Tuesday 20 March 2018

Cars made to channel your inner teen

Hot hatches from Peugeot and Ford hit home

Geraldine herbert

This is the type of car that sets teenage boys' pulses racing. Think of it as the motoring equivalent of Selena Gomez, and while I'm no teenage boy, I adore this car.

My colleague Campbell Spray probably thinks he still is and that's why he's driving the Ford Fiesta ST – but he can tell his own story.

Peugeot's new 208 GTi has all the dramatic styling of the iconic 205 GTi with subtle curves, streamlined profile and oblique headlights. All the visual GTI cues are there, including a chequered-flag type grille, a rear spoiler, new headlamps with LED and bigger alloys – but it's a lesson in in restrained minimalism when you park it next to its rival, the Fiesta ST. This screams for attention in an almost deafening "pick me, pick me" Shrek donkey impression. Aggressively styled, the ST sports a body kit, large alloy wheels, boot spoiler and a lowered suspension.

The 208 uses the same 1.6-litre engine that drives the Mini Cooper S. The original 205 may have used a larger 1.9 engine but this one is more powerful with 197bhp, a zero-to-100 speed of 6.7 seconds and a top speed of 240km. The Fiesta, in contrast, has 20bhp less and gets the 1.6-litre EcoBoost turbo-charged unit. The 2005 ST was powered by a 2.0-litre, naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine.

The 208 is hugely spacious inside and there are some beautiful details, including the red detailing on the seat belts and the red stitching on the dash. On the standard 208 the driving position is not great but here it's vastly improved and the sports seats are really comfortable.

Ford has paid much less attention to their interior and apart from the beautifully supportive Recaro seats, there is nothing distinctly sporty about it. We would have liked a few more sporty touches to distinguish it from the virtually identical dash borrowed from the standard Fiesta.

Looks may not be part of the Fiesta's allure but when that intoxicating low grumble of the EcoBoost engine emanates from the tailpipes all is forgiven. Put your foot to the floor and it's obvious Ford knows a thing or two about making humble cars go fast. On the right road, it's one of the best hot hatches in a very long time but when you're not the ride is choppy and you are reminded that the ST version of the Fiesta is a very firm car. Take it on a twisty back road and what this car is capable of becomes apparent. There is unbelievable grip, incredible handling and a steering wheel that simply speaks to you.

The Peugeot 208 is also a revelation on the road, the wider track, stiffer suspension and better steering all combining to transform the 208 into a vastly better car than the standard one. It's so controlled and beautifully weighted that you can almost forget this is a GTi. But this is no slouch – power can be summoned instantly but in a restrained and composed manner. This is one very obedient car.

The six-speed manual gearbox is slick but the steering is a little light and not as involving as we would have liked.

We had a Fiesta ST2 priced at €27,260. Strip out the extras (LED daytime running lights, leather trim on the Recaro seats and push-button start) and with an ST1 model you can be on the road for €25,760.

The Peugeot 208GTi comes in at €27,995 but the overall spec is better, with leather sports seats, LED daytime running lights and leather-trimmed steering wheel all as standard. Fuel consumption on both cars is 47.9mpg and emissions are 139g/km for the GTi and 138g/km for the ST, so motor tax is €280 per year.

These are two of the best hot hatches to come along in years. The Peugeot is a car you could live with on a daily basis and it would deliver fun and comfort in equal measure. But the Fiesta just shades it in sharpness. My head yearns for the subtle sophistication and sheer comfort of the Peugeot 208 GTi, but my heart wants the Fiesta. It's exactly what you expect from a hot hatch, from the exhaust note, the razor sharp handling to the masses of torque.

The Peugeot may be a grown up hot hatch but my inner teenage craves the Fiesta. It left me wanting more.

Contributing editor Geraldine Herbert is the motoring columnist with Irish Country Magazine. She is also editor of wheelsforwomen and of Motoring Life

Irish Independent

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