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Car reviews - Peugeot - 208 - GTi

Our Opinion

We like
Sweet engine, chic cabin design, good ride compromise, sharp turn-in and well-balanced
Room for improvement
Unusual driving position, road noise


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6 Aug 2013

WE’RE blessed with a hot hatch renaissance at the moment. And not of the familiar $40k-plus variety, but rather of the sub-$30k light-car variety.

The VW Polo GTI laid down the gauntlet a few years ago, but now we’re in the midst of the second wave. The 208 is but once piece of a forthcoming triumvirate, the others being the Ford Fiesta ST due next month, and the Renault Sport Clio due early next year.

In a country of low speed limits and congested roads, what could make more sense - or offer more fun - than a pocket rocket such as this? Peugeot got the jump on Ford and Renault by launching first, and our first drive indicates both will have their work cut out to match the 208’s gallic charm and dynamic nous.

Let’s start under the nubby nose. The 147kW/275Nm 1.6 turbo - jointly developed by BMW and PSA - is familiar from the RCZ and a spate of Minis. It hasn’t won its category in the International Engine of the year awards seven-years running for nought.

It’s power output outguns all comers bar the Renault, which it matches, and that torque figure leave rivals in the dust. The key tenets are familiar: buzzy note, thick torque curve (peak hits at only 1700rpm) and a willingness to rev to redline at the drop of a beret.

It’s matched as standard to a six-speed manual gearbox. We like that it’s not an auto proposition like the Polo and next-gen Clio, though we suspect the bulk of buyers may disagree considering Australia’s penchant for self-shifters.

The ‘box is slick enough, albeit with a longer-than-average throw, and has a pleasant and light clutch action. It lacks the mechanical precision of the best of the breed, but that just seems to be a French thing.

Peugeot’s insistence on referencing the 205 shines the spotlight on one crucial area of the 208: ride. The 1984 car had Peugeot’s famous long-travel suspension that balanced the potentially divergent needs of ride and handling with aplomb.

This 208 also rides rather beautifully, never feeling go kart-firm or harsh despite its firmer suspension setting and larger 17-inch rims. At the same time, the car feels tied down and stable at speed, belying its feather-esque weight thanks partially to wider front and rear tracks.

This keen-ness for balancing two separate desires, incidentally, is mirrored by the exterior styling, part-chic luxury car thanks to lashing of chrome-effect material, and part boy-racer.

It also feels sharp and nimble in the bends, and has the chassis balance to counter dreaded front-drive understeer through some light throttle lift-off.

The 208 feels light on its ‘feet’, and makes dancing through tighter bends a breeze.

The rear torsion beam is almost a blessing, not just because it save space, but also because the tail feel less tied-down and more lively and amenable to being tipped out of line. Therein lies the fun.

If only the steering feel was as sharp. We know electric systems are here to stay and that’s fine, but we wish more car-makers would dial in added resistance and the simulacrum of feedback.

The tiny wheel - familiar from the regular 208, and which slots under the dials like a video game - conveys less of the tarmac to the driver than we’d like.

But again, we’ve driven much worse.

We also had a hard time dealing with road noise emanating from those 205/45 tyres. The roar across coarse-chip Queensland roads was enough to unsettle an average conversation.

The cabin goes a long way to justifying the Pug’s $29,990 pricetag, which is a little higher than its rivals. Soft-touch surfaces across the dash, acres of red stitching everywhere the eyes fall and an excellent infotainment system with navigation are highlights.

The list of standard equipment, extending to sat-nav and partial-leather seats, trumps rivals, and explains the price discrepancy.

The driving position, where the occupant sits high and looks over the top of the tiny rim to the instrument binnacle, is not for everyone. You sit on the car, rather than in it, and we know several average-sized drivers who found the wheel impeded the dials.

Head and legroom are acceptable, as is 311 litres of boot volume (1152L with the seats folded) with a full-sized spare underneath. The red plastic inserts won’t be to all tastes, but at least it’s different.

So then, this 208 GTi is a return to form the Peugeot. It looks sharp and goes sharper. A fine effort indeed, and one to put VW, Renault and Ford on notice.

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