September 09, 2014 @ 04:17 PM

Peugeot 208 GTi tested – small and extremely hot

Don’t let its small package fool you, this one is explosively potent. Peugeot finally fights back Words: Chris Ng

Don’t let its small package fool you, this one is explosively potent. Peugeot finally fights back
Words: Chris Ng
No one is giving this car a second glance. Not a single human eyeball has swiveled in my direction for all of the five minutes that I have been stationary, stuck in midday downtown traffic, with pedestrians taking advantage of the blocked artery to cross from one mall to the next across the road. I see people from all walks of life march in front of the Lion-emblemed bonnet. Locals, mostly. Ah, a tourist just gave me a thumbs-up after taking a glance at the grille. But largely, this car is sitting here, unassuming.
There are no obnoxiously flared fenders or gaudy daytime running lights. There’s no big wing glued to the rear; it’s probably there more for show than anything else. In fact, those not in the know couldn’t have possibly spotted the difference between the 208 GTi and the non-GTi cars, which have seemingly invaded nearly every urban nook and cranny. 
The lack of any obvious visual impact lets this car fly under the radar. Good, it means that I can amble about my business – in the city and highway – without being harassed by raving mad drivers going at speeds that their ‘hot-up’ compact cars have no business in. As if they have something important to prove, possibly their manhood.
What they don’t know is behind that chequered flag-inspired grille hides a powerful engine. But, this one does not follow the rule of old – take a huge 2.0-litre engine and then squeeze it into the tiny aperture that is the compact hatch’s engine bay. And voila, a hot hatch is born. Those days are long gone and with downsizing very much in-fashion, the 208 GTi moves with a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine. 
Wind it up to 1,700rpm and the engine will catapult the car with 275Nm of twist. The twin scroll turbo spools, forcing air into the combustion chambers with almost no hesitation. Once the engine spins at 5,000 revolutions per minute, the engine would have forced all of its 200 horses down to the axles, ending at the sticky 17-inch rubbers. And once you slide the gear into first and drop the clutch, the whole affair of getting to 100kph from zero is over in 6.8 seconds. 
The GTi also has the proper gearbox; in fact, it only comes with that gearbox and nothing else. It is a six-speed close ratio manual transmission. Which means three pedals. Which means working that left leg. Which means this car will be a low-volume seller and those who buys the GTi knows what they are getting themselves into.
Still, all the excitement is lost in traffic. The city’s infrastructure is undergoing an upgrade and I can’t help but to wonder how different Kuala Lumpur will be. Till then, I am no quicker than the Kelisa that has just pulled up beside me. The situation isn’t that bad, just up ahead are traffic lights that would release me from this gridlock. Till then, the centre seven-inch LCD screen will keep me entertained.
I must say that this one integrates nicely into the centre console, appearing to be part of the interior furniture instead of an individual floating-screen-style that many car companies are embracing. It’s interactive and has widgets that actually dazzles when you engage with it.
Red highlights a black interior. The centre air-conditioning vents, bucket seats, steering, gear knob and the meter cluster host the crimson hue, with the door panels opting for a more gradient tone. It’s a matter of taste, really; some like it while most will come to get used to it.
You’ll also get used to the rather compact interior, which real estate agents would likely describe the space available as cosy. It is to be expected from this three-door hatch. The rear is tight, even for small humans and the lack of bigger portholes induce claustrophobia. So the amount of legroom the 2,538mm wheelbase affords is mostly for the people at the front and even so, movement is somewhat restricted.
Slip into the bucket seats and you are immediately moulded into the ideal driving position. Your feet is guided to the aluminium pedals and your arms’ are quickly ushered forward, restricting movement to only the important parts like the centre console, the aluminium gear knob or the steering wheel and its stalks. Because once the roads open, you’d want to be in a stance that would allow for efficient control of the car.
I put Kuala Lumpur behind me and instinctively make a beeline for more open roads. The highway is great but it only serves as a means to a windy-road end. If the GTi had blistering acceleration, then the mid-range push is even more impressive. From 80kph, the GTi needs another 6.8 seconds to reach 120kph. And if Peugeot’s claims are to be believed, then the GTi is able to chew and spit out one thousand meters worth of tarmac every 27 seconds. Which is near impossible considering there are numerous road-hoggers patrolling the highways any time of the day.
Soon enough I find my favourite set of bends. I’ve been here plenty of times and in numerous other sports cars; it doesn’t get tiring. More so with this one. Drop gear to third and I start the long incline. The revs and speed climbs quickly, seemingly brushing aside the fact that this hill is actually steep. It then crests into a series of sharp corners. I stay in third. 
Focus returns to the steering wheel. It guides the car with scalpel like precision – was I expecting less? The impossibly short overhang means the front never runs far ahead nor the rear left trailing behind. It is one compact shell that warps from apex to apex, with the firm chassis keeping things on the level. The suspension and tyres shovels plenty of bitey grip, although the rubber squealing suggests that I am close to the edge.
The road straightens and I shift to fourth. Fifth. Then sixth just for the fun of it, although I know that the revs would have dropped below any usable range. In one deft flick of the wrist, the gear is back in forth. Movement between the gates is creamy and slotting it into the next ratio yields a mechanical sensation that is actually satisfying. The manual gearbox lets you get more intimate with the car than a dual clutch gearbox could, even though the automatic is quicker on the shift. The short shift nature of the gearbox more than makes up for it, although still not quite as punchy.  Oh well.
More to the point, the darting response of the GTi has more to do with the willingness of the car working with you. Its quick response lets you know how it will exactly behave. Yes, the GTi has its set of anti-slip systems but it never juggles itself in rudely, or ever. Which in turn, encourages you to be a little faster on the straights and a little quicker in the corners. Now that is fun.
With that said, you don’t need to point the GTi’s nose up a mountain just to wring some fun out of it. The car doesn’t need B-roads to come alive; it is just as rewarding to amble across politely in a congested city. And that’s the great thing about little blistering hatches like this. You get everyday usability with the option to go crazy whenever the mood strikes. What a firecracker this Peugeot 208 GTi turned out to be; this one will leave a mark. 

On Sale

RM136,115.50 without insurance

1,598cc, twin scroll turbo with high pressure, direct injection, inline 4, DOHC, 16 valves, VTI, 200bhp@5800rpm, 275Nm@1700-4500rpm

6-speed close ratio manual gearbox, front-wheel drive

6.8secs 0-100kph, 230kph, 5.9l/100km

Connect to Car Magazine : Malaysian Edition! Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

Editor's Choice