YES, YES, we all know that Peugeot made the 205 GTi, and it was good.
Very good. The company has never forgotten how to make a hot hatch – it’s, well, occasionally chosen not to. The 208 GTi has been around since August 2013, and it’s only been moderately successful on a sales front, hampered by no auto option in a competitive market.
Earlier this year, the 208 GTi 30th Anniversary Edition hit showrooms in limited numbers, and sported a few juicy extra mechanical bits which turned the already very good 208 into a tarmac terrier par excellence.
Peugeot has plucked the uprated engine from that car and bunged it in the stock GTi. Result? More power (up from 147 to 153kW) and torque (275 to 300Nm). Now we’re talking.
The 208's basic suspension architecture – struts up front and torsion bar in the rear – stays, along with the stiffer bushings, shorter and stiffer springs, wider track, revised dampers and larger anti-roll bars that came with GTi version 1.0. Seventeeninch rims wear 205mm-wide Michelin tyres, and the brake rotors are now larger, too.
Inside, red highlights run riot throughout the cabin. The front seats are heavily bolstered, and the steering wheel is a tiny 300mm in diameter. For this 185cm driver, the dash display-over-steering wheel arrangement (known as the i-Cockpit) presents no viewing issues, but for drivers of more average height, the high dash binnacle may be more of a problem.
The 208 GTi went a long way towards rediscovering that magic Pug hot hatch formula, and version 2.0 just gives you a little more. It offers a firm, yet controlled and nimble ride over even the worst road surfaces, and while the electric steering is a little numb, the little hatch grips and turns almost telepathically, with a sweetly sinuous amount of roll.
All of the controls are perfectly balanced, and the new 1.6-litre turbo THP 208 engine is a revvy peach of a unit, with torque on tap right across the rev range and a scintillating yet unobtrusive engine rasp. Brakes, too, are firm and beautifully modulated.
At $29,990, the Pug 208 GTi is up against stiff, cheap competition. The Fiesta ST is $4000 cheaper, while the Renault Sport Clio and the VW Polo GTI can be had with self-shifting transmissions, if that kind of thing is important to you. The standard equipment list for the Pug is high, though, including a spare wheel and an excellent sat-nav-equipped infotainment touchscreen set-up.
The 208 GTi is a very good little car made a little better with the new powerplant, and it perfectly encapsulates the everyday hot hatch philosophy so richly illustrated by its 30-year-old sibling. M
Grunty engine; enjoyable ride/ handling balance; well equipped
Polarising driving position; very strong rivals