By on July 30, 2014

 208GTI_02-450x299

The Peugeot 205 GTI is one of the legends of hot hatch history. It took off where the original VW Golf GTI started, with sufficient space and practicality, lots of speed and a reasonable price. And it was even more fun to drive. With about 120 horsepower and weighing under a ton, it was quite quick for 1980s, and its tail-happy attitude gave it the reputation of a challenging car to drive. Its fondness of going through the hedges backwards may helped its popularity – people like to think that they are better drivers than others, and driving a car notorious for unforgiving handling can thus be a great ego booster.

Now, after nearly three decades and a string of lackluster hot hatches in recent years, Peugeot wants to reignite the flame with the 208 GTi. It promises to be much more interesting and fun to drive than the fast versions of previous 206 and 207, but it also enters a market segment full of very competent rivals.

While the 205 was sleek and chic, the 208 is a bit fat and too complex in its design. But what modern car isn’t? Besides, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so you better just look at the pictures and decide for yourself.

The interior is a bit different matter. Here, the design is not just about beauty, but also about useability and ergonomics. We can ignore the mish-mash of shapes, colors and materials. It’s even not important that the nav screen looks like an afterthought (after all, the ones in modern Mercedes products are even worse). But there are a few things that need to be mentioned.

First, the steering wheel. I don’t know what’s wrong with the round ones, and this one is not only flat at the bottom, but is weirdly shaped overall. It’s strange to look at, and it’s awkward to hold – too thick, too small, too unevenly shaped. On the other hand, it’s good it’s so small, because with the strange placement of instrument cluster (very high up, like in cars with the mid-mounted instruments), the only way to get a good view of the instruments is to set it very low in your lap and look over it instead of through it. With the bigger wheel in the standard car, this must be a royal pain.

Second, there’s the gear knob. Much like with the steering wheel, someone probably tried too hard to make the driver feel like he’s driving an alien racing spaceship. Which may be the reason why gear knob looks like severed alien’s head. Made of metal. Which makes it rather unpleasant to hold under most circumstances, and almost impossible to hold when the car has been left in the sun.

But we’re not here to look around. We’re here to drive.

208GTI_03

First impressions: deep bucket seats are very good, with lots of comfort and lateral support. The controls are well placed, and most of all, very light. Only the gearshift has a whiff of mechanical clunkiness in it, but not too much – just enough for you to feel like you’re really driving a real machine.

The lightness of controls in a car like this may come as a bit of a surprise. Most hot hatches try quite hard to be as sporty as possible, with meaty steering and pedal feel, stiff suspension and intense sound. The 208 GTi does almost exact the opposite.

The first thing you notice is probably the sound, of lack of any. We know that the turbocharged 1.6 under the hood can sound pretty awesome – it’s the powerplant of choice for roaring, burbling and cracking, fire-spitting Mini Cooper S John Cooper Works after all. Even in Peugeot’s own RCZ, it at least sounds interesting from the inside, even though it’s more similar to a loud vacuum cleaner from the outside. But here, nothing. Just the vacuum cleaner. I think that has to be intentional, but we’ll get to that.

The next thing to notice is the lightness of the pedals. Here, it posses no problem at all for the sporting pretensions of the car. On the contrary, the light and quick-to-react accelerator makes heel’n’toe throttle blips incredibly easy. Just a touch of the gas pedal with the right edge of your shoe, and the revs shoot up.

208GTI_04

It’s when you reach the first corner at speed when you notice the biggest problem: the steering. While its lightness is totally in keeping with the lack of any sporty sound and featherlight pedal action, it may actually be the single biggest flaw of this vehicle. While the lightness itself wouldn’t pose a huge problem, the total and utter lack of feel does. Judging by the steering wheel reactions, you have no idea whether you have plenty of grip left, or whether your front wheels are ploughing out of the corner.

But this wouldn’t be such a great problem, if it weren’t for the GTi’s chassis balance. Like many other modern hot hatches, the 208 GTi makes full use of the fact that the mandatory ESP can correct the inherent unstable behaviour, and is set to be quite a bit tail-happy in the corners. It is a bit like the jet fighters are set up in a way that they wouldn’t even fly without a computer.

This is, by the way, one of the biggest things the electronic nannies brought to the “driving enthusiasts’” world – car makers are now not afraid of building a fun to drive, oversteery car, which would, had it not been for the ESP, make it all too easy for drivers to kill themselves, bringing negative press and expensive lawsuits along the way. As it is, you can turn the ESP off and have fun, and if you crash (like I did, with the Focus ST), it’s totally your fault for being stupid.

208GTI_06

In this case, though, the playfulness of the 208′s tiny French ass is a bit of a problem. With the absent steering feel, you constantly worry that you overshoot the steering input, sending your car ass-backwards into the ditch. And while this scenario will most likely never happen (I only managed to send the car into oversteer with especially harsh treatment on slightly wet track), it is enough to discourage you from exploring the car’s limits, or even going anywhere near them, on public road.

Is it a bad hot hatch, then? Not at all. While the 208 GTi is not a hardcore tiny sportscar like hot Mini Coopers or the previous generation Clio RS, it offers other things. It’s still mighty fast, but it also offers surprising ride quality. It resembles the old Peugeots of 1990s, like 306 or 406, with their fluid, stable, but not stiff suspensions. And with the ride quality and quite comfy seats added to the mix, the whole car starts to make sense.

208GTI_07

While most hot hatches chase after the “hardcore sportscar” ideal, with loud exhausts, beefy controls and harsh suspensions, the 208 GTi puts emphasis on the first two letters in its name. For those who need one practical car for little cash, this is a “poor man’s GT”. It can cover ground at a great rate of speed – in fact, I think it is as fast a car as you may ever need. It is quite comfortable and if need be, it can transport four adults. And it can even offer a bit of a driving fun from time to time, although not as much as the best competitors in its class.

I would call it an “adult’s hot hatch”. And it’s up to its potential buyers to decide whether that’s a good or bad thing.

@VojtaDobes is motoring journalist from Czech Republic, who previously worked for local editions of Autocar and TopGear magazines. Today, he runs his own website, www.Autickar.cz and serves as editor-in-chief at www.USmotors.cz. After a failed adventure with importing classic American cars to Europe, he is utterly broke, so he drives a borrowed Lincoln Town Car. His previous cars included a 1988 Caprice in NYC Taxi livery, a hot-rodded Opel Diplomat, two Dodge Coronets, a Simca, a Fiat 600 and Austin Maestro. He has never owned a diesel, manual wagon.

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33 Comments on “European Review: Peugeot 208 GTi...”


  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Does this car share a platform with anything sold in North America? I’m thinking the closest equivalent experience in NA might be the Veloster Turbo?

  • avatar
    NN

    love the Euro reviews! keep them coming

  • avatar
    Johann

    I’m sorry but the author of this article must know very, very little about cars, if he thinks the rest of the 208 range has bigger steering wheels AND most laughable of all, that on the lesser 208s, that you look at the instruments through the wheel like on a normal car. :-) Gosh it is only THE major defining interior design element of the 208, 2008 and 308 that they all have tiny steering wheels and that in ALL of them you have no choice but to look over said wheel at the instruments. You can’t have it both ways.

    • 0 avatar
      Vojta Dobeš

      I admit I was too lazy to find a “normal” 208 and sit in it. So all 208s have this small steering wheels? Or they have “normal sized” ones? Because with anything bigger than what GTi has, I can’t really imagine how you can set up the steering wheel so you see the instrument cluster and still have room for legs.

      I usually set steering wheel quite low (lower than most people I know), but in this car, the “optimal” setting for me would mean not seeing the instruments.

      • 0 avatar
        Johann

        Yes all the ones I mentioned have the same sized small wheel. It’s a ridiculous thing they are trying here. Good on them for trying something new I say, but having sat in the 208, 2008 and 308, I have yet to find a seating position where I can see the bottom of the instruments properly. The 308 is just about OK but in both the 208 and 2008 (sharing the same dashboard basically) it’s impossible to see all of the instruments.

        • 0 avatar
          Vojta Dobeš

          Hm, I’ll have to stop by at the Peugeot showroom to see how the steering wheel on the 208 looks like. In the GTi, it is possible to see the whole instrument cluster, and I still think that the steering wheel in base model is a bit bigger – the one in GTi is EXTREMELY small. It may very well be the smallest wheel I’ve seen on a production vehicle.

          • 0 avatar
            Johann

            It is the smallest I’m sure! :-)

            This is the GTI wheel:

            http://static.autoexpress.co.uk/sites/autoexpressuk/files/styles/gallery/public/peugeot-208-gti-3-interior.jpg?itok=gd9jhNM0

            This is the normal one:

            http://www.blogcdn.com/www.autoblog.com/media/2012/04/20-2012-peugeot-208-fd.jpg

            So you can clearly see they are the same size.
            The GTI’s is just much thicker as you said
            with thumbholds and different leather and colours, etc.

            This is the 2008:

            http://s1.cdn.autoevolution.com/images/gallery/PEUGEOT2008-4723_16.jpg

            And this is the 308:

            http://static.autoexpress.co.uk/sites/autoexpressuk/files/styles/gallery/public/new_peugeot_308_allure_eo0t6274.jpg?itok=jDeLrhMS

            You won’t find smaller steering wheels than those anywhere this side of a toy car!

          • 0 avatar
            balreadysaid

            the seating position has to do with steering wheel position. if you like to run the wheel low the seat must be close too. if your thighs would be in the way by doing that then the car was designed for shorter race stature types 5’9″ and down. tall racers are like left handed people they are fine just not as common.

    • 0 avatar

      Yep, a bit gimmicky but they do center the design theme around it. I thought it’d be very uncomfortable, but after a few minutes I got used to it. Resembles the Civic two tier thing. Unnecessary and gimmicky but livable.

      And, there’s no such thing as too thick a steering wheel. Haven’t driven the GTI but I have other 208s and was pleasantly by the thickness. On the GTI must be wonderful.

      • 0 avatar
        Signal11

        I don’t find the Civic two-tier dash with the peepover speedo and indicators to be unnecessarily gimmicky at all. As a poor man’s heads up display, it’s actually quite nice and ergonomic.

        I’m intrigued by the Peugeot’s layout. Might have to visit a dealership to see how it feels.

  • avatar
    Buckshot

    Ahh, the memories with my 205GTI.
    I owned a Gutmann tuned Peugeot 205 GTI for 9 years.
    It was indeed tailhappy. Too fast into a roundabout? Just lift the throttle and the tail went. Or brake a little in the corner for the same result.
    Short wheelbase, good steering but to stiff for bad roads.
    I never crashed but it was close.
    But when i sold it, the Peugeot was crashed after a couple of weeks ;-(

    Peugeot will never make such a iconic car again.

    • 0 avatar

      Drove many times a 205. Not the GTI but the strongest one under that. What a joy! So tiny on the outside yet so roomy inside. Such a nice balance of driving enjoyment and interaction with the car.

      the 208 is different. More grown up somehow, but still very tossable. One of the best handling out there. Though there are some issues, but if you choose to view them charitably, these issues can be viewed as character. Perfection is boring.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    Nice Pew-gut.

    It’s so manual it has 4 pedals AND a conventional handbrake.

  • avatar
    thegamper

    Nice ride. Thanks for the review. Would love to get my hands on some French cars just for the experience. Love me some Citroen :)

  • avatar

    Hey Vojta, me thinks you’ve been driving too many yank tanks lately, ;)!

    Love the 208. Tasteful interior and athletic body. Not fat at all. Quite sexy, would only eliminate the DRL extra on top pf the front lights.

    Agreed as to the suspension. That’s called French suspension. German and Japanese car companies should learn something here. No need to have a hard board for a suspension to have fun.

    Yes, the car has some issues. But most of them are pretty inherent in a fast small car. What iconic hot hatch has not had a degree of instability, particularly in the tail? If that worries you that much, buy the slightly de-tuned lesser model. It does handle that power better and gives you a composed ride almost as fast.

    Love this car. Better inside than the Fiesta (much). Slightly lesser than the Fiesta in overall dynamics. But short of a Clio or a Punto, I’m hard pressed to think of another as joyous to drive. Before you say, I’ll tell you, the Polo need not apply for a post in my garage.

    Thanks again for the review, Vojta!

    • 0 avatar
      Vojta Dobeš

      Totally agree about the suspension… although what I love the most are the British suspensions. They are the best in combining suppleness with stability.

      As for the tail-happiness – I don’t have problem with that. I have problem with the combination of tail-happiness and totally, utterly numb steering. Even my Town Car has more steering feel than this thing :)

      I think I would prefer a DS3 to this. Or, if I could live with higher price and lesser space, I would go for a Cooper S.

      • 0 avatar

        “Utterly numb steering”, that’s the point. Peugeot introduced this feature with the 207 already. OK, somehow you can acquaint yourself to that, but it is more a bug than a feature and hampers driveability.
        The controls, mostly via touachpad, are simply a nuisance, either.

      • 0 avatar
        daver277

        I long term leased both a 208 and DS3, both with the same high output HDI motor and put down over 9000 km on each.
        4.2 l/100 km on the 208 and 4.3 on the DS3 in spite of the DS’s 6 speed.
        The 208 was a better car as it didn’t give away so much for flashy styling.
        I would love to have either one here as they were both great to drive
        and only cost US8¢/km for fuel even with euro fuel prices.
        The same HDI motor was in the euro Mini until very recently.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    I like it…but not that steering wheel. At least the shift knob should be easy to swap. As for the gauges, I like MINI’s solution: mount the speedo/tach on the steering column, so no matter how you adjust it the wheel isn’t blocking your view. Not pretty, but it works really well.

  • avatar
    ry6puwh7vybo8ghot8nowo9ly4ne4deth5ca7ghe6bo7he7gyc

    That side profile is fairly good looking.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    Unfortunately the numb steering issue has been around for a while. Blame the significantly more efficient electric power steering. I believe that electric power steering has improved in feel over the last 10 years or so.
    Nice write up and really nice to read about the verbode vrugte.

  • avatar
    Cabriolet

    I remember the original 208 GTI. I was on a business trip in Paris back in the eighties when i sighted one while in my salesman Renault. Owning a VW GTI at the time i was quite impressed with the car and the way it moved in traffic. A week or two later i was in Sweden and noticed quite a few 208 GTI on the road.
    It’s a shame we never got to drive these cars in the states.

  • avatar
    tedward

    Every time I go to mexico I tell myself I’m going to rent a 207 but I never quite manage to make it happen. I need to drive a modern French car despite the fact that all of them get p panned for traits I care about deeply. Bizarrely attractive they are.

  • avatar
    oldyak

    How much does it cost?

  • avatar
    Buckshot

    The 208 GTI is from 229 000 SEK in Sweden
    Cooper S is from 215 000 SEK but in reality the Cooper will be more expensive with all its expensive options.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    Vojta, you need to do WAY more reviews for TTAC.

    First, your writing is concise & crisp, yet manages to deliver maximum information regarding the most important aspects of any vehicle you’re reviewing.

    Second, I like the definitive beginning-middle-end structure you utilize, without having to resort to an anesthetized & cliche a) exterior, b) interior, c) infotainment, d) performance, etc. schtick.

    Third, you review some of the most interesting European forbidden fruits that we in the U.S. aren’t afforded access to, whether Renaults, Skodas, SEAT, Citroens or Peugots.

    • 0 avatar
      Signal11

      Agreed.

      Doesn’t go overboard with the snark and tortured, tangled and mangled word play that infests a lot of the articles.

    • 0 avatar
      Vojta Dobeš

      Oh, thanks for the kind words. And I have some good news for you – right now, there are two more reviews in TTAC’s system, waiting for my lazy arse to finish pictures. And one or two more cars I have already driven, and just didn’t finish the article yet.

  • avatar
    lon888

    Very interesting article. Now do the Citroen DS 3, DS 5 and the Renault Megane 265.


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