I had unfinished business with the Peugeot 208 GTi. On the launch – which just happened to take in some of the finest driving roads Wales has to offer – I came away feeling underwhelmed. The Peugeot 208 GTi was – for me at least – a difficult car to connect with.
Indeed, having driven the new Renaultsport Clio later in the year and – for different reasons – feeling let down by that too, I was wondering if the golden age of the hot hatch had been and gone.
Of course, rumours of the demise of the hot hatch were unfounded, with the sublime Ford Fiesta ST confirming that it’s still possible to build a rewarding and involving hot hatch in these modern times.
But what of the Peugeot 208 GTi? Was it me, or was it genuinely lacking in magic and sparkle? I figured a week with the car would settle the argument once and for all.
It’s probably worth mentioning that I wasn’t alone in my assessment of the Peugeot 208 GTI, with others pointing to a distinct lack of character. Nobody is suggesting the Peugeot 208 GTi is a bad car – because it most certainly isn’t – but in the shadow of the Fiesta ST, the little Pug was more simmering than sweltering.
Peugeot recognises this, which is why the firm is keen to position it as a useable, everyday hatchback. Look at all the toys it offers, says Peugeot. It’s even got a full-size spare wheel, the company will proudly go on to say. Fine, but if the lavish extras come at the expense of enjoyment, then something is wrong.
And besides, the Ford Fiesta ST doesn’t exactly scrimp on toys and it remains a genuinely practical and useable everyday proposition.
It’s at this point that I should probably draw a line under the Fiesta ST versus 208 GTi argument. There’s simply no comparison between the two. The Ford deserves all the recognition and awards that are being chucked at it. Not only is it the best hot hatch you can buy, it’s arguably one of the greatest hot hatches of all time.
So does that mean the Peugeot 208 GTi is left redundant? An obsolete folly left trailing in the Fiesta’s wake? Well no, for reasons I’m about to explain.
Folk keen to defend the 208 GTi will tell you that it takes a week to truly gel with the car. Unlike the Fiesta ST, there’s no initial spark of attraction. If the Ford Fiesta ST is a first date, the Peugeot 208 GTi is the tenth wedding anniversary. It’s comfortable, refined, even lovable – but it’s more cosy afternoon by the fire than wild night in Ibiza.
Harsh? Not really, because it actually helps the 208 GTi to claw back some ground on the Fiesta ST.
Subjectively, the 208 GTi edges the Fiesta ST in the style stakes. As soon as it arrived at PBHQ, I was reminded just how good it looks. Too subtle perhaps and all too ready to blend into the background in a supermarket car park. But a series of subtle touches help to create a sense of occasion.
The good feeling continues inside, too. The red and black cabin is wonderfully executed and the small steering wheel and raised dials combination is so good, you wonder why more manufacturers don’t do it. There’ll be some who still can’t get on with it, but if you can, you’ll grow to love it, not even giving it a second thought.
The truth is, the Peugeot 208 GTi is a wonderfully easy car to live with. Over the course of a week – extended to two because the floods made collection impossible – the Pug completed nearly 900 miles. From Christmas shopping to trips to the in-laws, the 208 GTi handled everything – including some pretty atrocious weather conditions – with aplomb.
A simple Bluetooth connection for the phone, iPod connectivity via one of the two USB ports, automatic wipers, automatic lights, dual zone climate control and digital radio – the 208 GTi offers just about everything you could reasonably expect from a modern supermini.
Except one thing – pure and unadulterated fun.
The Peugeot 208 GTi is quick – very quick – with its brilliant 200bhp 1.6-litre turbocharged engine bringing 62mph up in just 6.8 seconds. But it’s strangely devoid of fun when pressing on. You’re going fast, but you’re not enjoying it. Kind of like falling asleep on a rollercoaster.
Maybe the Peugeot 208 GTi is too refined for its own good? In doing battle with the Germans, Peugeot has stripped away an element of Frenchness. There are similar concerns over the new Peugeot 308 which, coincidentally, will be subject to a proper PetrolBlog test very soon.
There’s certainly no aural excitement generated by the exhaust. And there’s an absence of feeling connected to the road – be it through the pedals, seats or steering wheel. The steering is sharp enough and turn-in is very good, but genuine feedback is lacking. It all feels too artificial.
I treated the car to a Dawn Raid along the B3306 between Sennen Cove and St Ives. It’s an absolute cracker of a road, full of tight corners and mini straights, all presented with superb visibility. In the past, the likes of the Skoda Fabia vRS, Citroën ZX 16v and Suzuki Swift Sport have all emerged victorious from this gem of a road.
But the Peugeot 208 GTi? Yeah, it was okay…
This would be an unfair point at which to leave this take-two review of the Peugeot 208 GTi. By the end of the second week, I was really beginning to enjoy the experience. And the extra time behind the wheel allowed me to reach a conclusion as to where the 208 GTi sits in the market.
In short, it’s not a classic GTi. It’s a very modern interpretation of what a GTi should be. It’s kind of ironic that Peugeot – a brand which could quite justifiably lay claim to ownership of the GTi badge (sorry VW) – finds itself being out-GTid by a car which doesn’t even wear a GTi badge. Go work that one out.
As far as PetrolBlog is concerned, a GTi doesn’t need automatic this and automatic that. And it certainly shouldn’t have a full-length panoramic glass roof. Strange as it may seem, the driving experience is enhanced when the cover is pulled shut. Save the £400 and spend it on a few tanks of fuel.
My lasting thought about the car is that it can’t quite make up its mind what it wants to be. It’s neither hardcore or soft focus. A compromised GTi as a result, but it does leave room for a potential 208 R.
The 208 GTi is the 205 GTi, remastered. Smoother, free of crackles and re-imagined for a different audience.
I stand by everything that was said following the First Drive review last year. But I now have much more respect for the Peugeot 208 GTi. You wouldn’t sleep with it on a first date, but you might just end up living with it.