What is it?
The car we’ve all been waiting for. If, that is, you’ve lusted after a French hot hatch since the glory days of the 205 some 30 years ago. If you have, you may be disappointed by this one. Tastes have changed, so have safety and emissions regulations, so if you want something with the rollerskate punchiness of the original 205, then go and buy one of those. This is an entirely modern hot hatch, complete with a CO2 compliant 1.6-litre turbo engine, benign, neutral handling and lots of on-board toys and comfort.
The good thing is, it’s a far more convincing hot hatch than either the 206 or 207 GTI’s. It feels like Peugeot has actually put some effort into this one and the result isn’t too bad at all. Not perfect, mind you, because if we were being picky we’d like it to have more handling sparkle and a zingier engine. But if you’re driving it every day there’s a lot to be said for a car that’s torquey, well mannered and has enough edge to its handling to be engaging when you want. It’ll even pick a rear wheel high up into the air should you find a suitably tight corner.
More steering feel would be good, though, and while the ride is supple most of the time, it doesn’t feel so professional at low speeds. But this is a rapid, flexible hot hatch that copes well with broken British roads, and for Peugeot that’s a big step forward.
On the inside
The first thing that’ll strike you upon stepping into the GTI’s cabin is the steering wheel. It’s very small. This is very good as it makes the whole car feel compact, even if the impression is slightly undone by the chunkily thick rim, which also does a bang tidy job of blocking your view of the dials.
Other touch points aren’t quite so impressive. The big-headed gearknob has a numb six-speed shift, and the pedals aren’t as zingily responsive as we’d like. Our biggest criticism, though, is the insufferably complex central control screen. Looks like cutting-edge tech. Isn’t. That aside it’s comfortable and practical, even if the materials aren’t exactly top drawer.
Potential insurance concerns aside, the GTI should be affordable to buy and run. OK, so £18,900 is considerably more than a base Fiesta ST, but 40mpg-plus is likely and due to the ride and refinement, it’s an easy car to live with day-today. It also comes with a long list of standard equipment, packed with niceties you wouldn’t ever have found on a 205 GTI. The market has moved on and buyers’ expectations today are very different to the 1980s. Which is why the 208 GTI, while not quite a 205-style star, now works so well.