So ‘GTi is back’? Of course, Volkswagen would argue that GTi never really went away, but you can hardly blame Peugeot for shouting this message from the roof tops at the recent launch of the new Peugeot 208 GTi. Some folk have given up hope of Peugeot ever creating a genuinely good GTi again.
PetrolBlog is determined not to mention the 208’s historical reference point. We all know what it is and we all know that since it disappeared in 1994, Peugeot has failed time and time again to match its near-mythical status. 20 years is a long time to spend in the hot hatch wilderness, but it says a lot about our appetite for a decent Peugeot GTi that we’re still prepared to wait.
And yet all this waffle fails to recognise that since the demise of the ‘GTi that shall not be mentioned’, Peugeot has delivered some cracking cars – the 306 GTi-6 and the 106 Rallye to name but two. It seems some people are prepared to lose these cars under the carpet in order to create a better story.
But even so, you sense the 208 GTi is Peugeot’s last stand. Get this one wrong and there will be no more arguments as to who can lay claim to the GTi badge forever. Game over – Player VW wins – Peugeot, you’re out of credits.
The key question is, does the Peugeot 208 GTi deliver on its promise? Is it actually any good? Well thankfully yes it is, but sadly it’s not all good news.
There’s a heck of lot to like about the 208 GTi. For a start it looks good which, let’s face it, is a prerequisite of any wannabe performance hatch. If a car doesn’t look good sat outside your kitchen window it stands less chance of tempting you out of bed for a ‘pointless’ drive to nowhere. It has to talk to you.
Peugeot has taken a deliberately subtle approach to the 208 GTi’s styling. In standard form the 208 GTi is a chic and rather feminine looking supermini, but the GTi has a more masculine feel. Highlights include the trapezoid chrome double tailpipe, GTi logo on the rear quarter panel, chequered mesh grille, 17-inch alloys and the new headlights with LED indicators and daytime running lights.
Don’t expect fireworks in the styling department but the 208 GTi just about manages to fall on the right side of being too subtle. Just.
Fortunately there are no such doubts about the inside – it really is very good. And that much debated driving position and small steering wheel combo – it absolutely and positively works a treat in the GTi. It’s as though it was set-up with the GTi in mind – a triumph of engineering over marketing. If there was a prize for the world’s greatest steering wheel, Peugeot would be in with a shout.
The red and black Club Nappa leather and Caro Weave cloth seats more than live up to Peugeot’s “resolutely sporty” promise and manage to deliver a suitable nod in the direction of the car that shall remain nameless.
Other neat touches include seat belts with red detailing, matching red stitching on the dashboard, GTi floor mats and aluminium gearknob, Also look out for the dials which are nicely presented on a brushed aluminium background with a chequered motif to match the grille and surrounded by a chromed bead back-lit by red LEDs. Peugeot’s subtle approach shines through again.
Sadly one thing that doesn’t shine is the 7-inch infotainment system. It remains one of the most counterintuitive units I’ve had the displeasure of using. Peugeot claims it offers “easy access” to music and navigation. The reality is, such is the torture associated with doing even the simplest of tasks, you end up giving up and switching the thing off.
Which is probably a good thing as the GTi should be all about the drive – not the frilly adornments and accessories. Think about some of your best driving memories – what do you remember most? The road, the way the car made you feel and the increased heartbeat? Or the automatic headlights, cruise control and full-size spare wheel?
If you’re anything like me, it’ll be the former. But Peugeot begs to differ. Throughout the launch we were constantly reminded that the 208 GTi is a multi-purpose GTi – a modern take on the classic hot hatch recipe. By loading the 208 GTi with an admittedly impressive level of standard equipment, Peugeot is hoping to open the car up to a wider audience.
At the press conference we were told how the 208 GTi out trumps the Fiesta ST and Renaultsport Clio in terms of bells and whistles. A handy spreadsheet was rolled out to help make Peugeot’s point. We were told that a full-size spare wheel was added as that’s what the majority of people demand. And that’s the key point. The 208 GTi is a car for the majority. There’s nothing wrong with that – it just means that it can’t be a modern day successor to the GTi that won’t be mentioned in this review.
But how can it be? The passage of time alone dictates that Peugeot simply couldn’t recreate the original and arguably the greatest front-wheel drive hot hatch of all time. Modern drivers selfishly demand to be safe as they dart hell for leather along their favourite B-road. They require air conditioning, a socket for their iPod and a couple of airbags. Most people also want a car that won’t end up upside-down in a field should they lift the throttle mid corner. Tsk – some people…
So comparing the new GTi to a GTi that was born three decades ago is absolute bunkum. Citroën will never build another AX GT. Volkswagen will never recreate the magic of the MK1 Golf GTi. And Peugeot will never…hell, you know the rest.
The venue for the launch of the Peugeot 208 GTi couldn’t be better. We’d be retracing our steps from last year when the Volvo V40 was launched in North Wales. Same hotel, same roads and the same good weather. The scene was set for a great day.
Joining me for the day was ace freelance writer and local lad made good, Adam Sloman. Given that he lives less than 30 miles from PBHQ, it’s frankly inexcusable that we hadn’t met before. Even worse was the fact that we didn’t decide to make the long trip to North Wales in the same car. But never mind all that, there was a GTi to test.
Adam drove first, giving me the opportunity to test the 208 GTi from a passenger’s perspective. And at first I was struck by how refined the whole experience felt. The seats look great and for the most part do a good supportive job. Personally I’d have liked a little more shoulder support, but most people will find them okay.
The overall sense of refinement continues as you press on – the sound insulation is good, the cabin quality is excellent and you definitely feel like you’re in something special. It’s like the GTi is the icing on the cake the 208 has been waiting for. It’s a well executed interior where, as previously mentioned, the small steering wheel becomes a delightful thing to behold.
Once past the congested roads around Betws-y-Coed we soon turned left on to the fabled roads of the ‘Evo Triangle’. As Frank Sinatra once famously sang, if a car can make it there, it’ll make it anywhere…
Only it didn’t – not yet anyway. As Adam finally got the chance to stretch the GTi’s legs, we were both blown away by how ‘normal’ the car felt. Quick – most definitely, but strangely devoid of any excitement. The 200bhp 1.6-litre turbocharged engine is a wonderfully smooth unit and amongst the best of the modern era. It helps to propel the 208 GTi along at an alarming rate – 62mph is reached in just 6.8 seconds and the top speed is a claimed 143mph.
But for some reason it was lacking in drama – that sense of excitement that should run through the veins of any self-respecting hot hatch. The soundtrack is too muted, the cabin is too well insulated, the ride too composed. After half an hour of fast driving we felt strangely underwhelmed and decidedly flat. Of all the cars to be launched in 2013, this was one we desperately wanted to be good. Maybe we were guilty of raising our hopes too much?
After a brief coffee stop it was my turn to drive. If the passenger ride was disappointing, perhaps the drive would be better? Only I didn’t get a real chance to try it. The route to the lunch stop was a frustrating mix of local buses, Asda delivery trucks, tractors and slow moving tourists. By lunch the only conclusion I could draw was that the 208 GTi is a nice comfortable car in which to travel between morning coffee and lunch. But I hadn’t travelled 350 miles to discover that. The 208 Feline does this job perfectly well thanks.
I couldn’t leave it like that. I desperately wanted the 208 GTi to be good. Sadly the route back to base consisted mainly of dual-carriageways and tourist roads. In other words – little chance to really push the GTi to its limits. There was nothing else for it. Lunch was downed in a matter of minutes and we made a plan to head back the long way – via the Evo Triangle.
Once again progress was hampered by slow moving traffic only for things to immediately liven up once we had left the main roads. The clouds parted and angels back to sing…
It’s just a shame the 208’s engine doesn’t create quite the same symphony. Hats off to Peugeot for resisting the temptation to fit a sound pipe to artificially pump noise into the cabin – it’s just a shame the noise is so disappointing. It’s too quiet and what noise you can hear adds nothing to the sense of drama. Shame.
Fortunately the 208 GTi makes up for it with its wicked pace. Mid-range torque is punchy, ensuring that, should you get your gear selection right, you can charge out of bends with tremendous speed. The ventilated disc brakes (302mm at the front, 249mm at the rear) are equally as good and you quickly gain enough confidence to leave your braking to the very last minute.
Charge into a corner, pull up the anchors and the 208 GTi digs in brilliantly with the 205/45 Michelin tyres bringing some rubber to the grip party. And this grip ensures you can tackle even the tightest corners with real pace. If you’ve over-egged it, simply lift-off and the car straightens up and brings you back in line. No drama – no fuss. Which is ultimately a good thing. I guess.
On the evidence of my 30 minutes on the Evo Triangle, I reckon most buyers will be absolutely delighted with their Peugeot 208 GTi. It’s quick, refined, forgiving and loaded with the kind of toys that make for excellent bragging rights by the office water cooler. The steering weights up nicely when required, the gearchange is perfectly adequate and the suspension does a very good job at smoothing out all but the worst our roads have to offer.
So why do I find myself hating the fact that I’m left feeling slightly underwhelmed by the car? It’s not a bad car – far from it. It’s also excellent value – £18,995 for a fully loaded 3-door hot hatch is exceptional value for money. But I’d gladly sacrifice some of the goodies and refinement for a little more involvement. I want my 208 GTi to feel just that little more unhinged.
Knock two grand off the price and give me a stripped-out, no-frills 208 Rallye. Then I might get really excited. Surely I’m not alone here, am I? Hello? Anyone there?
As it stands I’ve since driven the new Fiesta ST – almost back-to-back with the 208 GTi. And on the same roads and with a completely open mind – it’s the Fiesta that tugged on the heartstrings. Putting aside gadgets, gizmos, price tags and other such distractions, the Fiesta left me wanting more.
It’s a more involving hot hatch – full of drama and a soundtrack to match. The Peugeot 208 GTi on the other hand is a very good car. It’s just that, in my book at least, it could be a better GTi.
And I feel like I should be apologising for ending the review on that note. Sorry.