We all had one of those friends who went slightly off the rails during their teenage years.
One minute they're quiet, demure and studious, next thing you know they've got multiple piercings and are skipping classes to steal CDs from JB Hi-Fi. In its latest 30th Anniversary guise, Peugeot's 208 GTi has undergone a similar transformation.
The standard 208 GTi is the sensible member of the mini hot hatch segment. It's quick and very capable, but isn't particularly interested in larking around, it just gets the job done with a minimum of fuss. It's a good car, but we've always found it a bit…uneventful. No such worries with the 208 30th, as even looking at it is an event thanks to the crazy split paint job.
Even without the wacky (optional) colour scheme, there's no mistaking the 30th's sense of purpose. Wider tracks at both ends (22mm front/16mm rear) and half-inch wider wheels give it a far tougher stance than the standard car, and the front wheels have that ever-so-slightly knock-kneed look that speaks of negative camber.
The controversial tiny steering wheel remains, but the new bucket seats are set lower and provide far more lateral support than the standard pews. Power and torque increase slightly to 155kW/300Nm, however in a straight line the 208 30th is little faster than its standard sibling, clocking 6.63sec to 100km/h and a 14.79sec at 158.27km/h, improvements of around three-tenths over the stocker.
However, consider that the 30th lapped Winton 3.9 seconds faster than the standard 208 GTi managed last year and the full effect of Peugeot Sport's extensive chassis modifications becomes clear. Virtually no area has been left untouched, with the suspension lowered and stiffened with revised geometry, larger front brakes (323mm discs with four-piston Brembo calipers) and Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber.
Initially, it's these sticky new tyres that dictate the 208 30th's behaviour. Until sufficient temperature has been generated, the car's aggressive new setup makes it a right handful, with massive oversteer easily provoked.
But whereas something the like Fiesta ST slides its rear in a graceful arc, the 208 oversteers much more rapidly and is more difficult to gather up. A number of the judges had very large moments in the feisty Frenchy, which led to inevitable comparisons with the 205 GTi, which had a similar propensity for disappearing off the road backwards.
Of course, the corollary of the focused rubber is that once warm, there is masses of grip on offer. From an enthusiast point of view, almost every aspect of the car has been changed for the better. Whereas the standard 208 GTi feels a bit soft on track, the 30th's stiffness is evident even on Winton's smooth hotmix, the car jiggling over imperfections down the main straight.
This sharpness pays dividends in the bends, however, allowing you to attack corners with an aggression that would have the standard car howling in protest. The brakes still feel a little soft underfoot, but are plenty powerful, and on corner exits the mechanical diff hooks up and pulls you along the next straight in a rush of turbo boost.
The steering is still a little slow, even with the tiny ovoid-shaped (check the shape) tiller, and the gearshift could be more accurate, but neither shortcoming detracts from what is a stellar performance.
The 208's talents were enough for this judge to award it the category gold medal; nothing else in the supermini class offers anything close to this level of performance, and nothing else can be driven as hard for as long. Others preferred the Fiesta's less homicidal nature, but every judge agreed that this is the finest showing from Peugeot in a long time.
In celebration of a birthday when most people are sensibly settling down, Peugeot Sport has instead turned the 208 a bit feral, and it's all the better for it. After all, who doesn't look back fondly and regard their teenage years as the best of their life?
0-100km/h – 6.63sec (5th)
0-400m – 14.79sec @ 158.27km/h (5th)
Lap time – 1:42.7sec (2nd)
Bang Index – 146.8
Price - $35,990
Bucks Index – 97.7
BFYB Index – 185.8
Campbell 2nd – “Great fun. Although like a big puppy that can get too excited and bite”
Morley 2nd – “Finally, the French GTi is back in business. About time.”
Newman 1st – “Rights most of the standard car’s wrong, but demands big respect.”
Spinks 4th – “The spirit of the 205 is revived. Just don’t be spooked.”
Luffy 3rd – “It's an interesting car on the limit. It has great front feel and grip, though it's a little stiff in the rear and it tends to get the hop-up going up through the tight stuff which tends to unsettle it. Brakes are very good, but a major ergonomic problem is that the steering wheel feels small and you can't see the tacho, so you have to duck under to see the revs.”
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