Peugeot 208 GTI 30th: Review

The Peugeot 208 GTI 30th is not that GTI. Of course it isn't. Despite the name, the evocative badges and Peugeot rolling out another heritage example, this isn't a reincarnation. You want a 205?Buy a 205. There's nothing else like it and there never will be. If you want an excellent modern hot hatch though, you really should look at a 208 30th. At least while they're for sale. It's absolutely fantastic.

Normal colours also available. Phew
Normal colours also available. Phew
Peugeot's launch strategy for the GTI 30th was quite clever. It brought both the standard GTI and the 30th to 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.

30th sits 10mm lower with wider tracks too
30th sits 10mm lower with wider tracks too
It's one of those cars that impresses within the first few hundred metres, particularly with the impression of the standard car so fresh. The steering has more weight, there's a load more traction and the brakes are a world away in terms of feel and performance. Hitting the middle pedal at the same points around the circuit not only pulls you up far more swiftly but gives a load more confidence in where you will stop too. On a wet circuit their outright power probably wasn't stretched but the impression was certainly that they should stand up in the dry very well too.

Limited slip
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...

Rear more than willing to play if you are
Rear more than willing to play if you are
Praise be to the overlords of oversteer, the GTI 30th wants to play. The standard car does too but the increased precision and composure of the 30th makes it a vastly more enjoyable experience. It's one button to disable the ESP and then you're off. Not literally.

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.

Whizz bang
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.

A fitting tribute to the icon. Really
A fitting tribute to the icon. Really
Given this is a £22K Peugeot 208 the way it makes you feel inside needs to be discussed as well. The seats are great, grabbing in the right places and contributing to a pretty good driving position. The wheel/dial relationship remains an acquired taste (I found it OK, others abhor it) but the cabin is certainly nicer than you'll find in a Fiesta ST. As well it should be for so much more money.

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.

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
MPG: 52.3mpg
CO2: 125g/km
Kerbweight: 1,185kg
Price: £21,995

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!











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Comments (40) Join the discussion on the forum

  • TheDoggingFather 03 Dec 2014

    It's a shame that there are so few of these being built. It would be nice to see Peugeot back in contention with the Hot Hatch brigade.

  • soxboy 03 Dec 2014

    If it is a true homage to the original why not call the regular one a 208gti '16' and the hotter one a 208gti '19'?Nice bit of differentiation between the two, just like before.

    And please lose the paintjob, it is truly awful.

  • DeltonaS 03 Dec 2014

    Like it, also good to see they ditched most of the chroom bits on the car.

    And to top it all off; Peugeot should introduce a 208 Gti-R with the 265 HP 1.6 turbo and a wider S2000 body kit.

  • X5TUU 03 Dec 2014

    As much as I love French motors and hot hatches I can't help but think that this will (no matter how outstanding it may be) depreciate like any other French hatch. Very very few have been able to maintain a decent residual, and it's only when 20-25+ yrs old people seem to re-appreciate them and prices increase

    And what were they thinking with that paint, it's blatantly awful!

  • ajh38 03 Dec 2014

    Would love to have a go in one of these, I even like that paint job too!

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