In the main it's a very good interior, certainly of a higher quality than the Ford and more stylish than the SEAT's. The touchscreen can prove irritatingly sluggish at times but that's about the biggest gripe. Moreover, Peugeot's feature of using a small wheel makes more sense in the 208 than the larger 308; you can even see most of the dials here...
There's a refreshing simplicity to operating the GTI also. It starts on a key, the traction control is on or it's off and the car drives just one way; there are no steering weights to cycle through or damper settings to adjust. You may not think that's an especially valid concern to supermini hot hatches, but remember that the Ibiza has adaptive dampers and the Mini its 'maximum go-kart feel' setting. Here's proof they aren't really needed.
While the photos here were taken close to the office, we did venture across to Wales for an afternoon in an attempt of a proper road test. As you might have been able to guess, most of the Severn seemed to fall on our test route and there was no chance of getting any usable photos. Still, what better real world test than a wet and bumpy Wales?
New dog, old tricks
The steering is quick and, combined with that camber, means that turn is super sharp; but because the whole car is so agile and alive, it's never unsettling. Body control is very good, if lacking the final layer of finesse found in something like a Megane Renaultsport. But a level of feistiness suits a smaller hatch, and it's only over successive harsh bumps that the Peugeot struggles slightly.
That it's taken this long to mention the powertrain should hopefully suggest it's not the star of the show here. On the road it certainly has a nice, usable level of performance (unlike in the more senior hot hatches that are so fast you're frequently lifting), but doesn't want to rev as willingly as the ostensibly similar unit in the RCZ R. It was pretty boomy at high revs too. The Peugeot's case is at least helped by the fact that none of its rivals have especially brilliant engines. The gearbox throw still feels rather too long and vague though, even when sitting on the right.
Given the driving rain and fairly narrow roads, you'll hopefully excuse the omission of any claims to on-limit performance. What there's always an impression of though is that lively and exciting car tested in France. Even when the direction of travel isn't out through the side window, the GTI is keen and, overused though the term is, adjustable. Misjudge how much the diff will tighten the line and a small lift will do it for you, without threatening anything more. Stop hard into a bend with the fantastically strong brakes and it relishes the weight remaining on the front, keeping the nose right where you've aimed it.
Then when your all-too-brief drive in Wales has finished, it will trudge back along the M4 with probably more refinement than the Ford. An Ibiza would be better still, but then you aren't likely to have gone to Wales with that... While the seats are very good in the Peugeot, the driving position is a little peculiar. The pedals seem too close and the wheel too far away, without sufficient adjustment. It's not as uncomfortable as it sounds, but certainly worth trying out.
If a deal comes up on an ST that's markedly more affordable than the Peugeot Sport GTI, then get it; it's brilliant, and the Peugeot is not £4,000 better. However, if for example a 208 is available at less than £19K with just 250 miles, it's worth the premium over the Ford. Make sense? Either way, you'll have a cracking hot hatch. More encouragingly, this 208 really is as good as that first track test suggested. For the first time in a while, enthusiasts should eagerly anticipate what Peugeot Sport can conjure up next.
PEUGEOT 208 GTI BY PEUGEOT SPORT
Engine: 1,593cc, turbocharged inline-4
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 208@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 221@3,000rpm
Top speed: 143mph
Photos: Dafydd Wood