We’d yet to bond, Pug and I. I’m not traditionally a fan of naming cars, but with its blunt nose and forward-leaning stance, the Peugeot 208 GTi kind of resemblances those dogs that everyone bar me seems so fond of. It’s a lot catchier than CTG 49F, anyway.
Prior to this month’s Bang for your Bucks, Pug’s primary use had been boring commuter stuff. Its city-car origins make it quite adept at this, but this is a junior hot hatch, so I was looking forward to stretching its legs on track at BFYB. Here it acquitted itself well, holding its own against the Ford Fiesta ST and Renault Sport Clio in terms of pace, though its higher price and lower judges’ ranking cost it.
Well, slightly lower for most judges. While four of the five put Pug somewhere between fifth and seventh on their scorecards, one harsh critic put it 10th. Which was, erm, me. While enjoyable when chasing lap times, it lacked the Fiesta or Clio’s playfulness.
Obviously, judging it here solely on racetrack performance is ridiculous, so to make it up to Pug for being so mean I planned a (hopefully) redeeming road trip. Since moving to Melbourne in early 2011, I’ve been itching to try the Great Alpine Road over the Victorian Alps, connecting Wangaratta on the Hume Highway to the East Coast’s Bairnsdale.
Of course, to get to Wangaratta means 250-odd kilometres of speedo-watching on the Hume, lest you be pinged by one of the sneakily placed cameras or even more sneakily hidden Highway Patrol cars. Here the 208 proves comfortable and economical, if not as parsimonious as Peugeot’s 4.7L/100km highway claim.
A quick diversion to Glenrowan allows a visit to a section of the old Hume Highway, very close to where journo Mel Nichols famously managed to max a Phase III. Obviously, speed limits prohibit such behaviour today, but it’s interesting to note that at its 227km/h max the mighty V8 behemoth would see the little turbo hatch slowly edge away.
The first 100-or-so km of the GAR are relatively uneventful, but for a great road and sensational scenery a diversion to Mount Buffalo is recommended. Following an overnight halt in Bright, chains are hired early next morning as despite the crisp, clear skies and high-teens temperature, it’s a $2000 fine if you’re discovered travelling without chains during the declared snow season.
Chains? Not as fun outside the bedroom.
Beyond Harrietville, the road turns twistier and climbs steeply. These narrow Alpine passes should suit the Peugeot to a tee, but though it’s agile, and a class-leading 275Nm punches it out of tight corners well, it feels a bit soft at maximum attack. It’s still quick, but feels most rewarding at around seven- or eight-tenths.
Following the breathtaking views atop Mount Hotham, the road becomes wider with fast, flowing sweepers all the way to Omeo. It’s supercar country, but against expectations suits Pug well. Its slower steering and more stable balance inspire high speed confidence and the soft brake pedal is less an issue rolling from one long corner to the next.
Past Omeo and the road changes again, winding its way through rocky canyons and thick bushland. The corners are medium-speed, third- or fourth-gear, with plenty of bumps to contend with, and it’s here the Pug’s supple chassis finds its sweet spot, soaking up undulations and settling into slight four-wheel drifts.
Over lunch in Lakes Entrance I reflect that the last 100km proves the 208 GTi isn’t without its charms, but it does require a certain type of road to give its best. To draw a slightly strange comparison, the Peugeot is like the Grand Tourer of the mini hot hatch brigade. I would’ve had more fun in a Fiesta ST or Renault Clio RS, but would I have felt as fresh in either after 970km over two hard days as I did in the Peugeot? I’m still not sure we’ve bonded, but there’s respect for its abilities that not had previously existed. And the road? It was epic.
This article was originally published in MOTOR November 2014.