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AutoCar have taken a spin in the 208 GTI development car....




The new Peugeot 208 GTI, on UK sale next month, and a car given the hefty task of reigniting the flame of the 205 GTI. It is lower and wider than the standard three-door on which it is based, and powered by a turbocharged 197bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine familiar from the more potent RCZ and DS3 models that, Peugeot says, will propel it from 0-62mph in less than 7.0sec.

GTI chassis changes over a standard 208 include tracks that are 10mm wider at the front and 20mm wider at the rear. The MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear suspension has also been tuned for ""an incisive driving experience""�. It has sports springs, recalibrated dampers, revised anti-roll bars and enhanced front subframe and rear cross-member rigidity. The steering has been tuned to increase firmness.

Other additions include bespoke 17-inch ""˜Diamond Carbon' alloy wheels that are painted and finished in a matt varnish. The wheels wear 204/45 tyres and cover 302mm ventilated discs at the front and 249mm discs at the rear. The brakes are cooled by 'dynamic air intakes'.

The light weight of the standard 208 has enabled a kerb weight of just 1160kg for the GTI. That's 80kg lighter than the Renault Clio 200 and 165kg lighter than the 207 GTI, which was last on sale in the UK three years ago.




What is it like?
Let's be clear: this is a pre-production, final-spec 208 GTI prototype, so we'll have to wait until next week for a drive in the absolute final specification car.

When I get behind the wheel, I'm gripping a typically-208 small, low-set steering wheel, covered here in leather whose red stitching is echoed on the dashboard, on the aluminium-look handbrake's grip, in illuminated red accents around the high-set dials, on the seat panels' patterns and in a fade-out on the door-trim inserts.

With the prominently-bolstered seats and a feeling of sitting 'in' the car, not 'on' it, the controversial 208 driving position works quite well here. Starting is by a normal key, and you don't have to depress the clutch pedal first: how deliciously simple and transparent.




There's plenty of accelerative energy, not explosive but amply muscular. The throttle response is keen enough to disguise the slight turbo lag at low engine speeds, and overtaking is a throttle-squirt away. This example's six-speed gearshift, controlled via an overstyled aluminium gear knob, isn't the sweetest, though; production cars should be better here.

Crunch time. How does it handle? Well, it gets better the harder you go. The steering can feel a touch anaesthetised around the centre, but past that point the front wheels bite well into a bend. And, vitally, this GTI rides nicely, copes well with undulating roads and deals with bumps tautly but with compliant damping. There's a responsive, all-of-a-piece feeling to go with the throttle-reactive balance.

But""¦ Engineers have stressed the importance of a credible build-up of steering weight when cornering, and they think they have achieved it. I don't think there's enough of it, and that makes it hard to assess the load and the remaining grip on the front wheels. That's why I crave a little more initial bite and response, in order to telegraph how well the front wheels have hooked into the road.

And the engine? It has a deep, keen exhaust note but there's little aural excitement from under the bonnet. Greater amusement comes from the divided, trapezoidal tailpipe, which emits tasty fluffs and sputters as the throttle is feathered.

Should I buy one?
Maybe today's buyers really don't want such garrulous communication as was made available by the 205 GTI, and it's unfair to judge Peugeot's newest GTI against those particular standards of its oldest. But feeling connected to the car is the best feeling a hot-hatch driver can have and the 208 GTI, though a very encouraging effort, isn't quite there given the legacy of what went before.

A little more work on the steering mapping should do it ""“ and the key will be discovering if the car has progressed further between this test and the final specification run. The 208 GTI, lest we forget, also has the new Ford Fiesta ST and Renault Clio Renaultsport 200, EPAS-steered both, to contend with.

For now my verdict is that this fastest 208 is a credible GTI if not a perfect one. How it stacks up against its new peers will be fascinating to discover, but my initial impression is that it is in with a shout of eclipsing the Renault at least.

For the full drive story of the 208 GTI, plus comparison with the 205 GTI, read this week's Autocar magazine, on sale today.


Edited by: Dan
 
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