Les Circuits de L'Ouest Parisien which are, er, just west of Paris to allow a proper back-to-back test. How better to highlight Peugeot Sport's modifications than with a direct comparison at the same place at the same time?
The 208 GTI is certainly a good car. It lacks the outright exuberance of a Fiesta ST but it's quick, agile and good fun while retaining a fairly supple side that is so evidently missing from the Ford.
30 times better?
With a more accomplished base product, the change from 208 GTI to 30th is arguably less pronounced than from RCZ 200 to RCZ R. Having said that the improvements remain marked, tangible and wholly positive. Just as relevantly, they turn an enjoyable car into an absolute riot.
The full extent of the changes can be read here but essentially the 30th is a lower (by 10mm), wider (by 22mm at the front and 16mm at the back), faster (8hp and 18lb ft up) GTI with a Torsen limited-slip diff and the option of that godawful Coupe Franche paint. That brief summary undersells Peugeot Sport's detailed overhaul though as the cumulative effect is frankly quite shocking.
Having a track that was never less than greasy really highlighted the benefits of a real limited-slip differential in a front-wheel drive car. The 208's locks in a less vicious fashion than on something like a Renaultsport Megane but there is no doubting its effectiveness. Indeed as the same unit as found in the RCZ R the behaviour is unsurprisingly familiar. You can't simply mat the accelerator and hold on but there's just so much more precision to the front end, augmented as well by the Michelin Pilot Super Sports in place of the normal Pilot Exaltos. There is still some understeer and wheelspin but you as the driver feel so much more on top of it, rather than sort of loosely guiding the front wheels in the GTI. The 30th feels much tauter, more responsive and just more exciting. Of course the stiffer suspension and changes such as the negative camber increase will contribute also and the net effect is a front end that you can place real faith in. Which leaves the rear axle to concentrate on...
Those new discs allow you stop with so much more conviction going into a corner and a lift at the apex opens up all manner of possibilities. A little one neutralises the car, gets the nose pointing in the diff will haul it out. A big lift and, well, you can see the result in the video from, ooh, about 2:35. I'll admit it was a bit intimidating first time round but you soon learn the car is actually on your side. The steering is fast and the car does move into oversteer quite quickly but it never snaps. The wider tracks and lower ride height really create a discernable improvement, the 30th more planted than the base car, ergo the driver feels inclined to push the limits further with more information coming back about them. Trying the GTI straight after it feels vague and sloppy. So much so in fact that I spun it driving similarly to the 30th. Which says quite a lot really.
Initially the engine comes across simply as a tool with which to reach the next oversteer opportunity. There's a bit more whoosh and a few more pops but no sense of the transformative effect exacted on the chassis and brakes. Again it takes more time in the standard car to appreciate the 30th's improvements. It feels torquier low down which, combined with the improved traction, means you're out of corners so much more quickly. That 18lb ft of additional torque leaves the more lasting impression on performance than the 8hp gain which, in all honesty, I couldn't really detect. Neither GTI felt as revvy as other cars that use this engine though, which is odd. And in a car with such poise and immediacy across all its controls to find a rather long-throw gearbox is quite disappointing. Perhaps the feeling was exacerbated by being sat on the left but it certainly came across as a weak link in the drivetrain.
And that will remain the sticking point for the GTI 30th. Limited edition or not, £22,000 is a lot more than you will pay for any Fiesta. At the same money or even with a slight price advantage in the Ford's favour I would go for the Peugeot. Honestly. But with the prices as they are the Fiesta is the obvious and very good choice. Rather than mark it down for that though let's celebrate the fact that Peugeot has produced a genuinely superb little hot hatch again. The Renaultsport Clio wouldn't get a look in for my money and can the Polo GTI facelift really transform the car?
It seems ludicrous that such a comprehensive raft of tweaks should be limited to so few cars and therefore a series production version, a 208 R perhaps, must surely feature at some point soon. As a regular production model at £20K it would deserve to sell really well. But that's by the by for now. Peugeot is selling a great hot hatch once more and if that isn't a reason for petrolheads nationwide to be happy then I don't know what is.
PEUGEOT 208 GTI 30TH
Engine: 1,598cc four-cyl turbocharged
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive, limited-slip differential
Power (hp): 208hp@5,800rpm
Torque (lb ft): 221lb ft@1,700rpm
0-62mph: 6.5 seconds
Top speed: 143mph
Video here. Please excuse a little overexcitement and that hideous hairnet. We had to wear them. As for crossing arms at the hairpin, it never did feel quite right and looks even worse now!