► We test new Peugeot 208 GTi 30th
► Marks 30 years since seminal 205 GTI
► Peugeot Sport involvement augurs well
Oh boy. Did a lot of people complain that the standard Peugeot 208 GTi looked too ordinary? Even if they did, this ‘Coupe Franche’ paint finish on the limited-edition 208 GTi 30th might be a tiny little bit of an over-reaction.
What’s the best way to describe a car that’s matt black at the front and bright red at the rear? An automotive strawberry, dipped in dark chocolate? Or a wheeled baboon with a slapped arse? Frankly, you might as well go with ‘disaster’. A strange way to celebrate 30 years of the 205 GTi.
Peugeot and GTIs: an up-and-down relationship
Following two subsequent GTi generations that didn’t so much miss the spot as deny all knowledge of its existence, the arrival of the regular 208 GTi has at least delivered a certain amount of relief. A composed chassis and a keen 197bhp 1.6-litre turbo make for a good time, if not a truly great one. A touch soft for some tastes, it is nevertheless a credible, easy-going alternative to the hard-riding demands of the Fiesta ST.
But ‘Actually, it’s okay’ is never going to be the stuff of legend. And although ‘Actually, it’s an £800 factory option’ isn’t much of an improvement in fuel station forecourt chit-chat, there is a lot more going on with the 30th than the crackpot appearance. Whether anyone will still take you seriously after that initial impression is a different matter entirely. Possibly try drawing attention to the Peugeot Sport script on the (Brembo) front brake calipers.
Yep, Peugeot’s in-house race department has put its name to a road car for the second time in as many years. Having successfully transformed the RCZ into a proper predator, Peugeot Sport is back to beef up the 208 GTi in a similarly credible manner. Very similar, in fact: the 30th gets the same torque-sensing Torsen limited-slip differential as the RCZ R, and suspension tuning that demonstrates revealing consistency.
Spec changes to the 30th anniversary 208
As with the coupe, it’s not just that the GTi is lower and stiffer now; the 10mm drop and recalibrated dampers come with spring rates boosted 30% at the front and a telling 80% at the rear. Then there’s the softer front anti-roll bar, 22mm extra front track width, 16mm extra rear track width, revised geometry and bigger 18-inch wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres. Peugeot Sport’s preferences are clear: up the grip at the driven end, increase mobility at the back. Maybe the paint means something after all.
Completing the upgrades, power rises to 205bhp while torque swells 18lb ft to 221lb ft, shaving the 0-62mph time down 0.3sec to 6.5sec. Remarkably, the new state of tune now meets EU6 requirements with reduced official fuel consumption and CO2. Hmm. The 30th also receives huggier Peugeot Sport seats and shorter gear ratios but keeps the sex-toy gearknob, which, despite appearances, feels great in the palm.
Bespoke backed-off traction control leads to hilarious amounts of wheelspin during aggressive British winter standing starts but allows the diff to make a difference in the corners. First taste of this says the action isn’t as all-conquering as it is in the RCZ R, then you remember the 208’s got a much smaller turbo. Which obviously means more throttle – and suddenly you’ve got a madly cavorting supermini that even the mega Fiesta had better start taking seriously.
Peugeot 208 GTI 30th anniversary model: road testers' notes
The diff is the magic sauce, here. Chuck this sado-mask wearing Frenchie into a turn, punch the accelerator and it reacts like a charging kitten executing a rapid direction change on short carpet – the claws come out and it jinks with very little perceptible reduction in momentum. The Fiesta ST achieves a superficially similar effect with some outstanding torque-juggling electronics; difference is these rely on a braking action whereas the 208’s mechanical intervention is all about maximising thrust. The way the Ford pivots round the inside front wheel is an astonishingly dynamic piece of athleticism, but it relies on slowing that side of the car down. The Peugeot needs no such pause as the diff flays the surface with scrabbling tyres, murders the apex and flings the GTi onwards, to the next one.
Such is the satisfaction, this feisty determination quickly countermands all other concerns: the steering weighting that still feels flimsy; the absent-minded vagueness about the straight-ahead; the gearbox that doesn’t like to be rushed. So what if the on-paper power advantage means almost nothing given the ST’s ballistically over-boosting real-world delivery? With lift-off adjustability at the rear counterpointing the tenacity of the traction up front, and – vitally – a retained ability to successfully absorb bumps that would rupture discs in the Ford, the 208 GTi 30th easily justifies its £21,995 price.
But that was never going to be the tricky part. The tricky part will be finding one of the 25 examples – 20 white, five red – out of the 100 coming to the UK that haven’t been ruined by this ridiculous colour scheme. Just remember that Peugeot is now adding a 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport as a regular addition to the range. Which has to be a good thing.