IS IT fast?” was the first thing my friend Dave said when I pulled up in the new Peugeot 208 GTI. He wasn’t the first to ask either. Peugeot’s designers have done an excellent job of suggesting speed with the bodywork, long before you spot the tiny GTI badge on the side.
Some cars are designed to look lightning fast (think Aston Martin and Lamborghini) but speed isn’t always apparent in the exterior of hot hatches, which are essentially souped-up versions of city runabouts. On our test car the GTI features really stood out, from the grey 17-inch alloys and chrome door mirrors to the imposing rear spoiler and double exhaust tailpipe.
There’s no mistaking the message inside either. Smart sporty red stitching sweeps across the dash and along the door trim. There’s also a rally-style red leather stripe at 12 o’clock on the steering wheel to indicate that you’re driving straight, which is helpful. The dials are tricky to see through the steering wheel but at least they’re easy to locate in the dark, flagged up as they are by a striking red perimeter light. Another distinctive touch is the black and red dip-dyed effect on the centre of the dash and on the door handles.
It’s spacious too. I rashly invited my tallest friend for our day out without stopping to consider how he’d fold his two-metre-high frame into the passenger seat. In the end he was able to sit comfortably – his hip hairdo came away unscathed. In the back my wife sat between my children – one in an infant chair, the other in a booster seat – with room in the footwells to accommodate a pair of just-purchased dahlias that were the size of dinner plates. The glove box, though, is too small even to store the owner’s manual, which flounders in the boot.
Regardless of looks or spaciousness, the Peugeot 208 GTI will be a success if it’s able to channel an ounce of the charisma that its grandfather, the iconic Peugeot 205 GTI, had in abundance. The 205 GTI was the hot hatch that those of us of a certain generation aspired to own as junior drivers, a car that had the potential to transform into a rampaging rocket in reckless teenage hands. The 206 and 207 singularly failed to deliver the same sort of thrills, but I wanted to believe that after almost three decades of technological development, Peugeot could deliver a worthy heir to the 205. So, what’s the verdict? Is it characterful enough? Propelled by a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine that delivers a sizeable 200bhp, it feels quick and agile – a must for a hot hatch – though some jitteriness creeps in at times. It’s noisy too, with an engine note that’s rowdy rather than rip-roaring (there’s no great rousing crescendo) and plenty of unwanted wind noise is apparent in the cabin. Disappointingly, it’s a car that leans rather more toward comfort than performance. It’s a great car for the city that can provide plenty of kicks in emptier country roads. It could therefore be a worthy commuter if you favour fun over frugality.
However, even if I remove the rose tinted glasses through which I tend to view the 205, I can say with confidence: the 208 GTI isn’t a patch on its grandfather.
THE FACTS: PEUGEOT 208
0-62MPH: 6.8 secs
TOP SPEED: 143mph
CO2 G/KM: 139g/km
MPG COMBINED: 47.9mpg
DESIGN Four Stars
PERFORMANCE Three Stars
PRACTICALITY Three Stars
VALUE FOR MONEY Three Stars