Peugeot 208 GTI by PS
The feisty 208 trumps its bigger brother… until the going gets tricky
AROUND A YEAR AGO I WAS RUNNING a Peugeot 308 GTI, another product of Peugeot Sport, which is a department I am becoming quite evangelical about. I often preach about the holy trinity – the 208 GTI by PS, the 308 GTI (270 version) and the sadly discontinued RCZ R – to anyone who will listen. So when we were discussing last month’s test to pit the new Hyundai i30 N against a Golf GTI and, importantly, a 308 GTI, I made sure I was there to spread the good word of Peugeot Sport.
I can’t say I’m a fan of the 308’s 2017 facelift; its new pedestrian-friendly bulbous nose makes it look like a sperm whale. Thankfully, what I really love about the 308 – how it drives – hasn’t changed. It feels like the archetypal front-wheel-drive performance car. Its passive dampers, mechanical LSD and torsion beam rear axle mean it behaves exactly how you’d expect a hot hatch to.
What I’d forgotten was just how similar the 308’s interior is to that of the 208. The steering wheel is identical, the dials still aren’t properly visible, the driver’s seat – although a little fancier-looking – feels the same, and because the engine and gearbox are pretty much the same too, the car makes a similar noise and the gearshift is eerily familiar. Even the way the two cars accelerate is alike. The 208’s 1.6 is down 61bhp but the whole car was 121kg lighter when we weighed them both on our scales, and that helps make up for the power deficit.
What does feel different is the chassis – disappointingly so. After driving along motorways and straight roads for some time, the familar environment meant I’d completely forgotten I was in the 308 and not my 208. Then I got to a slip road – essentially a long, wide, quiet one-way corner, so a great opportunity to indulge in some committed driving. I trail-braked into the late-apex banked left-hander, but when I turned the steering wheel I was served up a less immediate front end and more body roll than I was expecting. I was also ready to quickly apply some corrective lock to catch the excitable rear-end if required as I skitted and scrabbled towards the apex. But there wasn’t any of that, and I was rather disappointed by the 308’s general lack of vigour compared with the 208.
Then, later in my journey, the temperatures dropped and the rain came, and I discovered that the extra roll and added compliance that sap away at the 308’s enthusiasm make it that bit more predictable when the going gets slippery. This was emphasised further
when I swapped back into the 208 on a grim, wet evening a couple of days later. I found myself teetering around, being gentle with the throttle and delicate with the steering so as not to scare the front tyres into losing grip. I couldn’t lean on the front end as confidently as I could the 308’s, so I couldn’t make the most of that more mobile rear end. The 208 does surprise you with how much traction it can find – on the exit of a sodden corner it hooks up impressively – but the 308 keeps you in the loop the entire time, always communicating how much grip is available, helping you enjoy every aspect of a corner.
I still prefer the 208 over its bigger brother; its fighty attitude and focused chassis suit me more and it’s so entertaining when it’s dry that I can put up with its wet-weather behaviour. But in an ideal world I’d have a 208 for dry days and a 308 for when it’s wet and grimy.
Top: 208 is the more exciting GTI in the dry. Above: 308 feels more secure in the wet
Dateacquired September 2017 Totalmileage 6558 Mileagethismonth 1575 Coststhismonth £0 mpgthismonth 37.1