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Driven: Peugeot 208 GTi. Image by Peugeot.

Driven: Peugeot 208 GTi
Peugeot is emphatically back - finally shaking off the ghost of the 205 GTi, the ultimate 208 is a genuine class contender.

 



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| Test drive | Peugeot 208 GTi |

Overall rating: 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Good points: stylish exterior, brilliant interior, superb seats, punchy engine, road holding, decent ride.
Not so good: pains us to say it, but it's the steering that once again falls short... plus it has a slightly pinched face.

Key Facts

Model tested: Peugeot 208 GTi
Pricing: £18,900 standard; £20,295 as tested
Engine: 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Body style: three-door hot hatch
Rivals: Ford Fiesta ST, MINI Cooper S, Renaultsport Clio 200 Turbo
CO2 emissions: 139g/km
Combined economy: 47.9mpg
Top speed: 143mph
0-62mph: 6.8 seconds
Power: 200hp at 5,800rpm
Torque: 275Nm from 1,750- to 4,500rpm

Our view:

We were looking forward to this 208 GTi immensely. Could it finally be the car to end that crustiest of motoring journalist clichés: the one that states with all authority that Peugeot has not built a decent hot hatch since the seminal 205 GTi (conveniently overlooking both GTi and Rallye versions of the 106 and 306)?

I was certainly hopeful. And first impressions count for a lot. The Pug kicks off with exterior looks that are near spot-on for a feisty little hatch. The standard 208 is not an ugly car by any means, but the GTi's chunkier bumpers, spoilers, big alloys in black (a £100 option) and neat detailing elevate it above the rest of the range. Only the pinched front grille mars it in my opinion.

Inside is even better. The cabin is wonderful, both in terms of the aesthetics and ergonomics. Some of the highlights: the red threads that illuminate around the dials in the head-up dash; the neat housing for the satnav (it's £400, but it also adds a second USB port) and its crisp graphics; excellent, sporty front seats with proper side bolsters and a great driving position; the tiny steering wheel that is now becoming Peugeot's trademark; a few useful climate buttons on the dash, which the 308 lacks; the airiness bestowed throughout by the optional full-length glass roof (£400). It all looks of the highest quality and there's room for four adults, plus a big boot too.

This particular car cost £20,295, which puts it in the thick of the pack and it has plenty of spec. But how does it drive? It's a comfortable and reasonably refined car if you're not caning it, making it an easy day-to-day proposition. But that's not what hot hatches are about.

Get on the pace like you're 17 again and the Peugeot is a delight. Its engine is stunning - muscular as any other turbo, but it has a hard, metallic edge to its note and it likes to rev right out to the redline. The GTi is properly quick, always feeling more urgent than a Renaultsport Clio and certainly up with the best in class. It also has spectacularly well-judged traction - ESP off, in the dry it is near unshakeable under full power and the front axle does not unwantedly dictate trajectory. It is blessed with a firm ride coupled to a nice coating of pliancy, meaning on ruffled surfaces it keeps as much rubber on the road as it feasibly can and yet also controls its body well.

And as it weighs a scanty 1,160kg (the Fiesta ST is 1,163kg, a Clio 200 1,204kg and a Cooper S 1,235kg), the lack of mass helps it with deceleration, turn-in and acceleration. Brake into a corner and the rear end goes light - perhaps not requiring an armful of corrective lock and lots of swearing like a 205 would, but it certainly gets your attention. The net result of all the above is a massive smile on your chops; it's a Peugeot GTi and, when thrashed, it drives superbly. Thank the bloody Lord; it's about time.

That everything else on the GTi is so brilliantly executed only makes the steering that much more frustrating. It is light and over-assisted, and despite your faintest hopes, it never develops into anything less than stubbornly insubstantial. Short of lighting up the fronts out of a junction or demanding maximum power exiting the tightest turns, it's bereft of feedback too. Also, if we're picking nits, the middle pedal quickly goes long when you're larking about, although the brakes do at least retain a semblance of stopping power under such duress. However, to return to the steering, it is consistent and the 208's front end is very eager and precise, so ultimately it doesn't totally ruin the GTi. You can still have plenty of fun with the Pug.

Like one of those South American dictatorships in which juntas continually swap power, Peugeot has staged its own military coup in the French small hot hatch battle and re-seized power from Renaultsport, previously so dominant for more than a decade while the Lion languished. There's no doubt the Peugeot offering is better than the latest fast Clio and if you'd suggested that to me five years ago, I'd have probably laughed right in your face. RS Mégane 265, watch out for a possible 308 R...

In terms of outright class honours, though, the GTi's path to glory is blocked by that pesky Essex rocket, the Fiesta ST. The 208 is marvellous and in some areas; in terms of ride, interior quality and appointments it has the Ford's measure. But the ST possesses a more vocal engine and markedly better steering than the GTi, which endows it with a more scintillating ten-tenths drive than the French car. We'd just - but only just, mind - pick the ST Mountune over the 208 GTi, yet we'd fully understand why you might pick the 208 and then make a perfectly valid case for doing so.

It must be a huge relief to everyone within Peugeot to have finally rid themselves of the 205 GTi albatross around their neck; this 208 is a remarkable performance effort after years of mediocrity. Old advertising motto it may be, but the Lion is currently going from strength-to-strength.

Alternatives:

Ford Fiesta ST: the one to beat. In standard 180hp form, it's brilliant. In 215hp Mountune guise, it's one of the best hot hatches ever built. Cheaper than the Pug, too, but light on tech options.

Renaultsport Clio 200 Turbo: the hot Reggie has lost its sparkle. Blinding chassis remains, but is let down by dull engine and crazily bad gearbox. Dieppe, give us a proper manual; quickly.

MINI Cooper S: the 208 GTI is so much more classily restrained and yet vastly more entertaining to drive than the latest Cooper S that it's somewhat embarrassing. The MINI is also way more expensive spec-for-spec. Yet we bet we'll see more of them on the road than GTis in months to come...


Matt Robinson - 28 May 2014









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2014 Peugeot 208 GTi. Image by Peugeot.2014 Peugeot 208 GTi. Image by Peugeot.2014 Peugeot 208 GTi. Image by Peugeot.2014 Peugeot 208 GTi. Image by Peugeot.2014 Peugeot 208 GTi. Image by Peugeot.

2014 Peugeot 208 GTi. Image by Peugeot.2014 Peugeot 208 GTi. Image by Peugeot.2014 Peugeot 208 GTi. Image by Peugeot.2014 Peugeot 208 GTi. Image by Peugeot.2014 Peugeot 208 GTi. Image by Peugeot.



2014 Peugeot 208 GTi. Image by Peugeot.
 

2014 Peugeot 208 GTi. Image by Peugeot.
 

2014 Peugeot 208 GTi. Image by Peugeot.
 

2014 Peugeot 208 GTi. Image by Peugeot.
 

2014 Peugeot 208 GTi. Image by Peugeot.
 

2014 Peugeot 208 GTi. Image by Peugeot.
 

2014 Peugeot 208 GTi. Image by Peugeot.
 






 

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