Cynics among you will have Peugeot’s new 208 GTi hot hatch pinned as merely a more expensive 208 with more power. Or as a car bred by the suits in the marketing department rather than as a love child of the passionate white coats at Peugeot. Same old, same old, you might say.
Sceptical you may be about the Peugeot 208 GTi, but we can now confirm that it is a cracking good performance car – a welcome return to good form by the French company and a worthy modern successor to one of the all-time greats, the 205 GTi. High praise indeed, as we’ll explain below.
We were among the first to sample its sublime talents and found the new super-Pug can round up the challenging roads around Nice in Southern France faster than its spiritual predecessor could get your heart rate up, palms sweaty and trousers a little soiled.
As you can already surmise, the Peugeot 208 GTi will come to Malaysia in the next few months. Depending on the final price point, it will either be a really good hot hatch or one that’s also an absolute bargain to buy. Either way, it’s already causing a ruckus among many three-pedal aficionados looking for something to indulge in, yours truly included.
This is the first proper hot hatch from Peugeot in a long, long time. Brand officials insist that more recent RC models (only badged as the GTi in the UK and a few selected markets) were never meant to be full-on hot hatches, rather mere half-boiled, lukewarm alternatives to standard variants.
The regular 208 is a sharp-enough tool for slicing through the countryside effectively, but this GTi brings the experience to a whole new level. More engaging, more personal, it’s a different machine. Better. This then, kicks off the Peugeot GTi revival for real.
It’s more powerful of course, and there’s a harder edge to its driver appeal, with real mid-range urge to leave most cars behind, laser-precise steering and a fabulously rigid platform for everything to work from. A flattering car to drive, this – well balanced and nimble in the bends, yet can be tempted to dance on the throttle.
To be in charge of it is, in a word, brilliant.
When seen in the flesh, the 208 GTi strikes a chord with its sharp looking face and muscular, ground hugging stance. Viewed from the front, it’s hard to determine the GTi from a regular 208, but it’s marked out by the chequered-grille and unique headlamp clusters (these have LED signal repeaters in a neat arc around the main beam).
Move away from the front and you’ll see sleek wheel arch extensions hovering over bespoke 17-inch wheels, chrome wing mirror covers, subtle top spoiler and a sharp-edged exhaust pipe nestling within the black and chrome rear diffuser. All that aside, it shares much with the standard variants, which is already starting to be a common sight here.
Devilishly smart looking red-on-metal GTi badges adorn the chrome ‘wings’ behind the rear windows, just like the 205 GTi had. No engine size this time though – 1.6 just doesn’t quite sound as exciting now as 1.9 did in 1987. Other neat detailing includes a red accent strip on the lower front grille and Peugeot lettering in the same shade.
Open the long doors (this car is available in three-door form only) and you’re greeted by the GTi-specific supportive low-slung sports seats. It’s snug without being tight, and feels racy enough so you stop dreaming of fancy Recaro buckets. You get as much rear seat as you do in a five-door 208, as to say there’s enough for four big adults in there, or five at a squeeze.
There’s plenty of red inserts inside to match the exterior details. The aforementioned seats get a combination of Nappa leather with red and black fabric, which both look and grip well. Red stitching is present everywhere – on the seats, handbrake, steering wheel, the leather dashboard top (very classy, a first for the class), right down to the seat belts.
Door handles, centre aircon vents, instrument cluster surround and the gear knob have red inserts too, which can all get a bit too much if you’re not a fan of the colour. They look great on silver or even red cars, but less so on blue ones. Unfortunately, you won’t have a choice in the matter.
Aesthetically, it’s more handsome than awesome. This Pug may not have the head-turning form of the new Renault Clio RS 200, but as with Keith Richards, it’s not the looks that count. And while Keith performs best on lines of the white stuff, the 208 GTi lives for a diet of curved blacktop.
The king of the 208 pride has the PSA 1.6 litre turbocharged motor in its THP200 guise. That’s 200 hp at 5,800 rpm and 275 Nm at 1,700 rpm, the same configuration found in the top RCZ sports coupe. That’s also a lot of power to move a 1,160 kg car.
The choice of transmission is the same as in the RCZ too – the mill is exclusively paired to a close-ratio six-speed manual gearbox. That’s right, it’s DIY or nothing. Six speeds, three pedals, and no paddles. Told you it’s a proper hot hatch.
Numbers – 0-100 km/h takes no longer than 6.8 seconds, and top speed is 230 km/h. There’s enough torque to pull the car along in top gear from 80 to 120 km/h in 8.4 seconds, so there’s no need to drop gears and keep the engine boiling to get some serious go. You could of course, and should you do so the same manoeuvre will be over in 6.8 seconds.
It’s impressive stuff, this. Drive it like it should, and it redefines the term pocket rocket. Punch the engine and the car jumps out of the preceding corner to barrel along whatever road you’re on to unhealthy speeds, with nary a touch of torque steer felt from the weird-looking steering wheel.
It’s just too bad that it doesn’t sound anywhere near as dramatic as it goes. The 208 GTi misses out on the more expensive RCZ THP200’s trick exhaust system, leaving the engine on its own to deliver the aural drama. Fast it may be, but it doesn’t sound inspiring.
Focus on driving and you’ll hardly notice the lack of noise. The clutch uptake is very linear, much improved from the RCZ’s clumsy set up. It’s light, extremely easy to modulate and enjoyable to rift through. Shift quality isn’t all that great if you nitpick, but you’ll be busy riding on the engine’s impressive flexibility to notice any real shortcomings on the drivetrain front.
Pay no attention to the beautiful, yet hard to read instrument panel and you’ll arrive at the next corner with a lot more speed that you really should. Fret not, as the 302 mm discs at the front and 249 mm at the rear provide controlled and incisive braking. Not that you’ll be braking all that much, as this thing turns pretty well too.
Compact on the outside with the wheels pushed out to the corners, the 208 base is ideal for a sports hatch. The chassis is no wet sock to begin with, and subtle but significant modifications performed on the GTI turn it into a real ramrod.
The dampers are firmer all around, with stiffer springs and anti-roll bars to match too. Track has grown by 10 mm at the front and double that round the back (hence the need for arch extensions), plus bigger wishbones to increase the GTi’s cornering talents. Everyday usability is also kept in check, and enough ‘give’ is factored in into the set up.
Peugeot’s research suggests that buyers no longer accept wildly oversteering or understeering cars anymore, even in the hot hatch market. Thus, the 208 GTi is set out to have very balanced handling characteristics from the get go, while trying to recreate as much of the 205 GTi’s much hallowed road feel in it as possible.
The electronic power steering has been retuned for this purpose, offering less assistance in favour of more feedback. At least that’s what it’s meant to do – it certainly helps in the cause, but the end result isn’t entirely successful.
To drive, the small steering wheel is quick-acting but feels linear, enabling the tail to be caught with ease and precision, when need be. It’s super accurate and is weighty enough without overdoing it, and it’s a blast to blast around with. One thing distinctly missing from the equation, however, is steering feel, which is a shame when everything else stacks up so well.
The chassis communicates its intentions superbly – should the tail start to come loose, it’s all beautifully signalled and easy to bail up. The front end sticks with tenacity and the car as a whole is very well balanced – meeting its design objectives to a tee – but it has its limits, and will push wide when you try too hard.
But when this occurs or when conditions unstick the 208 GTi, which it rarely will unless you really muck it up, the ESP is there to pick things up. Set up to a corner late and you’ll find the system doesn’t interfere to save the day until the car is properly out of shape. You can turn the electronic nanny completely off if you want – another rare commodity among Peugeots – but very few will, or even should.
It’s definitely a sharp car to drive quickly and effortlessly if you want it to be, and builds on the philosophy of what hot hatches should be like – an absolute riot to drive without the need to scare yourself silly while doing so.
The body’s quick responses are the key to its dynamic abilities and add to the well-balanced character of the 208 GTi. There’s no impending risk of chronic oversteer into corners, nor will it threaten to swap ends when you back off abruptly should you overcook the entry speed. That makes it very easy to drive hard, and a joy to exploit.
This is a true blue hot hatch that has come of age. It speaks immediately to all enthusiasts: performance, power, reactivity, with an aura of respect and desire. The 205 GTi may have naturally been its inspiration, but the 208 GTi is a thoroughly modern interpretation. It’s no one trick pony. This really is a performance car for everyday use.
It rides well and deals to bumps, ruts and dips, ensuring that the car stays stable on the road. It borders on the right side of comfortable when you want things to settle down too, much better than what the current competition such as the Volkswagen Polo GTI and Renault Clio III RS 200 can muster.
In driving feel, it makes the Polo GTI feel like a fixed-axle skateboard with loose wheels, and while it doesn’t quite soar as high as the revered Clio RS in driver engagement and satisfaction, the difference between them isn’t as profound as you may think. Factor in the Pug’s far more forgiving ride and semi-premium interior feel and it’s the better all rounder.
And with the other French pocket-rocket moving on to paddle-based dual-clutch technology with the upcoming (five-door-only) Clio IV RS, suddenly it’s all looking rosy for the six-speed manual Peugeot. But while we can confidently say it’d stitch up the Volkswagen, we haven’t given the new Renault or the promising Ford Fiesta ST a squirt, so has better not get ahead of ourselves in naming it the new class king.
To deconstruct the Peugeot marketing speak, this new 208 GTi really is the 205 GTi reincarnated, but one that’s more suitable to modern needs without sacrificing too much of what made the original such a legend in the first place.
In spirit and passion, nothing compares to the big daddy, though the 208 GTi makes a solid case in terms of driver appeal. It’s better balanced and is very nimble even compared to the very best. Our take, it’s no 205 GTi, but is an excellent little car by any standards.
In the case of the 208 GTi vs the Cynics, Peugeot’s defence reads a bit like this. While the GTi is based on the 208 and looks a lot like it, it’s fair to say that it has made a new and completely different car on the same platform. All of the components and criteria that really count – engine, chassis, suspension and appearance – are unique enough, and most importantly, it’s a properly thrilling drive.
Like most recent go-faster Peugeots before it, the 208 GTi will attract its fair share of cynics. It will have to live in the 205 GTi’s shadows, but just five minutes behind the wheel on twisting back roads should convince buyers that the new car is a real GTi at heart, with performance and handling to foot it with the very best. Consider us sold.