Every now and then you come across perfection in this line of work, it doesn’t happen often, but when it does it sticks with you. We came across it last year with the FK2 Civic Type R, and we’ve hit on it again. You also don’t realise how extraordinary something is until it’s gone.
Once again we found ourselves one of the last to have a loan of a genuinely remarkable hot hatch, the Peugeot 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport.
Throwback to 2014 and we found ourselves on a train heading to Paris, we’d been invited to sample the Peugeot 208 GTi 30th Anniversary Edition. This was a model to celebrate 30 years since the launch of the 205 GTi, so it had to be good.
The keys were given to Peugeot Sport to concoct the best version of the 208 GTi. They lowered the ride height, stiffened the suspension, widened the track and threw in the Torsen limited slip diff from the RCZ R.
Those differences were like night and day. Yes, the original 208 GTi is mighty quick, but it didn’t feel like the sharpest tool in the fast hatchback shed. That was lauded for the Fiesta ST.
Something has been missing from hot hatches for a while now, the sense of eagerness. It’s an easy old school trick that was derived from dumping a massive engine into a car that weighs around a ton. But due to emissions regs changing, large lumps were ditched in favour of turbo setups.
That means engines have to be far less rev happy, they can rely on the turbo to do the hard work. The best example of how lethargically awful things have become is the woefully slow rev range found in the RenaultSport Clio.
Jumping into the 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport and you’ll find that a blip of the throttle will send the needle halfway around the dial. This thing feels instant, from the off it just wants to go. In that sense it’s the epitome of an old-school hot hatch, there’s no noticeable turbo lag just a ton of extra torque compared to an N/A powered car.
It also enables you to get on the power mid-corner without the need for changing down. Dab the breaks, dive in, start to turn, mid apex you can punch the throttle, letting the diff that’s just below and left of your clutch foot spin up, you’re then anchored into the tarmac and slung round and out the other side.
Cornering speed is simply ludicrous in the 208 GTi.
And there it has another classic hot hatch characteristic about it. This Pug likes to cock a wheel. Again, it’s a trait that’s been lacking as weights have increased in recent years, cars have grown bigger, and chassis dynamics become a little softer than we’d like.
Find a suitably paced corner in the 208, head into the apex, a touch of brake and turn in you’ll become Dell Boy and Rodders for a few split seconds. Beautiful.
And that’s thanks to the far stiffer setup compared to the standard 208 GTi. The mind boggles when such small changes can totally transform the aesthetic of a car. You now feel at one with the 208 GTi, like it’s an extension of yourself. You’re a cog in a machine, a chuffing fast machine.
There’s a nimble, light on its feet nature that the Peugeot Sport now embraces. It’s chuckable as though it were half its size, and when you get it wrong, there’s no vicious bite back. Push too far and unhook the rear, no problem just let off, and it will tow the correct line once again.
Acceleration at any speed in third or fourth gear is insane for a car of this size, it eggs you on with the Torsen giving you the confidence to push hard, saying to you ‘try that again, but faster’.
This newly invigorated tarmac weapon even dethroned the young lad’s wet dream, Ford’s Fiesta ST from top hot hatch in EVO’s ratings.
Which is sad as this is how good the 208 GTi should have been from the start, why didn’t Peugeot seek some sporting help from the off? This could have been their 205 GTi second coming, the one that puts them back on the map in terms of handling dynamics and sheer bloody fun.
So forget the regular 208 GTi, seek out a ‘By Peugeot Sport’ edition then sample and savour the best hot hatch the company have built since the 106 GTi.