A million or so years ago, when glaciers extended down form the North Pole, seasonal melt waters seeped slowly through tiny cracks and fissures. When the ice receded the natural limestone beneath had been eroded away leaving behind a scar in the earth nearly 500ft deep. Then we came along, named the gorge after a type of cheese and proceeded to build a road right up the middle of it. For this we should be truly thankful because the B3135 up Cheddar Gorge is the perfect place to test the new Peugeot 208GTi.
Under normal circumstances the 208 is a small hatchback that looks nice, is economical and reasonably practical. It’s not the biggest car in the world, it’s a squeeze for adults to sit in the back, but even the base model comes with all the equipment you need and with prices from a smidge over £11,500 they’re good value for money.
The GTi isn’t a normal 208 though. For a start, the “mid-range” Prestige model I tested will set you back £20,000 and sitting in insurance group 32 will inevitably push up the premiums – by comparison, the base model previously mentioned is in group 7. This 208 is a lot more expensive so Peugeot need to squeeze a lot of value into a small package? Luckily that must be what they’ve done because I really miss this little car. Actually, that’s not true, what I really miss is the way it made me feel. For one week I drove everywhere with my trousers on fire and my right foot encased in concrete. It was absolutely brilliant!
You can tell at first glance that this isn’t a regular 208. It’s lower, wider and more aggressive looking than the other models but because it’s still a small car it’s not over the top. The GTi badging is clear yet subtle, the spoilers and wheel arches are nicely sculpted and the 17″ Carbone Onyx black alloy wheels are simply fantastic. There are also some nice design touches around the lights and the chrome on the wing mirrors and twin exhaust give the GTi something to show off on a sunny day. The only thing I didn’t like was the colour. Of the available paint options I could recommend any of them except “Orange Power” – It’s too red to be orange and too orange to be red, the end result being a slightly muddy colour that resembles neither and does the car no favours whatsoever.
On the inside you get incredibly comfy (and heated) sports seats finished in black leather and cloth with red stitching and an embossed GTi logo, a panoramic roof, SatNav and 7″ touchscreen to control the usual array of technology. The leather steering wheel feels just right and everything is easily within reach. Despite being obviously designed as a hot hatch the 208GTi is quite a grown up place to sit. There are hints of bling in the red LED instrument surround and aluminium door sills but it doesn’t feel like Peugeot were trying too hard, they got the balance just right.
Not that any of the above really matters. Anybody choosing a GTi is doing so for one reason only – A GTi should be a bit more hair-raising than its tamer brethren. The 208 isn’t the biggest hot hatch on the road but it’s no slouch. Stuffing 208bhp into a small car is guaranteed to be fun and a top speed of 143mph, with 60 coming in 6.5 seconds, means the Peugeot is more than capable of delivering a great deal of excitement. The GTi also sports a pair of chunky Brembo brakes with ventilated disks on the front so slowing down for the twisty bits isn’t overly dramatic.
Threading the 208GTi through the hairpins and around the meandering packs of vaguely suicidal sheep that litter Cheddar gorge is a marvellous way to waste an hour or two of your life. It launches itself at the straight bits with an enthusiasm that flirts with lunacy but never crosses the line and will reward you with a trip to the outer reaches of your comfort zone. It tackles the corners with equal fun and changes direction really neatly so there’s no sense of being too close to the limit of the tyres. It’s surprising how much speed this little car can generate in a relatively short stretch of road and its slick 6-speed manual gearbox is a delight to shift.
Speaking of gears, having 6 of them really is the perfect match for the 208. It means that you can redline it up the gorge with the barks and howls echoing off the cliffs and then take it out on the motorway and still get 60mpg. To get the thrills of a hot hatch without losing too much on economy is a bit of a bonus and I think that’s where this car fits in. It’s going to be expensive to insure the younger driver but if you’ve reached the point where you’ve built up a decade or more of no-claims bonus the premiums will be much more reasonable. That being the case I think the Peugeot might be one of the best choices for a second car out there. Of course it’s expensive and it won’t be to everyone’s taste but the 208 GTi just makes you happy and that’s worth every penny.