Vince Pornelos / Patrick De Guzman Cardano | June 17, 2015 11:00
Enter The Hot Hatchback
Three letters that mean something to automotive enthusiasts, as these three letters signify that a particular car wasn't meant just to get someone from point A to B... it was meant to do it while painting a wide smile on the driver's face.
Such is the case for this: the 2015 Peugeot 208 GTi, the direct descendant of the legendary Peugeot 205 GTi hot hatchback of World Rally Championship and Pikes Peak fame.
Walking up to the Peugeot 208 GTi for the first time, it's easy to see why this car is so special; it just evokes the definition of hot hatchback at first glance. The GTi is actually the sportiest version of Peugeot's three door 208 and as such there are sporting details all around like the GTi badging all around, the lower ride height (compared to the standard 208) thanks to the more aggressive suspension and the larger and wider wheels. It's still a 208 with those highly detailed headlamps with LED running lamps, the subcompact dimensions and more, but this is no ordinary hatchback.
Pop open the driver's door and a seat bolstered for spirited driving is ready to hold you in place, along with seatbelts with a red pinstripe running along the center. The dashboard is very nicely designed and lined with leather with double red stitching for a sporty effect. Instead of monotone accent panels for the center console and inside door handles, Peugeot used ones that faded from black to red; quite cool.
It's a small car, so don't expect much space in the back seat for adults; its fine for kids if you have them. Trunk space is decent and the back seat can be folded to accommodate larger stuff; just don't try to cram in a bike. Features wise, this 208 GTi has every thing you need; apart from the standard power features, this hot hatch comes with a touchscreen audio system with USB, Bluetooth and Auxiliary input, as well as a dual zone climate control system, cruise control, automated parallel parking, parking sensors, and many more. Yes, this hot hatch can be conveniently used to get groceries, drop the kid (or kids) off at school and more.
In front of the driver is a very meaty steering wheel, one that offers plenty of grip for driving, tying in nicely with the steel shift knob and the steel pedals. Nice as those details are, there are some niggles with the ergonomics. The driver's vision of the cool gauge cluster gets partially blocked by steering wheel even in the proper driving position given the angle of the steering column. Only when I set the steering tilt to a low position that's almost on my lap does the gauge become fully visible. Also the shift knob has a tendency to get very hot if you happen to park under the sun; the angle and size of the windshield puts direct sunlight on it. Doesn't matter though, as it makes for a perfect excuse to whip out a pair of racing gloves while the wife rolls her eyes beside me.
At the heart of this car is a 1.6-liter direct injection turbocharged motor with variable valve timing. The engine is actually derived from BMW's “Prince” powerplants, the same ones used in the previous generations of the MINI but have been tuned to produce 200 PS and 275 Newton meters of torque. Being a hot hatch, this 208 GTi drives its front wheels via a 6-speed manual gearbox. This should be fun.
Twist the key and the 208 GTi's engine springs to life; a low rumble indicating that it's ready. Fuel economy is surprisingly good in the city, returning 9.1 kilometers to the liter (19 km/h average). Ride comfort and noise control is good as well; surprising aspects for a car that has sport suspension.
Now for the fun part. Launch the car in first gear and the Michelins up front can easily be lit up; there's a hint of torque steer but it's always so very manageable. From a standstill you can start to get speeding tickets past 6.9 seconds (0-100 km/h) and a top speed of 230 km/h can be achieved, but we won't do that on public roads. Where the GTi truly feels at home, however, is on a back country road, much like the ones we have to the east of the metro.
At full throttle, the 208 GTi's engine goes through its gears very quickly. There's some turbo lag even though it's a twin scroll but when it's does kick in, that tach needle quickly surges all the way up to the redline. The car's light weight, the power, the positive feel of the gearshifts make for acceleration that is simply intoxicating, never failing to widen that smile on my face.
With a corner coming up, I dive on the anchors and watch as the GTi's speedo scrubs off speed just as easily as it gained it. Blip the throttle and the gearstick finds the next lower slot with confidence, so on and so forth, just in time to hit second gear for the corner. On turn in, the electric power steering may not be as communicative as the hydraulic ones, but it is precise, enabling a skilled driver to find the apex each and every time. Once out, just stomp on the accelerator and do it all over again for the next corner, and the next, and the next. That's all there is to it.
Such is the formula for a fun hot hatchback. Peugeot took what would have been a standard city car and turned up the heat with the look, the suspension, the engine and more, so much so that I wish we had the MINI Cooper S (which we get), the Ford Fiesta ST (which we don't get), the Renaultsport Clio (which we also don't get) and Volkswagen Polo GTI (seeing a pattern here?) just so we can benchmark it.
Personally, at PhP 1,950,000, the 208 GTi is a more premium and more practical alternative to many of the small sports coupes in the market today. Yes, it's front wheel drive, but I wouldn't be surprised if it can take many of them head on.