Peugeot haven’t had much to do in the performance hatchback market for quite some time. Sure, there was the 207 GTI and the current 208 GTI – the latter of which is quick and feature-packed, but lacks the incisiveness and fun factor to make it a true threat to the Ford Fiesta ST. The styling is bang on the money, but there’s too much power for the chassis. Enter the Peugeot 208 GT-Line.
You get most of the styling cues from the full-fat GTI brother; red trim accents in the grille, sporty side skirts and bumpers, sporty wheels, sport seats and the tiny GTI-derived steering wheel; but with more frugality, less power, and a charming 3-cylinder sound track to go with it all. What could go wrong?
That sounds a little gloomy, when really it isn’t. Perhaps the worst case scenario would be that the Peugeot 208 GT-Line is horrendous to drive, with a gearbox as slow as Jacob Zuma doing maths, is fraught with mechanical and electrical gremlins, and spontaneously erupts into flames like a phoenix’s last moments of its current incarnation.
None of the above is true, well perhaps with the exception of a slow gearbox – but even then, it would put JZ to shame. The truth is the Peugeot 208 GT-Line is actually something rather joyful – not without its quirks, but then again, few things are.
The recipe is simple – a small front-wheel drive chassis that has performance capabilities as we’ve seen in the GTI, but with a now familiar concept of a 3-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine under the bonnet. Not the usual 900cc or 1-litre turbo-3s we see from most manufacturers, but a 1.2-litre mill from the C4 Cactus, with outputs of 81kW @ 5500rpm and 205Nm available at 1500rpm.
The engine is punchy – despite lag, it spins up and gives a solid serving of torque – and is quite happy to wring out to within 1000rpm of redline before the punch starts dropping off. The Peugeot 208 GT-Line alright in the way of fuel consumption too, chipping away at the fuel tank at a rate of 6.2-litres per 100km.
It’s quite the keen handler as well; ready to change direction at a whim, with the liveliness of a playful canine. The minute steering wheel – pinched from the 208 GTI – is a pretty sweet thing to play around with; good to grip, and joyful to steer with, even if it does block the sight of the instrument cluster for shorter drivers.
The Peugeot 208 GT-Line feels as if it’s been built downhill. It stands up on its toes, but seems to lean forward on the balls of its feet rather than being perfectly balanced. This does make for a rather alert driving experience – it feels lively through the corners and with well-timed throttle lifts the back end is ready to briefly let go of the road surface.
However being so heavy on the fore, the 208 GT-Line tends to overwhelm the front tyres during spirited driving sessions over less than perfect surfaces. There’s always the feeling that you’re on the limits of adhesion of the front tyres; push the limits and you’re bound for understeer.
Respect them and drive with some sensibility – and the Peugeot 208 GT-Line is a joyful little toy to chuck around. It’s never exceptionally rapid, but the turbo-torque makes it quick enough to have some genuine fun at some half decent speeds. The quick steering and lithe suspension make it fun chasing quicker lines through corners, and the burbling engine note makes for a great sound track.
The brakes leave a little to be desired though, as they tend to bite too sharply and engage ABS even under moderate braking. But they’re far from terrible, if anything just a little overeager.
Pity the gearbox isn’t as enthusiastic, then. The Peugeot 208 GT-Line can be had with a manual gearbox for DIY cog-swapping, but our particular test unit came equipped with the 6-speed automatic transmission. I wouldn’t rate it as the worst transmission I’ve dealt with, but the shift times are sluggish. All would be forgiven if it would at least pre-empt shifts to have the gear selected on time, but shifts are always made half a second too late. Even in ‘sport mode’ little is done to improve shifts and the gearbox just holds gears longer without up-shifting.
It’s the very weak link in an otherwise enjoyable drive, but easily avoidable if you save yourself some cash and purchase the manual-equipped Peugeot 208 GT-Line, which also gives you the GTI’s shift lever.
Inside, and in the way of creature comforts, the Peugeot 208 GT-Line is well appointed. Cruise control, climate control, 6 airbags, ABS with EBD, full electric windows, partial leather upholstery on the sport seats, automatic headlights, and a Bluetooth enabled media and infotainment system are all standard.
The infotainment system is getting a bit long in the tooth though, and is probably the biggest disappointment in the way of spec levels. The system is slow and navigating through the different features lacks fluidity. It’s a far cry from rival systems like the Opel Corsa’s highly intuitive IntelliLink system.
Other interior foibles are few and far between. The main touch points all feel textured and well put together, and the seats are comfortable and supportive. But ergonomics for shorter drivers are somewhat lost in translation.
Peugeot i-Cockpit is what they call it, comprising the small steering wheel and set-back instrument cluster. For tall drivers it’s perfect, but for anyone shorter than 6ft the steering wheel blocks the gauge cluster’s visibility at about the point you’d need to see to stay within the speed limit. While a 3-year, 100 000km warranty is standard from Peugeot, covering your speeding fines isn’t.
The Peugeot 208 GT-Line provides a different take on warm-hatch fun in the segment. Unique styling, French flair and decent standard features make it an alluring prospect. Of course you can also opt for even more unique visuals too, by equipping Peugeot’s ‘textured paint’.
The matte-sheen Ice-grey finish on our test unit looks spectacular, and compliments the red GT-Line accents, but it’s an option at R3200, and as much as it looks good now, it attracts dust quickly, and I fear even the slightest scratch might ruin it – with little hope of merely buffing it out to fix it.
All in, our Peugeot 208 GT-Line Auto with textured paint is a fairly priced R308 100. Save yourself the stulish paint and sluggish gearbox by opting for a manual GT-Line model, and R284 900 is all you’ll need to have some stylish fun.
But for that price, there’s a wealth of other options available. For the more driver-orientated you could get a Suzuki Swift Sport; or for those who want tech, power, and handling ability, Opel’s less stylish but more accomplished and well appointed Corsa Sport will set you back 8-grand less.
Words: Roger Biermann
Images: Roarke Bouffe, Vaughn Humprey