THERE’S ALWAYS SOMETHING SPECIAL ABOUT A TINY CAR WITH A MONSTER ENGINE, AND THAT’S CERTAINLY THE CASE WITH THE PEUGEOT 208 GTi.
Compact on the outside, sure, but, with a cracking turbocharged engine waiting to be unleashed, the 208 GTi can deliver huge grins every time you slip behind its tiny steering wheel.
Far from the only fun-box in its class though, the 208 GTi faces some stiff competition from some seriously good hot hatches. Good thing it has the energy to take them all on.
Vehicle Style: Light performance hatch
Price: $30,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 153kW/300Nm 1.6 4cyl turbo petrol | 6spd manual
Fuel Economy claimed: 5.4 l/100km | tested: 7.4 l/100km
Thanks to an update late last year, the Peugeot 208 range scored a light refresh - but nothing too severe. It copped some new trim finishes inside, a different grille and front bumper, and some extra herbs under the bonnet.
Which brings us to the all-important numbers: with a starting price of $30,990, the 208 GTi is more expensive than the Ford Fiesta ST and Volkswagen Polo GTI, and starts at a higher price than the Renault Clio RS200 Sport (but cheaper than the Cup, Sport Premium and Cup Premium variants of the Renault).
For that you get the most powerful engine of the lot, but not the torquiest (Polo GTI manual holds that title).
And it comes wrapped in a three-door body only, Polo and Clio offer five doors; Clio is automatic only, and Polo provides one as an option.
- Standard equipment: Dual-zone climate control, Nappa leather and cloth sports seats, flat-bottomed sports steering wheel, alloy-faced pedals, cruise control with speed limiter, rear park sensors, self-dimming interior mirror, rear privacy glass, power-folding exterior mirrors, 17-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment, satellite navigation, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, USB and Aux inputs, steering wheel audio controls, six speakers
- Cargo volume: 311 litres minimum, 1152 litres maximum
Like nothing else on the market, the entire 208 range, and the larger 308, come with a tiny steering wheel set low, with gauges situated above the wheel, but far back in the dash.
It looks strange in pictures, but it works a treat.
Thanks to that tiny go kart-like wheel, the 208 feels instantly sporty. To enhance that racy feeling there’s plenty of contrasting red stitching used throughout the interior, a fantastically weighted metal gearknob, and deeply bolstered sports seats.
Seat trim is a mix of Nappa leather and cloth, seatbelts and door pulls feature a red stripe, there’s a colour display between the instruments (think of it as a head-up display) and a central touchscreen that runs almost everything.
The interior design gives a feeling of wrap-around security, as if the little Peugeot is giving you a hug, but at the same time it doesn’t feel claustrophobic - there’s still enough room up front to not feel hemmed in.
The rear seat is a little tighter, the flip-forward front seats and long doors make access relatively simple, but short trips will be enough for most adults (at least there’s a set of ‘hold on tight’ grab handles), and the little-uns won’t get to see much of the outside world.
If you’re particularly tall, getting set behind the wheel may not be easy for you - and if you’ve got large feet, the closely placed pedals could cause an upset too. Of course, if you’re not built like Matthew Dellavadova that probably won’t matter too much.
The glovebox is tiny and the cupholders are almost useless owing to their tiny diameter and intrusion from the centre stack. Good thing there’s 311 litres of boot space (more than the Fiesta, Polo, or Clio), growing to 1152 litres with the seats down.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 153kW/300Nm 1.6 litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
- Transmission: Six-speed manual, front wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear
- Brakes: 302x26mm ventilated front disc, 249x9mm solid rear disc
- Steering: Electrically assisted
A quick squirt around the block and the Peugeot 208 GTi had me grinning like an idiot. By the time I’d returned from a blast through my favourite set of hills, I was smitten. This thing really is a hoot.
First of all, that tiny steering wheel makes it feel like you’re tipping into bends like a fighter pilot, tip the wheel and the front tyres are super-quick to respond. There’s a light feel, but a lively connection giving the Peugeot a surprisingly fresh front-end feel.
The gearbox offers a closely-stacked set of ratio, and the gearshift has a satisfying tension as you row it back and forth through the clearly defined gate. Oddly though, the clutch, despite a nice (if springy feel) has an indistinct take-up point - you don’t judge it by feel, yet it’s impossible to get the engagement wrong, as if it can telepathically read your intentions.
And then there’s the engine.
From 1.6 litres the 208 GTi produces 153kW at 6000rpm and delivers 300Nm at a highish (for a turbo) 3000rpm. If you’re keeping score that’s an extra 6kW and 25Nm more than the 2013-2015 GTi, resulting in a 0-100 km/h sprint of 6.8 seconds.
It will surge towards the redline with villainous intent if you push it hard, but is just as happy taking a merry trundle around town. There are no drive modes or settings to fiddle with, you simply make it a more aggressive drive by being a more aggressive driver.
After a heated downhill apex-chase, the brakes still had plenty of stopping power left in them too.
Ride quality falls on the firm side, yet even on some shabby country lanes the 208 GTi never skipped or lost contact with the tarmac. Around town the GTi is perfectly capable of dealing with train tracks, speed humps and cobble stones.
But the handling is truly exciting, bundle into a corner and there’s so much grip from the front end, getting the power down is effortless, and the Peugeot will fire out of one corner towards the next like its life depends on it.
You can playfully toss the rear around with some mild lift-off oversteer, but if you keep the hammer down, all four tyres will resolutely maintain contact. There’s no need to work the steering wheel furiously - it’s so quick and accurate that you can slice any line through any corner.
It can be a noisy little bugger though. On the highway (even the freeway), you’ll notice there’s plenty of tyre roar, and the engine chimes in too, sitting at 2500rpm in sixth at 100km/h.
Once you get off the highway and back onto a hilly, winding road that engine note however becomes an encouraging soundtrack, backed up by a gurgling exhaust that pops and fizzes between gear changes.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - 208 scored 34.03 out of 37 possible points when tested on 2013.
Safety features: Six airbags (dual front, dual side, curtain), ABS brakes with brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution, electronic stability and traction control, front seatbelt pretensioners with load limiters.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The brat of the pack is the Ford Fiesta ST, with fantastic handling, but the least powerful engine of the group and the plainest interior. The most sensible choice is the Volkswagen Polo GTI, which offers a buttoned-down feel and the practicality of five doors.
The Renault offers the biggest range of variants, but the price builds quickly, the dual-clutch automatic is painful to live with, as is the Cup suspension, unless you intend to drive it solely at racetracks.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The old saying ‘you get what you pay for’ could not be more accurate with the Peugeot 208 GTi - yes, you pay more than for a Fiesta ST, but in return there’s a more inviting cabin and something just a little more special about the Pug’s looks.
Volkswagen’s Polo GTI is something of a silent assassin, but it’s so darn sensible and practical that it probably only raises the pulses of Volkswagen’s accountants. Unless you really need five doors, the Volkswagen isn’t going to ignite your passion like the 208 does.
Because it feels lavish inside, because it corners with all the excitement of a bull at Pamplona, because it grunts, bellows and farts from its tailpipe, because of that oddball little steering wheel, the Peugeot 208 GTi is unique, thrilling, and bucketloads of fun.
Even if you’re not in the market for vigorous little hot hatch, test drive the GTi anyway - you might find it’s just the thing you never knew you needed.
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