WITH THE PEUGEOT 208 GTI 30TH ANNIVERSARY, THE FRENCH BRAND IS CELEBRATING THREE DECADES SINCE IT LAUNCHED THE ICONIC 205 GTI HATCHBACK – ONE OF THE FIRST TO HAVE A BIG ENGINE SHOEHORNED UNDER A LITTLE BONNET.
Today, we call these vehicles ‘hot hatches’ and they are a dime-a-dozen.
Trouble is, Peugeot has since been unable to capture the sheer brilliance of its original 1984 model that perfectly balanced Parisian style, a terrier appetite for tarmac, and fair dollop of ‘mongrel’ thrown in for good measure. That is, it hopes, until now.
Only 500 units of the 208 GTi 30th Anniversary have been produced worldwide, of which 26 have jumped across from Europe to Australia and just four of those remain unsold.
If you like what you read below, then, you’d better get in quick…
Vehicle Style: Hot-hatchback
Price: $39,900 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 153kW/300Nm 1.6 4cyl turbo petrol | 6sp manual
Fuel Economy claimed: 5.4 l/100km | tested: 9.0 l/100km
Today the performance division of the French brand is called Peugeot Sport and they haven’t been reserved about making changes to the sweet, but understated, regular 208 GTi that still sells for $29,990 (plus on-road costs).
For $35,990 (plus orc), the 30th Anniversary firstly gets front and rear tracks – the width between left and right wheels – pushed out by 22mm and 16mm respectively, which aims to make the 208 ‘claw in’ harder through corners.
Wheels move up one inch in size, to 18-inches, with larger Brembo brakes sitting behind them. Ride height drops 10mm, the steering is quicker and the suspension packs firmer springs and dampers.
Unchanged is the engine, a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder producing 153kW of power at 6000rpm and 300Nm of torque at 3000rpm, mated with a six-speed manual transmission.
With the 30th, however, all that grunt gets channelled to a front axle that includes a Torsen mechanical limited-slip differential – it essentially prevents an ‘unloaded’ wheel from spinning when hooking into a corner, diverting power to the other ‘loaded’ tyre with the most traction for a slingshot exit.
- Standard equipment: leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, power windows and mirrors, keyless entry, multi-function trip computer, automatic on/off headlights and wipers and auto-dimming rear-view mirror
- Infotainment: 7.0in colour screen, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB/AUX input, satellite navigation and six speakers
- Cargo volume: 311 litres minimum, 1152l maximum
There is no shortage of both cool and peculiar French details inside the 208 GTi 30th Anniversary.
Firstly, to the good stuff, and the red floormats immediately give a nod to the 205 GTI that included full red carpets as standard. Likewise the tiny, nuggety little steering wheel gets red stitching just like its ancestor.
Some will find the driving position odd, given that the tiny steering wheel sits below the speedometer and tachometer instrument cluster.
But, for this 178cm-tall tester, it all gels perfectly. Taller folk however may find the steering wheel feels like it’s sitting in the lap.
File the stylish dashboard and high-resolution colour touchscreen in the ‘great’ category, and the beefy sports seats can get in there too. Under the file marked ‘not so great’ is the lack of proper cupholders and meaningful storage spots.
The build plate attached to the roof is a special touch – our test car being number 169 of 500 produced.
The original 205 GTI has better map lights, providing a roof-mounted switchable toggle rather than two separate lights. It assumes both front passengers won’t be operating map lights at the same time, but it also saves weight and expense (ok, a very small amount).
Likewise, the tiny 205 GTI – one of which this tester owns – provides a simple lever on its front seats that flip the whole squab up against the dashboard to allow passengers rear access. It’s a simple, brilliant piece of design that can be operated with pinkie-strength.
Yet – fast forward three decades – and getting into the 208 GTi requires first tilting the front backrest then sliding the whole seat forward. The result is more effort and less space getting into and out of (30 years of progress, hey?)
Factor in those great seats however, and the style and fit of the interior (and the impressive touchscreen), and the 208 GTi 30th Anniversary seems to poach some of the feel and classy design of a Mini Cooper or Audi A1.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 153kW/300Nm 1.6 turbo petrol inline four
- Transmission: 6-speed manual, FWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion bar rear
- Brakes: ventilated front and solid rear discs
- Steering: electrically assisted mechanical steering
The standard Peugeot 208 GTi is a very accomplished and sweet car, but it does lack some of the mongrel that has kept the original 205 GTI in such fond memory for keen drivers.
Peugeot has listened to the criticism, which, in its heart, it probably knew was true, and loaded a whole lot more aggression into the 30th Anniversary GTi. This is a much more potent performer, a little ‘badder’ and more the uncompromised brat.
But don’t expect Nurburgring lap times, rock-hard suspension and a bare-bones race-car feel.
That’s not what the 30th Anniversary GTi is all about (and nor was the original 205).
Springs and dampers are certainly firmly disciplined – this is a car built for performance – but provide a reasonably comfortable ride around town yet are sophisticated enough to keep complete control of body movements on a rough country road.
Through bends at speed, the extra stiffness can be felt. But you’ll also feel the rapier-like control and front-end precision.
The 205 was known for its devilish ‘lift-off oversteer’, which was fun but demanded respect and could be dangerous in inexperienced hands (pre stability control and other modern aids). When cornering and all weight was over the front wheels, removing pressure from the throttle or brushing the brake would see the rear-end quickly slide around.
Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your perspective, most of us love oversteer slides.
We note all this because the ‘mongrel’ returns in the 30th Anniversary.
Sure, its standard LSD and turbo torque means it will slice through corners relying on sheer grip and immense traction. However, when loaded up in a bend, the grip at the front is so great that the rear-end can be encouraged to quickly step out and tighten the line, just as if at the wheel of the original.
The difference with this modern-day 208 GTi is that, backed with standard electronic stability control, it never feels dangerous nor right at the edge.
And, just like its forebear, it is immense fun being driven this way.
It’s this newfound breadth of dynamic ability that marks the 30th Anniversary as something special. It can’t corner quite as cohesively as a Fiesta ST or Polo GTI, but then it is more ‘playful’.
It also feels faster than both when sprinting between bends, a bit like a Renault Sport Megane from the next class up.
Complaints are few: the manual shifter is of the long-throw variety and can feel rubbery; and the engine doesn’t have the sparkling top-end of the 200kW version in the forthcoming 308 GTi, feeling a bit flat when chasing redline and not sounding as fruity as we’d like.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 34.03 out of 37 possible points
Safety features: Six airbags including dual-front, front-side and full-length curtain, ABS, two-stage ESC, rear-parking sensors
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Look at the $40k A1 and Mini if you want fashionable styling to match fast sprint times.
Conversely, the superb Fiesta ST and Polo GTI sit below $30k and can in some ways match, or even better, this 208 GTi 30th Anniversary. On the other hand, for $36k the Peugeot sits in a pretty special middle ground.
- Audi A1 1.8 TFSI Sport
- Ford Fiesta ST
- Mini Cooper S
- Renault Sport Clio 220 Trophy
- Volkswagen Polo GTI
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Had the 308 GTi not just arrived on our shores, we’d say the 208 GTi 30th Anniversary is the best sporty car Peugeot has produced since the 306 GTi bowed-out at the turn of the new millennium.
That two current models vie for that title speaks volumes about the sort of comeback this French brand is making and the excellence of its cars.
The 30th Anniversary isn’t just a dignified nod to an ancestor that helped kick off the hot-hatch genre, but, in the context of modern rivals, it is also among the finest of the breed.
And one of the fastest… a delicious hot little box indeed.