I remember back when I was at university, one of my mates had a Peugeot 205 GTi, and I thought it was the best car you could possibly own: it was brilliant. Which got me thinking: just how good is the latest Peugeot hot-hatch, the 208 GTi?
Powered by its strong, 197bhp 1.6-litre turbocharged engine — a power unit the Peugeot shares with the Mini Cooper S — the new 208 GTi is no slouch. It cracks 62mph from standstill in 6.8secs, and carries on to a maximum of 143mph.
It’s also a hoot to drive, thanks largely to wider front and rear tracks, lower and stiffer suspension, and weightier steering.
But unlike a number of its rivals who struggle to make the transition to dawdling around town, Peugeot has ensured the 208 GTi has a suspension which is suitable at both extremes.
Of course, it’s unfair to compare this new model directly with the Eighties classic. Technology, design and safety requirements have moved on dramatically since the 205 GTi, so the over-riding message from Peugeot is: “The 208 GTI is not, and cannot be, a 21st century replay of its ‘80s classic.”
It’s also a far better car than the 206 or 207, a fact few will argue against because, in all truth, neither the 206 or 207 were anything to write home about.
Thankfully, Peugeot seems to have got its act together again with the latest 208 GTi. Smaller and, significantly, 165kg lighter than the 207 GTi, the newcomer benefits from lively and agile handling.
That handling is bolstered by sporty suspension which, despite producing a hint of bodyroll on turn-in, helps ensure there’s enough grip under the tyres to power you out through the other side.
Reassuringly, it brakes sharply too, and the six-speed manual gearbox is slick. Peugeot has also firmed up the steering over the standard 208.
The GTi is available only as a three-door, and while there will be those who bemoan the fact it’s not as practical as the five-door, there’s no denying it’s the better-looking of the two styles.
Inside the cabin there’s all the practicality of the standard 208, and it’s thankfully a smidge bigger in terms of rear legroom than the 207.
There’s relatively comfortable space for two adults — or three kids — in the rear, and the bootspace is 285-litres, which is about the same as a Ford Fiesta.
There is though one frustrating design niggle. The Peugeot styling boffins took the decision to make the 208’s steering wheel small, and have the instrument cluster visible over the top of it.
Peugeot justified the decision on the basis it was to make the driving position as sporty as possible. The reality, unfortunately, is that once the majority of owners have set the steering wheel to their preferred position of comfort, they’ll find the speedometer and rev counter obscured by the top of the wheel. Not clever.
Oh, and there’s only one interior style choice: not surprisingly, black and red. In keeping with the sporty tradition, the rear of the sports seats also have the GTi badge woven in to them. But disappointingly, there remains a number of areas where cheap, thin plastic has been used inside the cabin.
Externally, the Peugeot 208 GTi is somewhat understated: but that’s no bad thing. Why attract unwanted attention?
There’s a unique grille at the front which has a rather attractive three-dimension chequerboard pattern. And the lower lip of the grille has also been painted in …. ? Yup, red.
The 208 GTi’s profile also gets something of a steroid boost with extended sills and wheel arches, plus beefy 17in alloys. To round the sporty look off, there’s also a double exhaust pipe and an extended roof spoiler at the rear.
With a price tag of £18,895, the Peugeot 208 GTi is certainly worth checking out if you want to put a smile on your face. The fact it also returns 47.9mpg, and emits 139g/km CO2 are also worth factors.
And while comparisons with the Peugeot 205 GTi are, to all intents and purposes, pointless, it’s worth stating the 208 GTi is the best hot-hatch the French manufacturer has made for around 20 years.
That in itself makes the 208 GTi worth a test drive.