Like subsequent versions of the VW Golf GTI Mk 1, those of the Peugeot 205 GTi – the 206, the 207 and now, this, the 208 launched in 2013 – are always going to be judged against the illustrious original, which is understandable if slightly wrong-headed. So much has changed in the 30 years since the 205 GTi 1.6 was launched that to imagine Peugeot would be free to recreate it in all but name is beyond wishful thinking. Not that that has stopped the car maker favourably, but inaccurately, comparing each new version of the 205 with the original. It’s at it again with this latest 208 version. Regardless of the car maker’s claims, enthusiast drivers attracted by the GTi badge have a right to expect the 208 to be, first and foremost, fun to drive. We’ll see about that in the next section but for the moment, deciding which 208 GTI to buy is at least straightforward: there’s only one.
It comes in compact, three-door hatchback form and is powered by a 200bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine coupled to a 6-speed manual gearbox. The 208 GTi is not a shy and retiring car. From its no-cost-option, lower-grille decals, to its rear spoiler, red brake callipers and all-important red GTi logos, the 208 shouts hot hatch. A wide range of options completes the package.
Turn the key ‒ there’s no start-button gimmickry here ‒ and the 208 GTi’s engine doesn’t so much roar into life as sneak in and hope it hasn’t disturbed anyone. It’s a very quiet, very smooth and very civilised engine, though there is the hint of a fruity exhaust note under full throttle. Unfortunately, it suffers a mite too much turbo lag; that momentary absence of power when you first depress the accelerator, but which goes once the revs pick up and the turbo rushes in. To counter the effect, you need to plan your gear changes in advance to keep the engine spinning. Do so and the car surges forward on its 200bhp and, just as impressive, 203 lb ft torque, although in this regard the Fiesta ST bests it with 214 lb ft and the Mini Cooper S, 206 lb ft.
The car’s compact dimensions, tight-fitting and very comfortable, half-leather seats, and dinky steering wheel help make the 208 GTi feel quite kart-like. It doesn’t turn as sharply as one, and nor would you wish it to, but even so, it’s lithe and entertaining. The traction control system copes manfully with the 200bhp surging through the front wheels; you can push on hard around corners confidently enough. The ride is knobbly at low speeds but improves the faster you go, becoming quite supple and forgiving over choppy surfaces, yet never losing its poise. The gear change could be sweeter; it feels a little notchy, but the ratios are well chosen.
Visibility isn’t a strong point. The A-pillars are too thick, ditto the rear quarter pillars, so much so that you take your life (or someone else’s) in your hands pulling left out of congested city-centre traffic to change lanes. And while we’re on the subject of visibility, the headlights could be much stronger. VW Group leads the way with a wide and brilliant white beam these days; the 208’s yellowish effort is well off the pace. To address Peugeot’s wild claims, the 208 GTi is no 205. It’s steering is too corrupted by modern technology, its engine too impeded by turbo lag and its impressively light body still not light enough. But given how the game has moved on, it’s cracking fun all the same.
The 208’s interior is quite an intimate place, although this only adds to the model’s point-and-go feel. Rear passengers are a little under-served. The backs of the front seats are scalloped to free up knee space and the seat backs are quite upright but it’s strictly two only. Add the small side windows and deep rear quarter pillars, and the rear cabin can feel very claustrophobic. That said, the rear is no smaller than most other hatchbacks. If anything, the Clio Renaultsport, for example, is actually more of a squeeze.
Where the 205 GTI’s interior was, save for a couple of racing chairs and some red piping, fairly basic, the inside of the 208 GTi oozes premium quality and style. Night club blue lights frame the optional £400 panoramic roof, glossy piano black trim (it shows all the finger marks) adorns the centre console and the wing mirror covers are chrome, as are many of the switches and the GTi badge on the steering wheel. There’s acres of red stitching on the seats, the colour of the interior door handles bleeds from black to red and our test car’s grille sported an optional (but free) Union Jack motif. It’s an acquired taste. Mini Cooper owners will like it but serious “hot hatchers”, such as Fiesta ST drivers, may not. It bristles with standard equipment, notable features being a comprehensive and well-integrated multi-media system with DAB radio, and dual-zone air conditioning. The optional (£300) park assist package is a bit hit and miss although, fortunately, not literally. It takes its time to measure the space and slot you in, which could be embarrassing if there’s queue of traffic waiting to pass. And occasionally, it seems to give up the ghost, leaving you half in and half out of a space. Otherwise it’s a miracle of technology and would be a boon in a road cursed with borderline parking spaces.
The one to buy
Peugeot 208 GTi
- £18,895 (correct at first publication)
- 1598cc, turbocharged, 4 cylinders
- 200bhp @ 5800rpm
- 203 lb ft @1750rpm
- 6-speed manual
- 0-62mph in 6.8sec
- Top speed:
- 47.9mpg (combined)
- Road tax band:
- E (£125)
- L 3962mm, W 2004mm, H 1460mm