There's a well-worn adage that if it looks right, it probably is. Look through the history of machines and picture the first B-2 Bomber, the Porsche 911, the Ferrari 250 Testarossa, the P-51 Mustang, the McLaren-Honda MP4/4. All of them striking and beautiful even to the non-enthusiasts eye. Whether that matters is irrelevant, for they were all built to destroy their opposition.
You can add to that list the geometrical and impossibly square, Peugeot 205 GTi. Boxy, tapered, and nary a curved line to be found, all blended into a perfectly proportional automobile. Fitted with a choice of a 1.6-liter engine or a torquier 1.9, its short wheelbase agility and ultra light curb weight of under 900 kilograms made it quite a sensational recipe for a pure driver's car. While it is no secret that Peugeot did not invent the hot hatch, they are credited to at least half of the truly great ones.
If you look at life with a dose of La Vie En Rose, you can argue that driver's cars from that era were purer because their makers did not bother with safety and emission regulations. They didn't need to make space for airbags, traction control systems, and the rest of the boring stuff that only effectively add weight. No one had to appease the environmental organizations with cars that emit exhaust gases with less carbon foot print than the air that you and I inhale.
Hot Hatch Hero
This is why more than 33 years later, after numerous incarnations of successors and battles with Volkswagen's Golf GTI and Renault's 5 Turbo, the original 205 GTi is still hailed as one of the best hot hatches in the world. So can this new 208 GTi, with its 1.6-liter greenhouse-friendly engine and electronic-aid geekiness, bring back the magic of its glory days?
The Allure of Motion.
The answer is, NO. If you are looking for that peppy and weightless car that made you wish for time to stand still, while you attack some endless twisties, then you are best putting this aside and sourcing out a pre-loved 205 GTi. Your iPod connected to Bluetooth speakers can never re-create the sound of a 12-inch vinyl record spinning tunes through a tube amplifier. It is no different in this case.
However, if you accept that the world has indeed changed and a modern GTi is available to you, this may spark your interest. While it may not have the single-mindedness of the original 205 GTi, it is by far a more complete car. From a design point, it is good looking, but it does not possess the aura of purpose that the original car had or the theater of the 308 GTi. This looks like every other European hatchback on a little dose of steroids and some war paint.
"The pure sporting DNA may be buried in a sea of electronics and practicality, but taunt it enough and it reveals its roots."
Many seem to miss out on the ingenuity of Peugeot's designs. Upon first glance, it is unapologetically small, but as soon as you invite people to hop in the rear, the amount of space you discover baffles the mind. I can easily throw in two people at the back, and if I told them that we were heading to Subic right this minute, their comfort would not be anything to worry about. In fact, there is more rear legroom and space at the back of this 3-door hatchback than a 5-door Ford Focus, I kid you not. The seats are great too. They're nicely bolstered and keep you in place when you toss the car around corners, but they're padded generously to make driving long distances an absolute breeze.
The driving position and cabin design may throw you off on the onset, but as your mind and body settle in, you'll find that it's very adaptable. The steering wheel is tiny, and given the driving position, you can easily manage a single lock to lock motion without any interruption. The pedals don't leave much space for footwork, so you'll have to work a little bit harder for those heel-and-toe shifts. The on-board computer system is a step up from the dated 508, but it's a far more confusing system to operate than what's currently installed on the newer 308. Also, there is no excuse for having halogen headlights when they are bolted inside projector lenses and wrapped in intricate LED daytime running lights.
"The gearbox has a long throw, which doesn't feel cohesive when you're holding such a small steering wheel. Thankfully, it looks like a Power Ranger's leg, which makes it forgivable."
Driving this hot hatch is a load of fun with its engaging and nimble nature. The 1.6-liter engine has a healthy 200 horses, which is good for a 0-100 km/h sprint time of just 6.8 seconds and a terminal velocity of 230 km/h. It makes a decent noise with the occasional turbo hiss, but it could be louder and raspier. I wanted the engine to pull me into the experience, but somehow it didn't. This 208 GTi takes corners with integrity and grip, but once you tickle its limit, it does have the tendency to run you wide with understeer.
The steering feel could use a little bit more weight too. The gearbox has a long throw, which doesn't feel cohesive when you're holding such a small steering wheel. Thankfully, it looks like a Power Ranger's leg, which makes it forgivable. Strangely, it is satisfying to use. After all, there's nothing like a performance car with a proper stick. It is such a scarcity these days. Rowing through the gears is like reuniting and playing fetch with your favorite dog who no longer lives with you. It's a sensory thing that makes one's heart expand.
Acceleration of Emotion.
If you are expecting a raw and unhinged experience that teases you to clip every apex of every corner on your way home from work, then this car may let you down. You are much better off with a Toyota 86 or a Mazda MX-5. However, if you want a comfortable car that can do all the mundane things like dropping your kids off at school, driving yourself to work, and doing the grocery runs with your wife, this is the car for you - because there will come a day when the sun will shine a little bit brighter and you are going to fancy a drive.
And believe me, quirks and all, this car will thrill and deliver. You can very well bomb through the expressway and blast through tight and twisty mountain passes like its nobody's business. Get the corner right, and the car will fire you out of it grinning like a little child. The pure sporting DNA may be buried in a sea of electronics and practicality, but taunt it enough and it reveals its roots. The 208 GTi is so capable when you need the performance, yet so docile when you just want to breeze on by. It does everything supremely well with a double shot of French flair. Now who would say no to that?
The Elegance In Sport.