Car reviews - Peugeot - 208 - GTi
Engine performance, nimble handling, ride, dash layout, lightness and efficiency
Room for improvement
Glitchy multimedia system, drab rear-seat quarters, no cupholders, wide A-pillars
24 Jan 2014
Price and equipment
JUST in the last few months, the baby hot-hatch segment has had the status quo well and truly shaken.
There’s the seriously sensational Ford Fiesta ST, redefining the class with astonishing dynamic authority, directly followed by the rebooted Renault Clio RS 200 EDC.
Besides offering freshness, both newcomers fall well below $30,000, and are already attracting plenty of consumer interest.
Finally, there is the Peugeot 208 GTi – new from the ground up and over 100kg lighter than the preceding equivalent, but still rooted down in traditional pocket-rocket three-door/manual-only format just like the Fiesta ST.
Priced from $29,990 plus on-road costs, the Pug is $4000 and $1200 exxier than its Ford and Renault opponents respectively, so starts off on the wrong foot even before leaving the dealer forecourt.
On the other hand, items like satellite navigation, reverse camera, Bluetooth audio streaming and telephony, and a very sexy set of alloy wheels – including a full-size spare – are included.
“Pretty” pretty much sums up the 208 inside as well as out.
Being a three-door only affair, there’s something immediately retro about the long and low seating position, though any similarity with previous Peugeots ends there.
As with its lesser siblings, the GTi features the company’s controversial high-instrument/low steering wheel set-up. It’s supposed to keep all essential vehicle information within the driver’s eye line to the road.
Some hate it. We don’t. All it takes is an open mind and a few minutes to acclimatise to having a tiny but grippy flat-bottomed wheel just above your lap, for an unfettered view of the low-cowl fascia as well as what’s beyond the windscreen.
In fact, except for the wide A-pillars that occasionally blot out vehicles through tight roundabouts, the 208 is an easy car to see out of.
Peugeot’s mix of crisp white analogue and digital instruments add a touch of BMW-style sophistication, as does the mix of glossy and matt trim materials tastefully interspersed throughout the cabin. Only the red-to-black cappings might cop flack. Too gauche.
For a B-segment runabout, there’s space aplenty up front, especially for longer legs, while the rear is about as roomy as you might expect – in other words, this is best left as a kids-only area if distance length enters triple digits.
Being a hot hatch, the front seats are deeply bolstered and well padded for hours of comfort and support, but the same can’t be said for the rear pew, which is flat in the cushion, and lacks a folding armrest and rear air vents.
But that’s nothing compared to the flummoxing total cupholder absenteeism.
Caffeine addicts can’t even improvise because there simply is nowhere to secure a beverage. Big fail.
While the knives are out, some controls aren’t sufficiently illuminated at night, the (in-house) sat-nav system isn’t at all intuitive, you won’t find overhead grab handles anywhere, and the Bluetooth phone system occasionally stopped working for no reason.
The GTi claws some cred back with a wide and low cargo area, despite the fact that a full-sized alloy lives beneath that rear floor. As an alternative to ISOFIX latches, child-seat anchorage points are behind the rear backrests, so the tethers won’t eat into boot space.
Finally, we experienced no rattles over our fortnight and 1500km-plus time with the GTi. Indeed, for a hot-hatch, the amount of noise suppression is really quite commendable.
Engine and transmission
After the design, the most outstanding thing about the 208 GTi is just how strong, silky, and effortless the performance delivery is from the 147kW/275Nm 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine.
Shared with BMW (think the outgoing Mini Cooper S), the powerplant is a ripper, leaping off the line and maintaining the performance rage right up through to the redline rev limiter. This is properly fast, pulling hard even in high gears, and always on the boil should you need instant acceleration.
Combined with a rousing exhaust note, there is something of this car’s illustrious ‘80s GTi predecessors in the way that it glides along so effortlessly.
Conversely, the whole mechanical drivetrain is creamy smooth, like it’s coated in honey. The French have created a very civilised hot-hatch experience.
That we managed to average 7.1L/100km over two weeks worth of both spirited mountain-road and relaxed highway driving is a testimony to the 208’s towering efficiency.
Ride and handling
Sat low and snug on superb sports seats, the driver is certainly put in the right frame of mind for a bout of spirited pocket-rocketry.
Beautifully weighted, and with enough bite and feel to keep enthusiasts happy, there’s real spirit in the way the steering hooks into corners, with the Pug remaining planted and poised in the process.
As in the best hot hatches, you can cover ground quickly and confidently in the little French GTi, taking advantage of its rorty performance, eager handling, and superb brakes, to see you through. This is just so manoeuvrable.
We happened to have both Clio Cup and Fiesta ST rivals on hand during our time with the 208, and for the most part the latter reacted with equivalent enthusiasm.
Really, unless you’re really pressing on, there’s not a whole lot in it between the three, despite some very obvious character differences.
However, at speeds over 100km/h, some floatiness and twitchiness was detected over certain narrow rural roads that the others would simply glide over.
Having said that, there is a lovely level of ride suppleness for a hot hatch, one that matches the class-leading Clio Sport.
Safety and servicing
Peugeot’s capped price servicing plan sees the 208 GTi scheduled to cost the customer $370 a year over the first three years or 60,000km. The warranty period lasts three years/100,000km.
The 208 GTi scores a five-star ENCAP crash-test rating.
If you want a more traditional three-door manual hot-hatch, love speed and handling, and yet long for civilised comfort as well, the Peugeot should be on your pocket-rocket shortlist for sure.
Absent cupholders aside, there’s actually very little missing in the 208 GTi, revealing the company’s 30-year experience in offering this sort of performance vehicle.
We applaud Peugeot’s decision to stick with the manual specification, because we reckon it helps set the newcomer apart in a class of very competent and varying alternatives.
It’s true. The GTi is back and the 208 deserves to be taken very seriously indeed.
Ford Fiesta ST (from $25,990 plus on-roads).
Currently at the segment apex, the baby Ford is a dynamite combination of performance, handling, and steering finesse, backed up by incredible value for money. This is the driver’s pick.
Renault Clio RS 200 EDC Sport (from $28,790 plus on-roads).
Handsome, spacious, and incredibly composed, the new entry Clio RS takes on the grand touring mantle in its stride, bringing dynamics and refinement to the table – at a great price.
Volkswagen Polo GTI (from $27,990 plus on-roads).
Redefining baby hot hatches with DSG and five-door availability, the auto-only Polo GTI has wooed a wide variety of buyers wanting speed, handling and refinement. But watch that firm ride.
MAKE/MODEL: Peugeot 208 GTi
ENGINE: 1598cc 4-cyl petrol turbo
LAYOUT: FWD, transverse
POWER: 147kW @ 5500rpm
TORQUE: 275Nm @ 1700rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-spd man
TOP SPEED: 230km/h
WEIGHT: 1133kg (tare mass)
SUSPENSION f/r: Struts/Torsion beam
STEERING: Electric rack and pinion
BRAKES f/r: Discs/discs
PRICE: From $29,990 plus on-roads
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