It is amazing the loyalty that an iconic car of almost 30 years ago can create. As the order book for the new Peugeot 208 GTi opens, the first name is that of a Dubliner, Alan Johnston, whose fascination with his 205 GTi in 1985 started a love story that has endured to this day. Alan, an Irish karting champion of the '70s, has also been the proud owner of 206 GTi, a 207 GTi, and now the latest in the hot-hatch super mini is a "must" – although he has never sat behind the wheel.
"He is a true fan of our GTi performance cars and has never been disappointed," says marketing manager Emma Toner of Gowan Distributors, the Peugeot importers. She is planning a special handing-over ceremony when the car arrives here next month. And after a launch test drive, all the indications are that he should not be disappointed as this is the best ever GTi offering from the PSA stable.
Based on the new 208 model, voted Continental Small Car of the Year 2013, which now represents over 7 per cent of its segment, the GTi version is powered by the hugely successful 1.6-litre, direct-injection twin turbo engine born out of collaboration between PSA and BMW.
In the GTi kit, it is tuned to put out 200 bhp, develop 270 nm of torque at an early 1700 rpm and give a top speed of 230km/h. It comes in at 139 gms/km of C02, which gets it into a relatively low Band B road tax and VRT bracket, although it can return a sprint time of 6.8 seconds from 0-100kms. Because of the lightweight construction, it is 90kgs lighter than the 207 hot-hatch, Peugeot claims a very reasonable 5.9L/100 (47.8 mpg) return on fuel consumption. But the 10 punters expected to make a purchase this year will relish the performance figures more than the statistics on economy.
Power comes through a slick 6-speed manual gearbox. There is not an option of an automatic transmission, which realistically would take a lot of the fun from a driver not in direct control of the revs on hill climbs and sharp corners. The new model comes with a 5-star NCAP safety rating and gives a sure-footed performance on the 17" black alloys. The electric power steering gives a good feel for the road and the strengthened springs and suspensions and the extra-wide track combine to give a grip like glue on high-speed cornering. At times there is a small bit of body roll, but even on full power it can smooth out over-enthusiastic driver behaviour. For those seeking extra thrills, the ESP can be turned off.
Inside the cabin, the GTi styling gives an upmarket feel with reasonable space upfront, although space is tighter in the rear.
Controls are well placed but a niggle here is that the low-set steering wheel gets in the way of the speed and rev counter display on the panel. There are red flashes of metal in the stitched leather dash to add a dash of colour and the leather seats are reinforced to give a good cushioned body grip. The dual exhaust system has been tuned to give a sporty hum but the cabin is so well insulated it is only when outside the car that the full effect is appreciated.
The outer styling is understated with only a few tweaks to identify its GTi pedigree, but the squat, hunched look does give the impression of power and speed. There is a good blend of common sense and excitement in both the engineering and the design and this is the car's strong point.
There is nothing fussy about the handling and it is just as pleasant to drive in tame urban surroundings as burning rubber in wilder territory. Owners can justify their purchase by reasoning that, while it is a performance car, it is also ideal for everyday use. In the market place, it will meet strong competition from models such as the new Ford Fiesta ST, the Renault Clio RS and some of the high-powered MINI models.
The GTi is due here next month and is expected to come with Park Assist, front and rear parking sensors, heated leather seats, an upgraded entertainment system and a full roof-length fixed sunroof. The price is set at €27,995 ex-works, and while the exact specification has not yet been decided, customers can pick their preferences to customise their car.
The Gowan Group expects up to 20 sales in a full year.