Gareth Butterfield spends a week reconnecting with his adolescence in the fabulous little Peugeot 208GTi
I MUST admit I’m fairly excited about spending a week in the Peugeot 208 GTi. It’s been around for quite a while now and has won high praise among motoring journalists for putting the spark back into the French firm’s hot hatch range.
I have fond memories of its great-grandfather, the 205 GTI which is now something of a 1980s icon.
The models that followed succeeded in their own right, but the hot ones never quite matched the sparkle of the original, wild and raucous 205 that really did set pulses racing.
I’ve read a lot about the 208 GTi’s welcome return to that form and, while it hardly feels like a back-to-basics car as I climb inside the beautifully appointed and very upmarket interior, there are some wonderfully sporty touches.
Take the red leather stripe at the top of the beautifully-sculpted steering wheel. Any car geek will know this pays homage to a piece of insulating tape. Utterly pointless but completely exciting.
It’s one of many little red “bits” I find as I look around the cabin, bearing the sort of smiling, exploring gaze, a six-year-old has when he’s just set eyes on the mountain bike he got for Christmas.
And these red bits remind me of the 205. It might be a million miles away in terms of technology and build quality from the 80s hot hatch I fell in love with as a child, but the designers definitely had a picture of it on their desk when they penned this new car.
MY first journey in the 208 GTi is a drive home on a familiar road with its familiar bends and undulations and it doesn’t take long to realise the car’s intentions. Not that the standard 208 is a dull thing to drive, but the GTi is incredibly sharp, willing and visceral.
Oh, and then there’s the engine. It’s a heavily tweaked version of the 1.6 lump found in lesser models and the wonderful little Citroen DS3. A meaty turbo gives it 200bhp and a big exhaust gives it a sporty, purposeful note.
If I’m honest, I was expecting something even more raucous. It’s almost as if there’s been some regulations preventing this car from being genuinely bonkers. But it’s quick. Oh, yes, it’s quick.
And it’s not just quick, either. It corners like it’s stuck to the road with glue. Its embarrassingly large gear nob is taking some getting used to but the change is positive and short and the comically small steering wheel needs very few turns to lock it over on tight bends. Oh, this is fun.
TODAY the wife and I are going to see some friends in Yorkshire, so we’ve got to take the 208 out of its familiar territory in the rural back roads and spend a bit of time on the motorways.
We’re staying overnight, so her ladyship needs many suitcases and these fit in the 208’s boot surprisingly well. The boot is the same as the standard 208s and it’s nice and deep. There’s even plenty of room in the rear seats which is good, because this car is only available as a three-door model.
The car rides well on the M1. I’ve got plenty of gadgets to keep me interested, an excellent stereo, a good infotainment system with a simple and effective sat nav and all-important cruise control.
But there’s something niggling at me. At first, it really is a niggle, nothing more, but after an hour of driving, towards the M18, I realise the exhaust note is doing my head in.
Confession time… As a youngster I once added a big sporty exhaust to my Fiat Uno. It made it ridiculously loud and I loved it. The Peugeot’s exhaust is nowhere near as loud as that, but it is quite “sporty” and the constant boom has become quite tiresome.
That said, as soon as we turned off the M6 and got onto the Yorkshire back-roads the car simply came alive again.
Phew, for a moment there I thought I was getting old.
WE’RE taking our friends out for a ride in the 208. They’re both into their cars and seem impressed by the upmarket feel of the interior.
However, the ride, apparently, is a little too firm in the back. I tried to explain that this was because of the standard 208’s spring rates being increased by around 20 per cent, along with thicker and firmer dampers being fitted but neither my wife nor my friends wife could hear me over the exhaust.
From the front, my friend and I think the ride is pretty good. We also like the exhaust note and the way the car comes alive at the top of the rev-range, with the turbo kicking in to give it a brutal shove before each gear change.
It was a short-lived burst of enjoyment, however, as the pair of now marginally deaf spouses in the rear seats were starting to feel a bit sick. Time to head home.
If anything, my friends seem underwhelmed. They point out the slightly fussy styling, the way the fusebox ruins any chance of putting things in the glove box and that boomy exhaust. Philistines.
IT’S back to work today and back to what the 208 GTi does best. Relieving frustration on a stretch of rural blacktop. I’m frustrated, by the way, because the wife doesn’t like it.
It’s odd because, it’s orange – her favourite colour – it’s petrol, which is the only fuel she will acknowledge the existence of and it’s sporty. The only type of car she really likes.
Later that day she’s heading out to see some friends and I throw her the keys to the Peugeot. A few hours later she returns, absolutely buzzing.
Seriously, I was almost late for work the next day because of the time she spent explaining how brilliant the car felt on the limit and how pin-sharp the steering is and how eager the turbo-charged engine is to help the car headbutt the horizon.
And then it dawns on me. To really appreciate it you’ve got to drive it. Its flaws are few and far between, but its strengths are unlocked when you take it by the scruff of its neck and give it some punishment. It is, honestly, quite brilliant.
AFTER a bit more larking around on my way to work I’m reminded of some of the more mundane things I have to think about when testing a car. Let’s start with fuel economy. I’ve been achieving low 30s when I’m not behaving, and high-30s when I was behaving. Yesterday, during a stint following a tipper-lorry on an A-road I coaxed it to 42MPG. I really was trying, but it’s not bad for a car tuned to such an extent.
For a car with 208bhp on tap, it puts out a frankly rather impressive 125g/km of CO2 as well, which certainly impresses me. And, if you really need to ask, GTi ownership starts at a shade under £20,000.
ON my way to work today a Ford Fiesta ST passes in the opposite direction. I’m reminded of how good that car is to drive and the fact it costs a little less than the Peugeot.
But the guy behind the wheel looked like a Ford driver. He (and his car) looked like a naughty school boy that hadn’t grown up. As good as the Fiesta is, it’s always going to give the wrong impression.
Whereas my Peugeot really has grown up. It’s matured and got through its problem-child phase and is now good at many things. I’m not saying it’s matured to the point where it will only be seen in corduroy trousers, but it’s way past the shell-suit phase the Ford seems to be stuck in.
In fact, if it was my money, if I had to choose between the two, I’d pick the Pug. To be honest, the Ford’s handling is slightly better and there are still aspects of the GTi which bother me, but it’s just more my cup of tea.
It’s fun but in a grown up way. And, by the same token, it’s grown up but has a healthy dose of excitement ready to be let out.
In all the ways that matter, it’s absolutely brilliant.