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08 August 2013 - 00:00

Review: Peugeot 208 GTi

Is 2013 officially the year of the hot hatch? What is this, the ninth so far?

There have been a few hatches of varying temperatures in the past eight months, that's true, but this one is hotly anticipated, because of its parentage.

Just like the royal baby!

Um, yeah. But can the royal baby accelerate hard and come to a sudden stop?

Maybe, if you -

Stop. The point is that the early-80s 205 GTi was the spiritual granddaddy of the hot hatch. It set hearts aflame with its big (well, big for a small car) 1.9-litre engine shoehorned into a tiny body, with kart-like handling and willingness to maim the unwary; and it earned its stripes with an impressive run of rally wins. It's still a revered car today, beloved for its rawness and directness, like an umbilical cord between the driver and the road.

Wasn't there a 206 GTi and a 207 GTi?

Yes, but no-one talks about them. Think of this as a reboot. It's like Batman Begins - we've all agreed to pretend the earlier versions didn't happen. The 207 GTi in particular, which was the George Clooney Batman in this particular metaphor.

So is the 208 GTi is a return to the 205's greatness, then?

Sort of. Look, you can't make cars like the 205 GTi anymore. There are too many design rules mandating "safety" and "emission laws" and "not being a death trap", plus car buyers these days demand things like air con and power steering, which the 205 lacked. 

Enough hedging, mouthy: just tell us what it's like to drive.

It's terrific fun, both on the road and on the track. Even numpties like us can pitch it into hairpins at unreasonable speeds and have it track safely through with a pleasing squeal of tyre pain; and the close-ratio manual 'box means you can push hard out of corners and even set the front wheels spinning in second gear, which is fun if not helpful for lap times. It sprints from nought to the century in 6.8 seconds, which is très sprightly for a wee car. The suspension is firm enough that you feel solid and confident pitching it through bends, but it still soaks up the rough stuff on craptastical country roads. And it even sounds the goods - you won't mistake it for a V8, but there's enough throatiness to make your ears feel like you're going fast.

So I should rush out and order one, then?

If you're in the market for a hot hatch, it's a worthy contender. But, and this is where we came in, there's been something of a blizzard of hot hatches this year, and the 208 GTi isn't the cheapest of them - at $29,990, it's at the higher end of the hot hatch market: four grand more than the Fiesta ST, and two grand more than the Polo GTI. On the other hand, the 208 GTi has a leather interior with sat nav (which sets it apart in the micro market); and it has more power than the Fiesta ST and the Polo GTI: the 208 GTi turns out a healthy 147kW from its 1.6-litre turbo four-pot, and engine that - we should probably mention - has been named "Engine of the Year" by Engine Technology International, which is a group of people we hope never to be trapped in the pub with. Still, they know engines, and they rate this one, so smiles all round.

So out of ten, you're giving it...

Eight, for being unashamedly up for hijinks and mischief. And if you're looking to stand out from the crowd it's a good bet because, at that price, we're not expecting it to break sales records.

For the full review, including specs and our official verdict, grab the next issue of TopGear Australia magazine

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