The Peugeot 208 GTi has suffered in the shadow of Ford’s brilliant Fiesta ST for nearly two years now. Although similar in terms of engine, power and price, the 208 lacked the sharp edge of the ST, always erring on the side of comfort over outright driving fun.
But could this, the 208 GTi 30th Anniversary Limited Edition, be the car to turn the hot hatch class on its head? It arrives thirty years after the launch of the 205 GTi, and is a car Carlos Tavares, PSA Peugeot Citroen CEO, knew he wanted, even before launching the hot version of the current 208 supermini. So can Peugeot Sport’s expertise and technical know-how breathe new life into a slightly underwhelming performance hatch?
On paper, all the right ingredients are present and correct. Power is boosted from 197bhp to 205bhp, with a welcome 25Nm jump in peak torque. There’s a set of Brembo brakes at the front and a trick Torsen differential from the RCZ R. Elsewhere, the suspension has been lowered by 10mm, with new damper settings and spring rates, while the unique 18-inch alloy wheels are shod in Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres.
Inside, a pair of Alcantara-trimmed bucket seats have replaced the usual leather-clad versions. You also get a set of special red floor mats, unique door handles and sporty striped seat belts. The small steering wheel remains, and sat-nav is included as standard. The space saver spare wheel has been removed and replaced with a tyre inflation kit, in an attempt to save weight.
From the off you’re rewarded with bags more grip. The mix of the clever diff and sticky tyres mean even in the wet there’s loads more traction out of tight corners. The Brembo brakes are a welcome addition, too, providing far greater stopping power (and a good deal more confidence) than in the standard GTi.
But that’s not all. There’s a real sense of urgency from the tweaked 1.6, and the boost in torque means you find yourself changing gears a lot less and the twin-scroll turbo works hard to ensure smooth power delivery as and when you require it. There’s no doubt the GTi 30th feels more lively, and the distinct yet subtle exhaust note ensures you won’t get bored of its playful nature, either. It lacks the edge of the Fiesta ST, but it’s much closer to the class best than it ever was before.
It’ll be interesting to see how the lower, stiffer ride handles our rough UK roads, but the 30th felt almost as comfortable and composed as the existing 208 GTi on Peugeot’s pancake-smooth test track in central France. The brilliant bucket seats provide plenty of support and the small steering wheel made it feel like a proper little go-kart on the tight and twisty circuit.
The only thing missing is a short-throw gearchange, but in all honesty, it’s not far off the sweet shifting ‘box in a Fiesta ST – and always preferable over Renault’s standard fit twin-clutch auto in the Clio RS.
We completed more than 25 laps of Peugeot’s development track, driving the 30th back-to-back with the existing GTi. There’s no doubt the changes are worth the extra cash, but whether you’ll be able to get your hands on one is another matter entirely. Only 100 have been earmarked for the UK, and inside sources tell us the dealer network has snapped up nearly every single one.
A total of 75 cars will come with the distinctive Coupe Franche red and black two-tone paint (an £800 option), with the remainder sporting subtler shades of red or white. If you want one, you’d better hurry. This is the best Peugeot GTi in 30 years…