Despite the keys to KR67 DHD leaving my hands a while ago now, the time has come for me to finally say farewell. And like Pooh wistfully saying goodbye to Christopher Robin for what could be the last time, I feel hopeful that there's a chance it could come back to play some day.
Although I had a Peugeot as my first car and have fond memories of blasting around in my friend's 205 XS at college, I wouldn't class myself as a Peugeot die-hard. Yet it has been hard to miss the outcry for them to return to their former glory and make an outstanding hot hatch again over the years. I didn't even know they made a 207 GTI; Peugeot just fell off the map completely.
Having driven the 308 GTi by Peugeot Sport two years ago (and thoroughly enjoying it), I had high expectations for 'my' 208. If you haven't quite picked up on it in my previous updates, it has surpassed them and then some. Peugeot absolutely nailed it with this car; it's such a refreshing and rewarding experience yet can go around daily duties with barely any compromise. It's just such a shame that no one noticed and to top it off, you can't buy one anymore. Despite this, I still put off a twin test against the Ford Fiesta ST200 for as long as possible as I was worried I might be taking a knife to a sword fight, given its rival's stellar reputation.
I needn't have worried. Even in ST200 form, I found it underwhelming when driven back to back with the Peugeot. The seating position is too high, the brakes just about adequate, the ride harsh but fairly numb, a rather bland engine and an interior that feels like it should be on a poverty spec Fiesta, not a premium one. Hustling down some of my favourite B-roads with Matt in tow in the 208, it started to make more sense. It was capable enough, but still nowhere near as rewarding as the more hardcore 208. Perhaps driven in isolation it would be more exciting, but the winner was clear to me. Those of you who've read my other fleet articles will know I'm favourable towards a modification or two and I'd like to try a tweaked Fiesta to see if some suspension and brake mods with a map bring it on par with the Peugeot.
But as we're comparing apples with apples here, the 208 is hands down the better car out of the box. Given that you can no longer buy either new, you'll have to take to the classifieds. I've found this 66-plate example in the classifieds for £14,000 with 13k miles on the clock. There aren't actually any ST200s for sale on PH at the moment, but a browse of other well-known sites reveals that the equivalent Ford can also be had for £14,000 with similar miles. And while I'm almost certain the latter would hold its value much better, that isn't enough to steer me in that direction. So there you go, argument settled. In my opinion, at least.
With KR67 DHD even higher up on its pedestal, there's much I'll miss about it. Most of all, that superb limited-slip diff. You instinctively learn not to accelerate hard into a corner in most front-wheel drive cars due to the inherent understeer, but in the Peugeot, just hold on tight and let the diff work its magic as it propels you out the other side. It's a car that's just so rewarding for being driven properly, which is intensified even further on track.
Mash the pedals and flail your arms around and you'll only end up facing backwards; treat it with respect though and learn its limits, and it'll reward you with tail-wagging satisfaction lap after lap. The acceleration feels boosty too rather than the linear power delivery we get in most mainstream turbocharged cars, which I applaud Peugeot for, too. And those four-pot Brembos feel perfectly balanced to the car and can pull it up to a stop at an alarming rate. I grew to love the awkward at first driving position with the diddy steering wheel and still miss it today.
If I remove my rose-tinted glasses though it's not without its flaws. The exhaust can drone on the motorway, the suspension a bit stiff when you're not in the mood, the steering feedback a bit numb, there was that rattle that came and went without diagnosis. The exhaust note wasn't much to write home about either, although this could be part fixed by dropping the back seats and letting the raspy note come through - and it definitely seemed to improve with more miles.
My lifetime average fuel economy was 38mpg, which was a mix of commuting, my track day at Goodwood and plenty of B-road hacks. I've said it before and I'll say it again - this car has reminded me that the perfect recipe for our roads is something around 200hp and 1,200kg. You can drive it hard without doing silly speeds and getting frustrated about not being able to use the power, yet still quick enough to give you a buzz and raise the hairs on the back of your neck.
So if you're in the market for a nearly-new supermini hot hatch, I wholeheartedly recommend that you need to drive a 208 GTI by Peugeot Sport. It's my pick of the bunch and I'm desperate to see what Peugeot come up with next. Will it be as good as the new Fiesta ST equipped with a Quaife diff and a plush new interior? Only time will tell, but I can't wait to find out.
Car: Peugeot 208 GTI by Peugeot Sport
Run by: Ben
On fleet since: November 2017
List price new: £23,550 (As tested £24,250 comprising £250 for Peugeot Connect SOS & Assistance, £250 for Active City Brake and £200 for Reversing Camera)
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