A proper GT

Road test: Peugeot 208 GTi 1.6 THP200

Before we look at the latest in a long line of Peugeots to carry the GTi moniker, it is worth taking a little step back in time to examine the origin of these humble letters which, when placed together in the correct order, evoke passionate memories from the 1980s and still make owners proud to drop them into pub conversations today.

The GTI badge was born

The first two letters are the most important.  GT stands for Grand Tour, a concept of visiting far-flung places in a level of luxury afforded by the select few.  While Ford didn’t use all three letters, it was the sporty Capris and Mark 2 Cortinas which really brought the GT concept to the motoring masses.  Volkswagen added the subtle ‘I’ to the end of ‘GT’ highlighting the Bosch fuel injection system in its Golf and so, in 1975, the full GTI badge was born.

Other than Volkswagen, Peugeot has really been the only other GTi (lower case ‘i’) badged marque and it’s a symbol the 20x-series of cars has carried since 1984.  Successive models have been slightly faster to 60 mph and have increasingly high top speeds but it is the 205 GTi which broke the mould for Peugeot.

Just launched is the 208 GTi and perhaps more important than the raw specification sheet is the question of whether it’s just a hot hatch or if the total package adds-up to something just that bit more special.

Awash with rouge

In true GTi fashion, the 208 has been doused liberally with the colour red.  All the badges have red lettering, there’s a red stripe under the front grill and inside, it is awash with rouge.  Door handles, seat panels, stitching, central air vents, a section of leather in the steering wheel and dial surrounds: all very red.  It’s actually very smart and although I have mentioned it before, I am happy to re-iterate that Peugeot is doing a splendid job with its interiors.  Design is interesting yet useable and the quality of the finish is good.

Firing the 208 GTi up, there’s a low burble through the split exhaust finisher but it is very subtle – almost too quiet.  On the go, it’s certainly sprightly and the boosted 1.6 petrol engine gives a progressive delivery of power as the revs climb.  Again, the sound delivery doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the red livery – it is a touch too refined.

Flexible engine

Pummelling through heavy traffic is extremely easy with the flexible engine and when the road clears, the 208 GTi is eager to reach and exceed any speed limit.  The lower gear ratios are fairly close which means it is happy if you skip a gear here-and-there unless you are really pushing it.  I did notice that the gear lever gives an audible ker-thunk as it slots into each gear position.

Ride, too, is very well measured.  Certainly, it’s obvious to all passengers where the utility companies have savaged our roads but it remains supple and civilised and unlike the 205 GTi, the seat frames don’t rattle.  It handles well and its limits of adhesion mean you’ll have to driving somewhat recklessly to fall foul of the good grip and balance.  My only criticism is the slightly slow steering response (2.9 turns lock-to-lock) which, if crispened-up, would increase the sporty feel.  As it stands, the car will turn-in well but you have to pull the wheel quickly.

So, does this latest B-segment Peugeot GTi offer something special?  Yes and no.

Yes, it is an extremely civilised, capable and well-specified vehicle for covering the miles in an enjoyable manner.  Yes, it’s faster than any of its predecessors yet more economical and less-polluting.  Yes, it looks funky, is a lovely place to sit in and looks neat on the driveway.

It’s no ‘80s raw GTi, though; it is softer, more cosseting and too quiet.  However, all these attributes make it extremely easy to live with.  It is still a doddle to exceed speed limits and drive more quickly than one ought.  Taking the ‘i’ as a given these days (as fuel injection is the norm), it actually leans more toward the GT of old, that civilised Grand Tour.

Peugeot 208 GTi 1.6 THP200 £18,895 (includes £495 for metallic paint, £300 park assist and £400 touch screen + nav upgrade on model tested).

Power: 200 PS (@ 5,800 rpm), torque: 275 Nm (@ 1,750 rpm), emissions: 139 g/km CO2 (band E), 0-62 mph: 6.8 secs.

Motor Writer rating: ●●●●○


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