Let’s talk engines. Specifically, the 1.6-litre turbo four under the bonnet of our long-term Peugeot 208 GTi. It’s the go-to configuration in the baby hot-hatch segment, now that 2.0-litre atmo engines are a relic of a bygone age and 2.0-litre turbos are deemed overkill.
With 147kW, Pug matches its rivals from Renault and Ford (the latter producing the figure on overboost), but the 208 is the torque king with 275Nm, at least until the new Volkswagen Polo GTI arrives next year with a thumping 320Nm from its ‘big block’ 1.8 and until the Fiesta’s overboost hits full stride in third gear. Still, its 35Nm more than the Clio can muster, and plays a crucial role in the Peugeot’s ability to punch out of corners.
This attribute came in handy at a recent hillclimb, held by the Kyneton Car Club at Bryant Park Hillclimb, better known as Haunted Hills. Australian hillclimbing is a bit of a unique proposition, as quite often courses go downhill as well as up. I once spoke to a visiting Russian journalist who found this immensely confusing, saying: “For me, a hillclimb always climb!”
Regardless of the technicalities, Haunted Hills is a fantastic circuit; tight and technical, it rewards bravery yet punishes mistakes with enormous undulation and a great mix of corners. While a bit underwhelming on circuit, following last month’s epic road trip I suspected the layout might suit Pug.
Before departing, however, a change of tyres was in order. A full day’s track work at Bang For Your Bucks plus two days being flung around Victoria’s alpine region had taken their toll on the Peugeot’s front sidewalls, but the rears were still reasonably fresh so a quick front-to-back was all that was required.
Imagine my surprise when lifting up the boot floor revealed a full-size spare! Well done, Peugeot. Too often spare tyres are deleted to free up boot space or reduce weight chasing fuel economy figures, but they really are a godsend. It’s like insurance, you’ll be thankful you have it when you need it.
Unlike a track day, where you can go around and around to your heart’s content, slowly shaving time off each lap, hillclimbing piles on the pressure. We competed on two different course layouts, with four runs on each. Being my first time at the track (and not my car!) I decided a cautious approach would be best, getting a ‘banker’ time in and trying to improve from there.
My competition comprised a wild variety of cars, everything from a tidy Ford XY Fairmont with huge power to stripped-out Subaru WRXs on semi-slicks to dog-eared ’80s sports coupes (Honda Accord, Toyota Celica) living a second (or 10th) life as track hacks.
Lessons learned during the first couple of runs are stay off the kerbs in braking and traction zones as they’re incredibly slippery, but use them as much as possible mid-corner to widen the track and be more committed in the faster corners but more gentle with the throttle in the slower ones. All that torque easily lights up the inside wheel, wasting precious tenths during corner exit.
The time improves from a 63.13sec to a 62.55sec over four runs, but the last was scrappy and I’m left disappointed, especially as another 0.50sec would’ve lifted me from 11th to sixth! From the first run on the second course I can tell Pug enjoys the more flowing layout better, as do I. A clean final run nets a 67.38sec, good enough for fourth place.
Combining the times for both courses leaves Pug sixth outright, wedged between two WRXs – not bad for a totally standard road car on tyres that had given their best. Victory went to Lance Lee in a Nissan 350Z, which sounded fabulous howling around the natural amphitheatre.
For a more in-depth look at the Haunted Hills circuit, check out the Peugeot’s live feed on our website, we’re already planning our next visit.
This article was originally published in MOTOR December 2014.