world's most ex­cit­ing long tar­mac rally stage, its 38km an end­less flow of bends, cor­ners, hair­pins, climbs, crests and dips that could have been de­signed as a play­ground for Peu­geot's new 208GTi.

Not for noth­ing does the neat lit­tle hatch have a lion badge on its bon­net; it's got a lot more roar than its pe­tite looks sug­gest, with han­dling to match.

We drove one in Targa Tas­ma­nia, billed as the 'world's ul­ti­mate tar­mac rally', where the 1.6litre turbo mo­tor was nearly al­ways in high-rev ter­ri­tory, and fin­ished Cethana and the other equally de­mand­ing 38 spe­cial stages with­out a mo­ment's drama.

It's a refreshing hot­tie, a proper driver's car, de­void of elec­tronic engine and trans­mis­sion modes and go-fast stripes; you just use the ac­cel­er­a­tor to match your level of ag­gres­sion, and the car's 153kW (up 6kW from last year) and 300Nm pro­vides plenty of mus­cle.

At full chat, even an up­shift to fifth or sixth comes with a shove in the back. But drive it like a nanna and it's quite happy chortling along at low revs, where it re­wards pussy­foot driv­ing with ex­cep­tional fuel econ­omy.

We used up to 14.7litres/ 100km on daunt­ing sec­ond- and third-gear up­hill ter­rain like the Queen­stown stage, but achieved 4.2litres/100km on some trans­port routes between the spe­cial stages. Our av­er­age for the more than 2000km of Targa was a fab­u­lous 7.7litres/100km and would prob­a­bly have been about 5.0 with­out the hard driv­ing sec­tions.

The fiery, firm-rid­ing lit­tle three-door Pug, priced at about $31,000, is also highly civilised, com­fort­able, easy to park and has gen­er­ous ac­com­mo­da­tion.

It will seat four adults, has a big boot, ex­pand­able from 311 to more than 1100litres, and comes with all the in­fo­tain­ment and as­so­ci­ated equip­ment du jour.

The dash is in pi­ano black with red highlights, and it's es­pe­cially stun­ning at night.

The body-hug­ging seats are in cloth and leather, the small flat­bot­tom steer­ing wheel has a red­line at top dead cen­tre, there's a cen­tral touch­screen, dual-zone air­con, six-speaker au­dio sys­tem, satnav, cruise con­trol, auto-on lights and wipers, Blue­tooth and rear park­ing radar, but no re­vers­ing cam­era.

The cubby is small, like­wise the cuphold­ers, but the door pan­els will hold a cou­ple of bot­tles.

It has quite a tall driv­ing po­si­tion, so that the driver looks over the steer­ing wheel at the in­stru­ments.

The six-speed close-ra­tio trans­mis­sion has an al­loy gear­knob and smooth clutch, and the brakes and sus­pen­sion are the work of Peu­geot Sport. Tres bon!

The car runs on 17-inch al­loy wheels shod with fat, low-pro­filed Miche­lins and the grip lev­els are as­tound­ing. The 208 re­tains its com­po­sure and is so planted in cor­ners that in pic­tures, it some­times looks as if it’s parked.

Drop it down a cog or two as you en­ter a cor­ner and it pow­ers out like a tor­pedo, with a snarl of de­light from its ex­haust. There's no wheel-spin­ning, no un­der or over­steer­ing, just a supremely ef­fi­cient trans­fer of power to the road.

It rev­elled in stages like Hel­ly­ers Gorge, the Sidel­ing and Mt Ar­row­smith, where sev­eral less con­fi­dent cars came to grief, and be­haved like a French aris­to­crat when we reached the many towns and cities along Targa Tas­ma­nia's long route.

Our car was in stan­dard trim, just as it comes from the show­room, but it was more than a match for many mod­i­fied and much pricier ma­chines.

A charm­ing, easy-to­live-with prac­ti­cal hatch that you can take to track days and make eyes pop.

Pic­ture: an­gry­man pho­tog­ra­phy

The Peu­geot 208GTi won a lot of praise in Targa Tas­ma­nia. Ver­dict:

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