A glut of arrivals in the supermini hot hatch world mean the sector now features a wide selection of heavy hitters. There’s the new Seat Ibiza Cupra, Renaultsport Clio Trophy, Mini JCW manual and, of course, Ford’s Fiesta ST200 – and now the Peugeot 208 GTI ‘by Peugeot Sport’ has entered the fray. All seek to thrill committed drivers, offering on-the-limit entertainment in a compact package.
If purposeful looks determine the quality of drive, the 208 GTI gets off to a good start. Its all-over black colour theme, with wheels to match, sets off its mean and muscular bodylines. The front wheels’ aggressive negative camber and those substantial brakes spied lurking behind the spokes hint at the driving pleasures to follow.
The Peugeot’s cabin is equally sporting, boasting better quality than the Fiesta’s and more style than the Seat’s. Excellent sports seats and a small steering wheel add to the racy feel, although the driving position could do with more adjustment and takes a little getting used to. Setting the 208 up for driving is simplicity itself, unlike in some rivals. There’s no fiddling with steering weights or damper settings; just turn the key, set the traction control to on or off, and go.
During a soggy test run on some of Wales’s narrow, most challenging B-roads, the Peugeot Sport GTI proved itself to be, quite simply, tremendous. It’s everything you hope for in a small hot hatch: feisty, quick, exciting, grippy and fabulous fun – which is, after all the raison d’etre of its genre. Peugeot hasn’t forgotten its roots.
Quick steering gives super-sharp turn-in, which perfectly complements the agile front-wheel-drive handling and accomplished body control. Only a succession of harsh bumps unsettle the ride. The standard-fit limited-slip diff gives the set-up another dimension, especially in the wet.
The 208bhp 1,593cc four-cylinder turbo provides accessible, if slightly boomy, performance without being intimidating or forcing throttle lift-off as in some bigger, more powerful hot hatches. It works well with the six-speed manual, although the gearbox’s throw is a little long and vague. Braking hard, even into fast corners, fails to unsettle the car’s direction of travel.
That keenness, adjustability and lack of threatening behaviour are intrinsic to the 208 GTI’s innate character. As an ownership proposition, this new supermini hot hatch may be more money than the slightly less sophisticated Fiesta ST, but it’s worth every penny.
Peugeot 208 GTI by Peugeot Sport
Engine: 1,593cc, turbocharged inline-four
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (bhp): 208 @ 6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 221 @ 3,000rpm
Top speed: 143mph