In present company, the humble hot hatch feels somewhat out of place. It’s the only front-driven car here, and it’s the least likely to be recognised on the streets as a performance car. But it is a performer, and one that boasts broad appeal.
Hot hatches brought performance to the masses without the need to sacrifice convenience and, depending on who you ask, GTi is hot hatch Adam... or Eve. The Golf GTI is the other.
The 208 GTi we’ve got here attempts to be the pinnacle of hot hatch characteristics, with a collection of additions by Peugeot Sport in a little weapon disguised as a city car. The Edition Definitive boasts a bespoke suspension setup, along with a few equipment tweaks, and a set of Michelin’s grippy Pilot Super Sports to transform the car into a more focused steer.
At this point you may be asking, why not use a Civic Type R or Focus RS for this feature, something a little more hardcore? Aside from the aforementioned GTi heritage, the 208 itself is more closely characteristic of a classic hot hatch. The two-door, front-drive layout and design of the car is true to tradition, plus it’s lighter than most alternatives.
Its diminutive size, weight at 1160kg, and rather muscular 153kW/300Nm outputs were a strong base for Peugeot Sport to work with, but the addition of a Torsen limited-slip differential, wider tracks, and stiffer damping aim to make the car handle like a top performer, too. If you’ve bought an Edition Definitive as a daily drive, you’ve made a horrible mistake.
If you do what we’ve done and head for the hills, you’ll find Peugeot’s go-fast division has built a car to paint smiles across the faces of discerning hot hatch fans. A short wheelbase and sticky rubber, plus the LSD all add up to a tendency towards the lift-off oversteer French hatches are so well-known for. The dynamics of the GTi are still grounded in hot hatch expectations, but with the capability of a car built in 2018.
The powerplant, for example, doesn’t make a big deal of its forced induction. You know it’s there, but its linear nature mimics an older atmo engine in some ways, and doesn’t let the exhaust crack or pop on the overrun. In fact, the induction is the loudest aural aspect at high revs. A little more old-school ‘rort’ wouldn’t hurt, but it’s not necessary.
The shift feel, pedal action, and steering are relatively light, meaning you’re not working hard to achieve the inputs necessary to drive fast. But because of the nature of Australian roads and the stiffness of the chassis setup, you need to keep on top of it to drive it well.
Smooth roads make this easiest, where the tyres and differential are able to put down 153kW effectively, but harsh bumps can send the GTi hunting for the edge of the lane.
Once you’ve become used to its movements and learnt what to expect, manipulating the small wheelbase becomes rather fun. Keeping inputs smooth enough to avoid unsettling the balance mid-corner, the brakes become an effective tool to rotate the car and lean into the corner a little harder. The French hot hatch pedigree emerges in moments of weight shift-induced oversteer such as this.
It’s a riot, and driven right will provide some of the best front-driven fun you’ll have. There are no sport mode buttons, no adaptive dampers, and very few creature comforts. This car was built for people who want to drive it properly rather than use it as an outdoor appliance.
Chasing a cautious GT3 Touring on twisty roads, the GTi was able to keep up in the short, sharp bends. It was surprising and had this scribbler smiling like a lunatic for most of the time, and laughing when he wasn’t too busy concentrating.
Of course, as soon as the road opened up a little, the Porsche essentially walked away, but the fact a hatchback can make you feel like a Porsche-hunting hero more than earns the Edition Definitive a place amongst its peers here.
2018 Peugeot 208 GTi Edition Definitive
BODY: 3-door, 5-seat hatch
ENGINE: 1598cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo
BORE/STROKE: 77.0mm x 85.8mm
POWER: 153kW @ 5800rpm
TORQUE: 300Nm @ 1700rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual
SUSPENSION: struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar (f); torsion beam, coil springs, anti-roll bar (r)
TRACKS: 1498/1494mm (f/r)
STEERING: electrically assisted rack-and-pinion
BRAKES: 323mm ventilated discs, 4-piston calipers (f/r)
WHEELS: 18.0 x 7.5-inch (f/r)
TYRES: Michelin Pilot Super Sport; 205/40 ZR18 (f/r)
PROS: LSD is magic on smooth roads; playful nature
CONS: Ride is too harsh to daily; ergonomic quirks
RATING: 4 out of 5 stars
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