While uprating its 208 supermini, Peugeot has taken the opportunity to also uprate its 208 GTi hot hatch. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Peugeot used to be the go-to crew if you wanted the very finest hot hatchbacks but that was a long time ago. In the intervening years, the company has been shoved down the pecking order but today's 208 GTi has fired them right back into contention. The French brand has slightly uprated power and torque in this latest version, making it an even more credible rival to cars like the Renaultsport Clio and the Ford Fiesta ST. If you want a manual gearbox and you do longer mileages, it could be the right choice to make in this segment.
It seems that it's impossible to consider a verdict on Peugeot's 208 GTi without harking back to the 205 GTi. Contemporary hot hatch road tests lament the fact that modern hot hatches are too fat, too grippy and too safe, testers getting all dewy-eyed as they reminisce about the time they entered a beet field backwards at 85mph in a 205. Ah, the nostalgia of being out of control, surrounded by metal with the structural integrity of a Sprite can. Nope, I'll take a modern hot hatch any day and put up with a little less mid-corner throttle adjustability in exchange for things like air conditioning, a decent stereo, turbocharged grunt, seats that fit, an engine that can cover big mileages without issue and a dashboard that doesn't twitter like the queue at a One Direction gig. I'm silly like that. Time to look at the latest version, where power's up from 200 to 208bhp and torque has risen from 275 to 300Nm.
Pop the bonnet and you'll find a 1.6-litre THP petrol engine coupled to a manual gearbox with six, close-ratio gears. With maximum torque up to 300Nm and peak power up to 208bhp, the 208 GTi polishes off the sprint to 62mph in 6.5 seconds. In-gear re-acceleration is equally impressive, with the 208 GTi accelerating from 50 to 75mph in less than 7.0 seconds in fifth, highlighting its torque advantage over the Clio Renaultsport 200 Turbo. Stiffer springs have been fitted and the ride height dropped by 8mm but Peugeot hatches have always ridden well and this 208 is no exception. Body control is well-judged, the steering is quick-ish with that characteristic low, small wheel and there's not much in the way of torque steer. The chassis also feels pleasantly responsive mid-corner. There's no limited slip differential fitted, so if you really work the front tyres hard out of a bend, you will see precious motive power disappearing in tyre smoke from the inside front corner before the ESP stability control system decides enough is quite enough. Traction is otherwise more than adequate and the 208 GTi has that pleasant ability of flowing down a road quickly and without undue drama but can still play the hooligan if you choose to rough-house it along. It's an impressive showing.
The 208 GTi certainly looks the part. It's all about the detailing, with the three-door 208 body adorned with a gloss black rear skirt, a trapezoid chromed double exhaust and a quarter panel trim bearing the GTi logo. Plus there are red highlights throughout the vehicle, including the brake callipers, while the grille lower bead is set off by liberal use of 'trendy once again' chrome. The car's stance is a little more pugnacious than its humbler siblings but the overall effect is actually quite subtle, especially if you choose a version in a restrained colour. The interior feels more extrovert. With a colour scheme combining red, black and satin chrome and red GTi overstitching throughout, the cabin feels like a 1980s Antibes nightclub, but full marks to Peugeot for effort. The seats are trimmed in full grain Club Nappa leather and Caro Weave cloth, while the dash gets red overstitching and a decoration of red graduating to black. No prizes for guessing the colour combo used on the seatbelts, floor mats steering wheel and gear lever gaiter either. What should be a bit of a mess actually comes across as endearing and fun.
The step of £3,000 up from the hotest standard-model petrol 208 (the 110bhp 208 1.2 PureTech 110 GT Line) to the 208bhp 208 GTi seems fair value for money given the amount of extra car you get. Compared to its rivals, the asking price of around £19,000 seems about on the money too, just managing to undercut the Clio 200 Turbo, although being gazumped by the Fiesta ST. There's a choice of three versions: the standard GTi, the 'Prestige' model priced at around £20,000 and the 'Gti by Peugeot Sport' variant priced at around £22,000. Whichever one you choose, it's hard to complain about the amount of kit you get. That runs to 17-inch alloy wheels, a multifunction 7-inch colour touch screen with DAB radio, USB / 3.5mm jack and Bluetooth with steering wheel mounted controls. ESP stability control is fitted as standard, as are eight airbags and cruise control. Dual zone air conditioning, automatic lights, wipers and mirrors, a rear parking sensor and LED daytime running lights also feature.
The 208 GTi turns in some frankly amazing numbers when it comes to economy and emissions. Remember that this is a car quick enough to show a clean set of tailpipes to something like a Volkswagen Scirocco GT 2.0 TSI, yet where that car will manage a combined figure of 38.2mpg, the little Peugeot returns 47.9mpg. It's the same story for emissions. The Scirocco would manage 172g/km, the 208 GTi a mere 125g/km. Now I'd fully accept your point that these two cars aren't direct rivals, after all there's a £7,000 price disparity between them, but it just goes to illustrate that the GTi is all about getting results and doing it with some polish. Residual values are certain to be strong. Peugeot are getting their groove back and the used car buying public will certain welcome a well-received hot hatch that drives well and makes excellent fuel economy. The reliability of the 208's running gear is already well known through developments from partner companies, so there's little to worry about there. Even the infotainment system can be augmented on an ongoing basis by downloading updates. About the only fly in the ointment is a group 30 insurance rating that may deter some younger potential customers.
Times change and those wishing Peugeot would build a car that feels like a 205 GTi had better wise up. It's not going to happen. Go play a ZX Spectrum emulator on your laptop if you want a nostalgia fix. Instead, the French company has done the right thing and brought us a properly grown up hot hatch that has nuances to its personality and no shortage of driver appeal. About the only complaints I'd level against it are that the steering might be a little taciturn, the engine could have a little more in the way of aural fireworks and that the touchscreen interface feels as if it's been designed by a French committee. During a strike day. Other than that, there's a lot to like, esecially in this uprated 208bhp guise. It's seriously quick, the ride and handling compromise is extremely well-judged and will work on British roads, the pricing is good, there's plenty of standard equipment, and the interior reminds you that you're in something a little different from the norm every time you get in. Is Peugeot back at the top of the hot hatch tree? Maybe not right yet. But this is a Peugeot hot hatch we'd have no hesitation in recommending. The 208 GTi demonstrates that fun and responsibility needn't be mutually exclusive concepts.
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