COULD be going out on a particularly shaky and xenophobic limb here, but I’m not sure I trust the Germans. It seems they sometimes say things they don’t really mean.
BMW said it would “never, ever, ever” make a frontwheel- drive car; Volkswagen told us that smallerdisplacement engines were the future and that no one wanted manual gearboxes anymore, even in hot matchbox hatches like the Polo. And then there was that whole thing back in 1938, with the country’s chief midget agreeing to “peace in our time”. But then he was a vegetarian – allegedly – and thus a lunatic.
Perhaps in the case of Volkswagen we should be generous enough to see its updated Polo GTI, with a whopping great 1.8-litre turbo engine (replacing the 1.4-litre twin-charger) and a truly joyous manual gearbox once again available, as the Germans’ ability to admit when they’re wrong. Or pretend they never said it.
They can also be humble, as they clearly were when claiming a 0-100km/h time of 6.7 seconds for the GTI with its 141kW and 320Nm (at least in the manual; limp-legged DSG drivers get just 250Nm).
On a chilly morning at Sydney Dragway, surrounded by enough scavenging crows to populate a series of Game of Thrones, we saw the Polo pull 6.4sec to 100km/h, and a standing 400m of 14.7 at 155km/h. Perhaps there is no replacement for displacement, after all.
The VW performed its impressive times with little fuss and minimal noise, leaving the line with a sound like an angry slide whistle or a chirruping bird. The car that followed it onto the rubber-sprayed startline, the vehicle it is here to beat – Peugeot’s eye-searing 208 GTi 30th Anniversary edition – made a completely different impression.
The Pug launched in a burbling explosion of revs and parping exhaust, looking and sounding like the faster car.
The hardcore tweakers who brought us the RCZ-R have worked their magic on the GTi’s 1.6-litre turbo engine, giving it a poetic 208 metric horsepower (153kW) and 300Nm, resulting in a claimed 0-100 time of 6.5sec.
The best we could manage was 6.56, to be precise, and a standing 400m of 14.8sec at 157km/h. It warms up from there, though, hitting 180km/h in 20.4, a good 0.6sec faster than the Polo. In real-world terms, there’s nothing between them, but you only need glance at a photo to see that they are entirely different cars.
Everything about the pretty Pug looks and feels a bit special. It’s the French company’s birthday present to itself, a celebration of the legendary Peugeot 205 GTi, and it looks like it’s been half unwrapped.
The cool-looking black and red paint job seen here is a $6000 option that takes the sticker beyond $40K and the hot Pug into another segment. It isn’t actually a wrap (even though it looks like one in the flesh) and in
fact takes an extra 17 hours in the paint shop.
The interior is a hoot, too, with splashes of bright red on the floor mats and everywhere else they can fit it in, a rally-style steering wheel, and superb sporty bucket seats that are so wide you need tiny little girly hands to squeeze between the bolster and the door handle, so it’s easier to get set up with the door open. But the driving position is perfect, nice and low, and the whole experience is ruined only by the stupid French insistence on hiding all the instruments behind the steering wheel, unless you’re unnecessarily tall. Don’t get me started… Clearly, Peugeot has thrown everything at making this car a proper celebration, including a television ad that has to be seen (YouTube it now), featuring swooping bombers, a cracking frozen lake and a drive down a snowboard half-pipe that launches the car into a vertical roll, during which it is “inverted”, as Maverick would say, over the top of a helicopter gun ship.
By comparison, the Polo looks mundane, like a shopping trolley with nice wheels. Visual excitement is on the low end of the scale, but the interior feels typically classy, with traditional tartan seats the only giveaway that you’ve shelled out for something special.
Sadly, those seats don’t go as low to the floor as you’d like in a sporty car, meaning you feel like you sit in the Peugeot and on the Polo.
The 208’s interior might win in style terms, but you only need look at the roof linings to know which one wins for quality. Unfortunately, your eyes are drawn to the cheap and cardboard-ish Peugeot’s roof because that’s where you’ll find the little plaque telling you what number of this limited edition you’ve bought. On the other hand, the Polo’s interior feels premium and Germanic. It might seem like a small thing, but it makes the Peugeot feel like the cheaper car, which it clearly isn’t at $35,990 (plus $6K for the fancy paint).
The Polo starts at $27,490, but you’ll surely add $1700 for a bundle that includes sat-nav, reversing camera and parking sensors, $500 for metallic paint and possibly even $3300 for the Luxury pack (LED headlights, leather-look seats and a panoramic sunroof). Many buyers will also throw in $2500 for the DSG gearbox, but they’re fools.
The simple fact is that mini hot hatches like this, with their limited torque, work better and are more involving as manuals. Peugeot knows it and doesn’t even offer an auto option. The previous Polo GTI was a lesser car for not offering one, and the Renaultsport Clio now looks marginalised by being flappy-paddle only.
The 30th Anniversary Pug is a particular joy to row through the gears, with the ability to take mid-size corners in fourth, smack in the mid-range, or to make more angry noises by holding third.
What really makes the 208 GTi 30 special along a twisty road, though, is its specially developed Torsen front diff, which not only banishes the very idea of understeer, but allows you to pick up the throttle early in the corner and plant it with impunity.
VOLKSWAGEN may have gone cautious with its 0-100km/h performance claim – we easily beat the time – but its fuel economy figure of 6.1L/100km (5.7 for the DSG) would be a little harder to achieve. We managed 9.7L/100km in the Polo against 8.9L/100km in the 208. Frankly, though, considering the way the two cars were driven, even those figures are pretty damn impressive.
82 wheelsmag.com.au WHEN it comes to buying a hot hatch, the more obvious choice might be the car that’s not here; Ford’s Fiesta ST, which is so cheap ($25,990) that it would be a full $16K less than a specially painted Anniversary 208 GTi.
We’re all huge fans of the ST, with its Aston-aping nose and frenetically fun driving style and performance. While it clearly loses out to the Pug on interior fit-out (and the VW, too), you can’t go past its bang for your bucks.
There’s no sense of traction-control systems struggling to keep you on line, just a seamless surge of point-and-go power. It’s glorious, as are the grip levels and the sharpness of the steering, which is perhaps exacerbated by the tiny steering wheel. A bit more weight would be nice, but you could argue the light feel suits the size of the car.
The Pug’s ageing engine strains rather than sings at the top end, and makes a bit more noise than would be appreciated, although it does sound sportier than the rather restrained Polo.
I must admit that on paper, and on previous efforts, I expected the VW to take this fight easily. Much like the mad midget, I believe in the inherent superiority of German technology, most of the time.
In reality, it’s not even close. Switching between the two, you just don’t feel as connected to the Polo, partly because of the seating position, but also the lighter, less talkative steering. The Volkswagen also has a far firmer and less forgiving ride (adaptive dampers will feature on MY16 models), a much smaller boot (though you get a space-saver versus a can of goo in the 208) and, while its electronic diff lock also does a good job of negating understeer, its software struggles more with getting power down. Even in the ESC Sport setting, you can feel the traction systems working, whereas the intrusion of computers is imperceptible in the 208.
In isolation, the Polo GTI is a great little thing, with fantastic performance and mid-range torque, particularly when you’re in the sweet spot, anywhere from 3000 to 5500rpm. It also has rear doors and a genuinely useable back seat (you wouldn’t put your worst enemy behind you in the Peugeot). It’s remarkable to think how close this Polo is to a Golf GTI Mk5, only with less understeer and better handling.
There’s little to separate the French and German efforts in terms of pace in a straight line, and there would be nothing in it around a track, but the Peugeot would give you a bigger smile. A lot of credit must go to the Torsen diff, but the whole experience – design, feel and fun factor – is simply better.
Being a particularly obstinate person, I’ve always said I wouldn’t buy a 208 simply because of the whole steering wheel versus instrument placement, but for this car I’d put up with it and change my set-up.
Only I can’t, and nor can you, because the 30th Anniversary edition cars are almost sold out. Only 500 will be built, and just 26 were assigned to our market.
As we went to print, just four of those remained.
It might be on the expensive side, but it’s hard to think of a better way to spend $36K, because you won’t get as much attention, or satisfaction, out of any other car of that value. The Fiesta ST might run it close as a drive, but not as an event. So in the end you might have to buy the Polo because you can actually have one.
You might not be able to trust the Germans in every single way, but when it comes to hot hatches and GTI badges, they don’t often get it wrong.
Engine in-line 4, dohc, 16v, turbo in-line 4, dohc, 16v, turbo Layout front engine (east-west), front drive front engine (east-west), front drive Capacity 1598cc 1798cc Power 153kW @ 5800rpm 141kW @ 4300-6200rpm Torque 300Nm @ 1700rpm 320Nm @ 1450-4200rpm Transmission 6-speed manual 6-speed manual
Body steel, 3 doors, 5 seats steel, 5 doors, 5 seats L/W/H/W-B 3962/1739/1460/2538mm 3983/1682/1443/2470mm Front/rear track 1502mm/1508 1447/1441mm Weight 1160kg 1234kg Boot capacity 311 litres 204 litres Fuel/capacity petrol/50 litres petrol/45 litres Fuel consumption 8.9L/100km (test average) 9.7L/100km (test average) Suspension Front: struts, A-arms, anti-roll bar Rear: torsion beam, trailing arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar Front: struts, A-arms, anti-roll bar Rear: torsion beam, trailing arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar Steering electric rack-and-pinion electric rack-and-pinion Turning circle 11.4m (2.9 turns lock-to-lock) 10.6m (2.7 turns lock-to-lock) Front brakes ventilated discs (323mm) ventilated discs (310mm) Rear brakes solid discs (249mm) solid discs (230mm) Tyres Michelin Pilot Super Sport Continental ContiPremiumContact 2 Tyre size 205/40ZR18 86Y 215/40R17 87Y
NCAP rating (AUS) (AUS)
Power to weight: 132kW per tonne Redline/cut-out: 6200/6700rpm Speed at indicated 100km/h: 96 Speed in gears 59km/h @ 6200rpm 108km/h @ 6200rpm 162km/h @ 6200rpm 228km/h @ 6200rpm 230km/h @ 5400rpm* 230km/h @ 4800rpm* Standing start acceleration 0-20km/h: 0.9sec 0-40km/h: 2.1sec 0-60km/h: 3.6sec 0-80km/h: 4.9sec 0-100km/h: 6.6sec 0-120km/h: 9.1sec 0-140km/h: 11.7sec 0-160km/h: 15.5sec 0-180km/h: 20.4sec 0-400m: 14.8sec @ 156.8km/h Rolling acceleration: 3rd/4th/5th/6th 80-120km/h: 3.9/5.0/6.4/7.7sec Braking distance 100km/h-0: 37.5m 1 2 3 4 5 6 Power to weight: 114kW per tonne Redline/cut-out: 6000/6900rpm Speed at indicated 100km/h: 97 56km/h @ 6000rpm 101km/h @ 6000rpm 143km/h @ 6000rpm 183km/h @ 6000rpm 223km/h @ 6000rpm 236km/h @ 5320rpm* 0-20km/h: 1.0sec 0-40km/h: 2.0sec 0-60km/h: 3.4sec 0-80km/h: 4.6sec 0-100km/h: 6.4sec 0-120km/h: 9.0sec 0-140km/h: 11.7sec 0-160km/h: 15.7sec 0-180km/h: 21.0sec 0-400m: 14.7sec @ 155.3km/h Rolling acceleration: 3rd/4th/5th/6th 80-120km/h: 3.9/4.7/5.7/7.2sec Braking distance 100km/h-0: 37.5m
Handling adjustability; power-down; personality; induction growl; styling Not cheap with bi-polar paint; only two doors; Polo is slightly quicker Track: Sydney Dragway, dry. Temp: 12°C.
Driver: Nathan Ponchard. *Manufacturer’s claim Warranty: 3yr/100,000km. Service interval: 12 months/15,000km. Redbook 3-year resale: 53%.
AAMI insurance $937. **Includes: Prestige paint ($4000) Strong, elastic performance; slick gearshift; quality finish; affordable price Very firm ride; engine arguably too refined; no proper LSD Track: Sydney Dragway, dry. Temp: 11°C.
Driver: Nathan Ponchard. *Manufacturer’s claim Warranty: 3yr/unlimited km. Service interval: 12 months/15,000km. Redbook 3-year resale: 59%.
AAMI insurance $889. **Includes: metallic paint ($500), Drive Assistance pack ($1700)