CAR REVIEW: Peugeot 208 GTi
So then, this is it: The new Peugeot 208 GTi. The car that we’ve been told takes on the mantle left behind by what was considered by many to be the greatest hot-hatch of them all: Peugeot’s very own 205 GTi.
Ever since Peugeot stopped making what was the ultimate version of the 205, the car that saved them from obscurity and possibly even worse, keen drivers and car lovers the world-over have been longing, hoping, praying even, for the French manufacturer to re-capture it’s magic in the way both the 206 and 207 GTi’s failed to do. Revealed as a concept at the Geneva Motor show earlier this year the 208GTi, Peugeot’s answer to those prayers has finally hit the streets.
Distinguished externally from its lesser 208 brethren by its mesh grille that (Peugeot say) resembles a chequered flag, sill extensions, some pretty funky looking 17” alloys, a natty little spoiler on the rear hatch, and of course the obligatory chromed mirror backs and double tail pipe, the 208 GTi is still an altogether more subtle lesson in styling that it could have been. Thankfully there’s no evo-style front splitters or huge rear spoilers or other such nonsensical appendages, and I’d happily argue that its subtlety makes it the prettiest Peugeot in years, especially when viewed side on. Those GTi badges on the C-pillar – a salute to its illustrious predecessor – are a nice touch too.
Inside, things aren’t quite as appealing. Don’t get me wrong, everything’s screwed together in a way that Peugeot’s of old could have only dreamed of. The switches move with a new found precision, the air-con delivers near Artic-like cooling, the brushed aluminium gear knob is great, and even the non-retractable tablet-style sat-nav/radio/trip-computer screen has been nicely integrated, but you just know that two-tone trim (red fading in to black) is going to date quickly. The seats too, are too narrow for all but the chicest of figures, and why Peugeot did you fit a steering wheel that unless you choose to drive with it your lap manages to be both too small and obscure virtually all of the major dials at the same time?
You may also notice once inside that there’s no switch for selectable driving modes either. The steering, throttle, and suspension all have just one setting. You can switch the ESP off if you wish, and that’s it, but amen to that. Turn the key and the 1.6 litre turbo-charged engine burbles in to life and hints at what’s to come.
With 197bhp and 203lbft torque the 208GTi is quick. The 0-62 benchmark is dealt with in just 6.8 seconds, and I’m told, this little French projectile will do 144! But, drive the GTi in town and it feels as happy to be there and as easy to drive as any other “B” segment hatch; the clutch is light, the gear-change slick and the ride compliant.
Out in the open the GTi’s wider track and lower springs make it feel equally nimble. The steering may lack a little bit in feel but this little car changes direction beautifully; point its nose into a series of bends and the rear end follows with unquestionable obedience. If you bury the throttle the torque tugs at the tiny wheel, and, thanks to a liberal helping of mid range oomph, regardless of which of the gearbox’s six ratios you choose you’re never without enough performance to deal with the dawdlers. Find yourself in a hurry across country and the 208 makes a formidable ally.
And yet, there’s a problem. For those of us who remember the 205 GTi with fondness, the 208 GTi feels altogether more mature, somehow, dare I say it, almost too grown- up. Its ride is comfy and cosseting, on motorways it cruises effortlessly and, because it’s so good without the need to be worked right up to its red-line, it somehow lacks that certain Je ne sais quoi that makes a hot-hatch – a 205GTi in particular – so addictive to drive.
Make no mistakes the 208 GTi is a very, very good car but now my time with it is over I’m left with an underlying feeling it lacks that certain almost indefinable something that would ultimately make it a great one.
That said I’ve been wrong before.
Peugeot 208 GTi
Engine: 1598cc 4Cyl 16V turbo-charged petrol
Transmission: 6 Speed Manual, Front wheel drive.
Power: 197bhp from 5800pm
Torque: 203 lbft from 1700rpm
0-62MPH: 6.8 Sec
Max Speed: 144mph
CO2: 139 g/km
MPG: 47.9.9 combined