23 May 2013

The Peugeot 208 GTI – A reignited Peugeot?

The Peugeot 208 GTI enters a revived hot hatch market.  James Parker looks at how it stacks up against its rivals

The names Peugeot and GTI, when brought together are enough to make many people go weak at the knees. Instantly nostalgia takes over, your mind jumps back to the 80s and you picture hot hatch magnificence in the form of the 205. This lairy little beast has since gone down as a cult icon in the hot hatch bible.

It was no-nonsense, possessing simple ingredients that when put together made a truely fantastic rip-snorting B-road blaster. What the original 205 GTI did so stupendously well was to put an incredible smile on your face every time you drove it. When you look at the cars that preceeded it, the unflattering 206 and 207 GTI, it does appear the new 208 has a lot to live up to – for too long has the Peugeot name been lost in the hot hatch market.

In the current market, hot hatchbacks are unrecognisable to their forefathers. They are heavier, safer and much larger and therefore we simply cannot expect the 208 to drive exactly like the 205 from some 20 years beforehand. But if the new car even possesses a slight pinch of the driving pleasure from its grandad, in such a claustrophobic market, it may provide a real bonus.

When looking at its rivals, most notably the new Fiesta and the Clio, the raw figures do stack up well. It nudges the same 200hp figure of its fellow countryman the Clio, is faster than the Fiesta, and possesses that all important ingredient crucial to a driving experience – a 6 speed manual gearbox, something the Clio has opted to ditch in its latest iteration – that going for a 6 speed DCT paddle shift box.

Predictably, the price lands it smack bang in the middle of the fight at £18,895, being cheaper than the Renault but also slightly under a grand more expensive than the Ford – which is what you would expect when looking at the performance and spec sheets. But potentially it’s the headline 1160kg weight that may work in its favour when it comes to responsiveness on the road and all round agility.

What it does lack however is a clever electronic diff that the other two boast, and that could prove costly when trying to gain much needed traction out of those 1st and 2nd gear hairpins on a winding country road – therefore meaning the Pug may lose a bit of ground to both when tippy-toeing around the limit.

I would go on to declare my underlying hate that Peugeot are going to rob drivers of any proper old school steering feel and feedback, by giving the 208 the typical electric power steering that is all too common now on new cars. But both the Ford and the Renault also feature the same ghastly system so therefore all three, to an extent, will suffer from the same problems.

Where I think the 208 will come up trumps with many punters however is its looks. Whereas the Fiesta looks rather out of proportion, with a front end that looks part knock-off Aston, part bottom feeder fish, and the Clio only coming in a stretched 5 door model, the design department appears to have been listening with the 208.

Unlike the Fiesta and the Clio, which have long been associated with the “hot hatch” phenomena, the Peugeot 208 comes from a much more mature, restrained family car underpinning. Because of that, I really do think it benefits hugely. Its lines are sharp and crisp, with chisel like headlights and a low grill.

Of course many will dislike the fact it’s slightly restrained, arguing that hot hatchbacks should always be in your face, brightly coloured shouty things, and that is the whole appeal of them. But I think with its slightly more matured image, the 208 might have tapped up a greater market, for people that still want a cracking drive, coupled with a more refined image – in that regard the looks could be compared with the Golf GTI.

So I guess I have to ask where exactly does it fit in this very competitive market?

Well we are really blessed to be able to pick from three so closely matched hatches. Not often have fans been able to sample all three cars simultaneously in the past. But that potentially makes the decision even harder, especially when they are so close in terms of performance, price and the ability to produce endless hours of fun.

What I think we have to do here is look at the three rivals in different lights.

The Fiesta is the cheapest here, albeit it’s the slowest, the performance differences are marginal, and with a cracking chassis you would have to expect many of the Ford faithful will see this car as the best value for money on paper – something which would be difficult to argue.

The Clio is all about its race pedigree. A punchy 200hp turbocharged engine, an efficient seamless DCT transmission, and a Renault pedigree for producing a crisp and effortless driving experience. If you wanted to take any car out of the three on a track, it would have to be the Clio – it is simply the most hardcore here.

The 208, well what that does is open up potentially a different sector. Whilst not being quite as crisp perhaps when pushed on the ragged edge like the other established two, it offers equal performance to the Clio, but with more refined and matured looks, and considering it is a full £1000 cheaper, in real world terms will the average owner ever find that limit where the two slightly differ?

I am not so sure about that, but what is certain however is that the 208 deserves to have the GTI badge on its rear end. After the train wreck that was the 206 and 207, the new car enters the hot hatch recipe at a totally different angle, leveraging Peugeot once again into contention with the best of the business – and for that it rightfully deserves it’s place alongside the Fiesta and the Clio in the market.

About James Parker - Hardcore Petrolhead having had a long passion for cars and Motorsport which stretches back some 15 years ago when I first started watching BTCC and Formula 1. Currently a proud Alfa Romeo owner, who is Head of Business Development at Motorsport Merchandise website www.grandprixmerchandise.co.uk I also am senior editor of theGPM blog dedicated to big Motorsport talking points.

Note: I'll be testing the Clio 200 Turbo soon.  Keep an eye out for my review on Speedmonkey - Matt