The world of 200bhp hot hatchbacks used to be rich and diverse. You’ve now but three to choose from, only one of which – the Hyundai i20N – is both thrilling and up-to-date enough to truly warrant a proper glance.
This is a crying shame, as just half a decade ago there was a rich seam. Most buyers opted for the ubiquitous Ford Fiesta ST, and who can blame them? But a select few chose something else entirely: the Peugeot 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport (yes, that is the proper name for it).
I loved these when I drove them new and always swore I’d buy one whenever I next needed something modern and moderately practical. Which is an easy vow to make when you’re nicely coddled in the world of press cars, but a much harder one to live up to when trawling through the classifieds right as used car prices have taken an unexpected upturn, denying you any true bargains. But I did it, and here’s what I’ve found out.
They’re tough to find
At the time of writing, a renowned classifieds site lists 344 Fiesta STs for sale (a mix of sixth and seventh-generation cars, by the way) compared to just 36 Peugeot 208 GTIs, of which a mere five are ‘by Peugeot Sport’ editions. Those all ask for a healthy premium over stock, a recognition of the expansive upgrades Peugeot introduced to turn the competent if overly mature GTI into more of a firecracker.
Dramatically cambered 18in wheels came wrapped in bespoke Michelins, the suspension was lowered and stiffened, an aggressive limited-slip differential sat at the front axle and a pair of bold bucket seats found their way inside. All of which made my slightly arduous hunt around several of the UK’s few less salubrious second-hand car dealers ultimately worth the effort. Phew.
Good sports seats can be the making of a car
While I largely wanted the BPS edition for its diff, it’s been the seats I’ve ended up most thankful for. In truth, this is an unremittingly firm car; the ‘busy’ ride quality that entertained me while I referred small hot hatch twin tests on the job is a little harder to get along with every single day.
But the supremely hugging nature of these sports seats – even with ever so slightly saggy bolsters after seven years and several owners – counteracts its harshness nicely. Add in the Apple CarPlay of the 208’s mid-decade facelift and it makes for an able cruiser, however much of a fuss it makes of our potholed roads. I can spend hours in this thing without a single ache or pain.
You get used to the small ‘wheel
This may be a slight surprise if you’ve ever spent a small amount of time in a modern Peugeot trying to fold your frame around its undersized steering wheel and unusual dials-above-rim layout. Spend night and every day with it, though, and you’ll clamber into other cars wondering why they’ve suddenly placed you at the helm of a seafaring vessel.
The dials are analogue, legible and strip-lit in red in a move that could be corny, but is actually quite charming. And their top-deck positioning negates the need for a complex head-up display, too. A great HUD is a superb bit of tech, but Peugeot’s approach reveals it to be a bit superfluous. Admittedly the darty dynamics of an LSD-equipped hot hatch play more into the hands of a small, reactive rim than the refined gait of a hybrid SUV, but still. I promise you get accustomed to it.
It’s absurdly economical
My need for a fun but ultimately practical everyday car only ever had two options on it. Well, three: the little Pug, or either of the Subaru BRZ/Toyota GT86 double act. But I didn’t test drive a single example of the latter pair, the 208 punching itself to the top of my very literal shortlist for a number of reasons, most of them sensible. I carry around my darling little nephew quite often, and some proper space for his booster seat (and the boy himself) meant a lot to me.
I also recalled getting decent fuel economy out of press GTIs – something around 40mpg whereas the highly strung Japanese pair, with their lack of forced induction, would often sit somewhere in the 30s. In reality, I’m averaging 44mpg on the trip computer – sure, I spend a lot of time traversing major roads, but the figure barely dips when I start having more fun. Comfortably over 300 miles between fuel fills is more than numerous larger hot hatches can claim.
Matte paint gives me the heebie-jeebies
I didn’t specifically want a matte paint example. But with so few Peugeot Sport 208s on sale at any one time, I couldn’t afford to be choosy; I viewed one Coupe Franche (read: black and red two-tone) car where the bonnet had been inadvertently polished shiny, making this grey (well, ‘Ice Silver’) BPS the winner. Looks cool, but washing it triggers my anxiety a right treat and I simply don’t dare trust anyone else with the job.
I suppose breaking the habit of hand car wash stations is a good thing, and Autoglym does a range of matte-friendly shampoos to ease my mind. I’m sure the neighbours get a good laugh out of how quickly me and my bucket dart out of the house at the merest hint of bird mess, though…