Rest easy, Peugeot hot hatchback fans: the 208 GTI is good. It’s a different flavour to the Ford Fiesta ST we recently fell in love with, but it’ll suit a different sort of buyer as a result.
The 208 GTI’s surprisingly subtle approach starts with its styling. The base 208 isn’t such a bad looking beast and it’s only improved by the GTI’s unique features.
The colour red dominates, regardless of whether you go for the Shark Grey or Rioja Red paintwork shown in Peugeot’s photos here, or the silver, black and white finishes also available. Brake calipers, lower grille trim, Peugeot lettering and GTI badges are all finished in gloss red.
GTI also brings a chequered effect trim to the front grille, new LED daytime running lights and indicators (shared with the luxury-biased 208 XY), some 17-inch alloys, chrome detailing and a sporty twin tailpipe.
Step inside and the spacious, high quality interior of other 208s still impresses, but the small wheel and high dials layout remains divisive. This 5’9″ tester found the dials perfectly easy to see with the seat on its lowest position and the wheel appropriately adjusted, but others found the wheel completely obscuring the dials.
GTI-unique touches include the aforementioned sports seats, which are very comfortable and well-bolstered. Part leather, part cloth trim is standard, as are red inserts. Stitching on the seats, steering wheel and leather-effect dash trim is also red, and several gloss plastic surfaces fade from black to red. Dial rings glow with a red hue.
Out on the road, the 208 GTI delivers the grown-up driving experience its styling implies, but not at the expense of fun.
With a 200 bhp 1.6-litre THP engine under the bonnet, performance is rarely an issue. It doesn’t quite feel as quick as you’d expect despite the 6.8-second 0-62 mph time – perhaps due to the disappointingly muted exhaust note – but squirting past other traffic or leaping out of tight bends is well within its remit.
There’s plenty of grip too, yet the 208 feels nicely balanced – pitch it into a quick corner and both axles feel like they’re sharing the work, keeping understeer to a minimum without sacrificing stability.
You can turn the electronic safety net off, but we didn’t feel the need. Cross-country pace is aided by a surprisingly absorbent ride quality, which dismissed the worst of North Wales’s bumps.
What the GTI doesn’t do, and what the Fiesta ST emphatically does, is feel particularly “alive”. Where the Fiesta interacts even if you’re toddling through town, the GTI feels no more special than any other 208.
The slightly cocooned feeling will probably ease the daily grind for owners (and makes it a refined motorway companion), but lacks the final few percent to make that occasional blast quite as entertaining as it could be.
Put simply, it feels like Peugeot’s engineers have worked hard at making the 208 GTI a better car than the Fiesta ST – but it isn’t necessarily a better hot hatchback.
Priced from: £18,895
Combined MPG: 47.9
CO2: 139 g/km
As our score implies, the 208 GTI is a genuinely good car. At £18,895 it’s also competitively priced – the Fiesta may be cheaper in base trim, but the gap closes in ST2 trim and even then the Ford lacks the Peugeot’s comprehensive equipment list.
The GTI will find plenty of fans who feel the Ford or RenaultSport Clio’s styling too brash, their cabins too sparse and in the Clio’s case, the dual-clutch gearbox too limiting. And those fans will get a quick, economical and fun hot hatch.
But for the time being, those who appreciate the finer nuances of a good hot hatch will still be better served by Ford’s offering. That is, at least until the rumoured 208 GTI-R appears…
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