What was interesting, and a bit worrying, was sitting in the press conference prior to the test drive and being told what the GTI isn't. It isn't radical. It isn't aggressive. It isn't optimised for the track... And it isn't oversteery.
So what is the 208 GTI? Sporty, fast, refined, supple, playful but secure, chic and versatile, apparently. It is designed to be multi-purpose. A car to live with every day - so not too harsh, not too noisy, but efficient and well-mannered.
The styling is designed to add muscle to the 208's shape. The new grille and headlamps are a bit fussy and don't really do it for me and although I like the rear-quarter badging - a knowing nod to the 205 - there's not enough menace or swagger to make the car stand out as something truly special.
Though for some I guess that subtlety may be a plus point. But you can't help but look at that old 205 - no wings or flares yet somehow the stance of it just oozes controlled menace in a very sexy way.
Fiesta ST launch, interestingly enough. Up the Col de Vence and on to Coursegoules and Greolieres. Fabulous roads and absolutely perfect for a sports hatch to strut its stuff.
Where's the rush
The first thing to notice is that the GTI doesn't feel hugely quick. It seems a tad breathless on the climb and struggles out of tighter turns. True, there are only a few hundred clicks on this car but it doesn't seem to have the guts and grunt of the Fiesta. Doesn't sound as good, either, from the inside. Slightly muted with a bit of raspy induction on boost but not much in the way or burble or bassline.
It rides beautifully though: supple, taut, smothering the bumps, allowing a bit of roll but dealing with rapid direction changes well and never once feeling lurchy or wallowy. The six-speed box is light and accurate which pretty well describes the steering, too though the latter is not hugely feelsome.
There isn't that window of exploitable adjustability that the Fiesta ST offers, that mild dose of oversteer that allows you to trim your line and also that makes you feel like the key factor in the driving experience.
Life on the edge
I like cars that encourage you to push your own abilities and reward with an extra layer of involvement. A bit of an edge. It's what hot Peugeots always had in spades. But perhaps educating young hot shoes by hurling them backwards into hedges isn't the done thing any more. So although there is a lot to commend dynamically, it doesn't blow my frock up or set my pulse racing like the Fiesta did, and that reference point is there at the back of my mind all the time, nagging away.
The interior is nice, the seats huggy and kit levels good. I like the little steering wheel and dials set above it allowing your focus on the road ahead. The splashes of chrome, the alloy pedals and the leather trim all lift the ambience nicely and add to the premium feel. It's a bit more grown up than the Fiesta. A bit classier. A bit pricier, too, at £18,895 (compared to the entry-level ST at £16,995). Peugeot hopes to sell 10,000 per year.
new Clio, but the general consensus among those that had was that the Pug is the better all-round machine. Nicer to drive, more engaging. And as the day progresses and the miles rack up I find I like the GTI more and more. It's quick, stable and incredibly exploitable. On roads that threw ice, snow, water and broken surfaces at us, the 208 never once showed a spiteful side or felt like it was inclined to punish driver error. Even with the ESP off it was reluctant to spin away power and its light weight (just 1,160kg or so) translated to good agility on the switchbacks.
Is the 208 worthy of its GTI badge? I want to say yes. It's a good car. Really good. But not, for me at least, a great car. And so, although I'm impressed, I'm also disappointed. Disappointed that this Pug GTI isn't quite what I hoped it to be. Disappointed, perhaps, that this new age of hot hatches might not be the golden age we all wanted it to be. Expectations can do funny things to you, I guess, and I'm as keen as anybody to see the Pug in a UK group test and find out how it measures up toe-to-toe with its rivals. But right now, if it was my choice, and the driving experience was what mattered most, I'd be opting for the Fiesta.
PEUGEOT 208 GTI
Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cyl, turbo, direct-injection
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 200@5,800rpm
Torque (lb ft): 203@1,700rpm
0-62mph: 6.8 sec
Top speed: 143mph