PEUGEOT 208 GTi REVIEW
Vehicle style: Light hot-hatch
Price: $29,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 147Kw/275Nm 1.6 petrol DOHC turbo | 6spd manual
Fuel consumption listed: 5.9 l/100km | tested: Not recorded
Yep, 30 minutes into a ‘nip and tuck’ winding road loop in the Gold Coast hinterland in Peugeot’s new 208 GTi, and I’m liking what I feel.
Twenty-five full-bore laps of Holden’s Norwell race circuit, and I like it even more.
Peugeot finally - finally - has a worthy successor to its wild and raw little eighties rocket: the classic 205 GTi.
It’s about the size and weight of a size-ten shoe, packs 147kW and 275Nm under its stumpy bonnet, and sits on 17-inch guards-filling alloys and fat low-profile 205/45 rubber.
It will lay down a 6.8 second 0-100km/h, run to 230km/h, has what must count as among the best sports seats in the business, and, at $29,990 plus on-roads, costs not a great deal more than a ‘garden’ hatch.
Yes, for anyone with a hankering for a brattish, rorty hot-hatch, the 208 GTi has a lot of boxes ticked even before you point it at the track.
You know what I like most about the 208 GTi? It’s that it doesn’t look and feel like it was squeezed out of the same old sausage machine as every other hatch in town.
Inside and out, it’s different, and full of personality.
The leather-bound steering wheel is tiny, it’s go-kart size. It feels superbly ‘hooked-up’, needs little movement left and right to fang the 208 GTi around a mountain road, and, even with big boots down below, is perfectly weighted.
Sitting up above the wheel in perfect line of sight (for me... I’ve got duck’s disease) is a really smart pop-up instrument binnacle with red illuminated highlighting, and nice clear sports dials.
Finishing the dash ahead of the passenger is a neat stitched panel, and the console and door-grips are in red and black polished sunburst (like an old Gibson guitar).
There is also contrasting stitching throughout, smart red-suede bolster panels on the sports leather seats, and a ‘tight-as-a-drum’ feel everywhere.
The seats are terrific, really comfy, the right shape for both rapid cornering on the racetrack and for noodling around town.
The stubby gearshift too feels great. It falls perfectly to hand, has a nice fat metal grip and a precise short throw.
In this interior, you feel like you’re in a car that’s just begging to have its wheels driven off.
It feels different, with a brash sports character all of its own. As work benches go, at this money, it’s hard to fault.
It’s also got lots of standard gear. Touch screen and sat nav are standard, as is six-speaker stereo, speed adaptive volume controls, multi-function wheel, Bluetooth, USB ports, dual-zone air-con, cruise control, airconditioned glovebox and speed-sensitive power steering.
There's also LED daytime running lights, ’follow me home’ lighting, electric folding door mirrors, halogen headlights, cornering front fog lights, remote central locking, rain-sensing wipers, tinted glass, these among a suite of other features.
Safety features include six air-bags, ABS, ESP (traction and stability control), pretensioning seat-belts, side-impact absorbent door padding, rear-seat child restraint anchorage points, and automatic hazard light activation.
ON THE ROAD & TRACK
Under the bonnet is a 1598cc jewel. This is a very willing and grunty little donk - the same, incidentally, and in the same state of tune, as in the manual RCZ (and it’s no slouch).
The secret to its torquey nature is the undersquare design (77mm bore and 85.8mm stroke) and, of course, the turbo huffer doing its thing.
Thanks to that longer stroke, its 147kW are developed at a relatively low 5500rpm, while peak torque is harnessed at a very low (for a 1.6 litre DOHC petrol engine) 1700rpm.
Undersquare it may be, but it also doesn’t mind a rev.
We occasionally had it bouncing off the rev limiter on track - it sounds mighty when stretched out - which perhaps didn’t make us go any faster, but we felt like we were.
It really is an entertaining track warrior. We put it round the open Norwell circuit in dashes of five laps: one quite long looping ‘straight’, a fast constant-radial sweeper and some nice tight hairpins.
While getting the feel for things (and it’s a forgiving chassis), I kept traction control on for the first 15 laps, then turned it off for the last 10.
With a short, wide square footprint to the road, just 1160kg of kerb weight, and nice fat 17-inch alloys at each corner, you can absolutely barrel the GTi into a corner.
Provided you don’t get onto the gas too quickly (the traction control nobbles things if kept activated), you can get out like a greased ferret.
But with the traction control off, it’s transformed.
And incredibly quick. Turn it off and the chassis comes alive. You can tuck the nose in early with a stamp on the brakes, let the back come around, then, on full noise, blast out the other side on opposite lock.
You don’t need to be the best steerer on the planet to achieve it (I’m not, as too many will testify). And, such is its balance, that the GTi is easy to ‘catch’ if you should happen to overcook things.
You can really enjoy this pocket dynamo; not too expensive, robust, fast and rorty, it’s perfect for the occasional track day.
It’s also enjoyable on road.
That sharp little chassis with Macpherson struts, helical springs and hydraulic dampers up front, and a nicely tamed torsion beam rear with helical springs and hydraulic valve dampers, has no trouble keeping things planted on a winding road.
Through the wheel, you can have a real conversation with the tarmac, and, though it’s firmly sprung, it doesn’t suffer from the jitters on rougher surfaces or crash over bigger bumps.
For such a truncated chassis, its balance is surprisingly good.
On the hot-mix surfaces of urban roads, the little GTi is very quiet, with just the burble of the exhaust for accompaniment. It’s mostly pretty good on country roads, but there’s a bit of road roar from coarser-chip blue-metal surfaces.
It’s the wider, low-profile tyres that are mostly responsible.
Lastly, braking is sensational. Even with lap-after-lap of hard work, the pedal retained good feel and there was no smoking from over-wrought pads.
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
Yes, Peugeot’s 208 GTi is an absolute return to form. For raw feel, brattish looks, and smokin’ performance, it’s much closer to the original gun - the 205 GTi - than anything Peugeot has given us since.
We’ll need to hold a watching brief on those two rockets also heading our way.
But this you can be sure of: for individual style, for an alive sporting feel, for blasting around a track or just enjoying the wonderful balance around a winding mountain road, you will not be disappointed by Peugeot’s new 208 GTi.
So, if you’re aged between 35 and 50, the kids have left home (coz there’s bugger-all room in the back), and you enjoy the occasional early-morning hunt through a set of corners, Peugeot has your car.
Or, for $29,990 you can buy something entirely sensible, and bore yourself to death... (nah, c’mon, life’s too short).
Pricing (excludes on-road costs)
The 208 GTi is available now, priced at $29,990.