Peugeot 208 GTi

We try the new Peugeot 208 GTi on UK roads. Does it have what it takes to topple the Fiesta ST?

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

Bravo Peugeot – the 208 GTi is a pleasant surprise after the disappointing 207 and 206 GTis. It’s quite happy to entertain you when you want to have some fun, but is never tiresome to drive when you don’t. In this way, it’s a proper ‘have your cake and eat it’ car. Ultimately, though, the 208 simply won’t make you laugh out loud in the way the more entertaining and cheaper Ford Fiesta ST will.

The Peugeot 208 GTi has a huge responsibility. It’s charged with recreating the brilliance of the original 205 GTi – which the hot versions of the 206 and 207 failed to emulate.

But rather than going for an overtly sporty, in-your-face approach, Peugeot wants the 208 to be both comfortable and fun – much like the Volkswagen Polo GTI. But has it succeeded? Auto Express tested the 208 GTi in the UK for the first time to find out.

From a distance, the 208 GTi just looks like a slightly posher 208 – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Only on closer inspection do you notice the chequered flag-inspired grille, sports exhaust, red brake calipers and body kit.

It’s only when you get inside you really sense the sporty potential. There are red flashes everywhere, a small, thick steering wheel, a classy brushed aluminium gearknob and sports seats that are almost too body-hugging for their own good.This overall subtlety of the GTi’s design is mimicked by the driving experience – turn the key and the 1.6-litre turbo spins to life with little drama.

Pull away, and the feel of the clutch, steering and gearshift appears to have been weighted for an 80 rather than 18-year-old. And as you pootle down the street and coast over a few cat’s eyes, speed humps and potholes with minimal fuss, you’d never guess you were in one of hottest road cars Peugeot has ever created.

You get the sense this car is trying to keep its darker side a secret – it’s only when you really insist that it reveals its true potential. Floor the throttle, and the 208 GTi needs to wind on some revs before you truly believe you’ve got 197bhp waiting under your right foot.

When you do, though, the 208 GTi really flies. It’s just a shame that, from the inside, the exhaust note never sounds as good as it does from the outside. You also can’t be sure how fast you are going, as the positioning of the instrument cluster means the speedometer is obscured by the steering wheel.

But you won’t be worrying too much about all that, as you thread the nimble GTi through a series of tight bends. And delight at how its fast and responsive steering and widened front track diligently obey your every command. And where the nose goes, the rest of the car faithfully follows.

Some 205 GTi fans may wish the rear end was more mobile, but really the excellent stability of the 208 GTi will get you where you want to go both safer and faster. And when you do find the car’s limit, all you are greeted with is mild and progressive understeer – though you’re only really likely experience this if you turn the stability control off completely.

Make no mistake, you can have hours of fun in the GTi if you want to drive like a loon. And when you decide to calm things down it feels every bit as composed and comfortable as a normal 208.

But here’s the thing: a supermini hot hatch should be a cheeky, provocative little upstart that goads you to drive it just for the sake of it. Sadly, despite its brilliance, the 208 GTi doesn’t do that.

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