The 205 GTi, more than any other car, was the one which started the whole hot hatch sector. Quick and seriously nimble, yet cheaper both to buy and run than most other cars of the era offering similar performance, it spawned a plethora of similar products from many manufacturers.
Over the years though, many of the GTI-branded offerings have grown up and become more than a little bland: over-weight and under-sporting, at least in performance terms. It was interesting, therefore, to have the opportunity to try the latest Peugeot Gti, to see whether is more of the same level of blandness or whether it has indeed regained a little of the original 205’s mojo.
First impressions on seeing the Gti in its textured Ice Silver paint was that it looked mean & moody, if nothing else. That textured paint, by the way, is a Peugeot innovation which is claimed to be more durable & easier to care for than traditional matt finish paints. It is a £645 option on most 208’s, but only £150 on the test car, a “GTi by Peugeot Sport”, which also adds a comprehensive range of enhancements to the base level Gti, including lowered suspension, wider wheels, and a Torsen differential similar to the Peugeot RCZ R.
The interior is not forgotten either, being treated to a set of rather nice sports seats finished in Alcantara with Peugeot Sport headrest logos. All of which, of course, adds almost another three grand to the price, although pricewise that still positions this top-of-the-range Pug well below Golf GTI territory.
Opening the extremely wide doors (the Gti is only available as a 3-door at the moment) reveals those inviting Recaro-like chairs, which look great and are extremely comfortable & supportive.
Once in the drivers seat, everything falls easily to hand, with an unusually small and very tactile steering wheel, easily adjustable to give a comfortable driving position. Here the trouble starts however, for the top of the wheel then cuts into the vision line for the instrument pack, obscuring in my case the bottom half of the displays. Raising the seat to its highest position regained visibility of most of the dials, but resulted in a less than comfortable driving position. The problem, it seems, results from the dials being mounted much higher up than normal, an an attempt almost to emulate a head-up-display, however the dial pack is just too big to pull this off, hence the vision block.
Otherwise, the cabin was a pleasant place to be, with sporty overtones of red stitching and highlights, in best hot hatch tradition.
Out on the road, the Gti feels pretty quick, as befits the 208 horses under the bonnet. With 300Nm of torque available, acceleration was reasonably rapid, although not as lively as say the JCW Mini, which although it has only an extra 20Nm of torque on tap, the JCW’s peak torque is available from 1250 rpm compared to 3,000 rpm in the case of the Pug. Gearshifts on the test car were a bit let down by a clutch taking up at almost the top of its travel, making snappy shifts tricky.
Where the Pug scores handsomely is in its handling, for it takes corners as if on rails, powering out of them without a hint of torque steer, doubtless aided by that trick Torsen diff. Yes, the old 205 trait of lift-off oversteer is long gone, but that is pretty much inevitable given the nanny-state of traction control and the like which we currently inhabit. Even without that, though, the well-judged quickness of the Gti’s steering made fast cornering a delight, and on a par with far more exotic automobilia.
The fabulous handling has not been gained at the expense of a rock-hard ride, either: the Gti felt just the right side of firm, never sloppy but never bone-jarring either. Truly a great ride & handling package.
Where the Gti did fall down in it’s hot hatch role though, at least to me, was its almost complete lack of aural fireworks. No pops & bangs on the over-run, no throaty growl on acceleration, the thing sounded more like a repmobile than a wannabe racer. Odd, given that the 1.6 THP 208 motor under the bonnet is one and the same as the lump fitted to the previous model John Cooper Works Mini, a set of wheels renowned for their fantastic soundtrack. Peugeot engineers & marketing men, what were you thinking of when you signed this one off!
So there you have it – the Peugeot 208 Gti, for me is a mixed bag. Ride & handling – superb. Performance – pretty good. Cabin ambience – pretty good, but badly let down by not being able to see the dials properly.
The bottom line, though, is that the Peugeot 208 Gti is certainly competitively priced. Starting from £19,145 OTR, that’s a whole lot of hard-earned cash cheaper than, say an equivalent Golf GTI at £27,500 OTR. That extra eight grand plus is more than enough to buy you a decent-sounding exhaust if the Pug otherwise ticks all your boxes!
Interested? Find out more here: http://www.peugeot.co.uk/showroom/208/gti-by-peugeot-sport/