We road test two of the most exciting new hot hatches – the Ford Fiesta ST and the Peugeot 208 GTi
This is the type of car that sets teenage boys’ pulses racing, think of it as the motoring equivalent of Selena Gomez, but I adore this car, and I’m certainly no teenage boy.
Peugeot’s new 208 GTi has all the dramatic styling of the original iconic 205 GTi with subtle curves, streamlined profile and oblique headlights. All the visual GTI cues are evident, including a black and chrome chequered-flag type grille, a sports rear spoiler, new headlamps with LED and bigger alloys.
But all this GTi-ness is a lesson in restrained minimalism when you park it next to its rival the Fiesta ST. From every angle the ST screams for attention in an almost deafening “Pick Me … Pick Me ” like donkey from Shek. Aggressively styled the ST sports a body kit, large alloy wheels, boot spoiler and a lowered suspension.
Under the bonnet the 208 uses the same 1.6-litre engine that drives the Mini Cooper S. The original 205 may have used a larger 1.9 engine but this one is seriously more powerful with 197bhp, a zero to 100 speed of 6.7 and a top speed of 240 km. The Fiesta in contrast has 20bhp less and gets the 1.6-litre Ecoboost turbocharged unit. The 2005 ST was powered by a 2.0-litre, naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine.
Inside the 208 is hugely spacious and the chic styling of the exterior carries through to the interior. The GTi version gains a brushed chrome effect on the sills and pedals and a red trim. There are some beautiful styling details throughout including the red detailing on the seat belts and the matching red stitching on the dashboard. On the down side the 7-inch infotainment system is one of most infuriating I have ever used.
On the standard 208 the driving position is not great but this is vastly improved in the GTi and the sports seats, embossed with the GTi logo are really comfortable. The oddly small steering wheel though is still a feature.
Ford has paid much less attention to their interior and apart from the beautifully supportive Recaro seats elsewhere there is nothing distinctly sporty about the interior of the Fiesta ST. It is a regular Ford cabin but we would have liked a few more sporty touches to distinguish it from the virtually identical dash borrowed from the standard Fiesta.
Looks may not be part of the Feista’s allure but when that intoxicating low grumble of the EcoBoost engine emanates from the tailpipes all is forgiven. Put your foot to the floor and its obvious Ford know a thing or two about making humble cars go fast. The new all round disc brakes are reassuringly good and the gear change is short and quick.
On the right road, it’s one of the best hot hatches in a very long time but when you’re not the ride is choppy and you are reminded that the ST version of the Fiesta is a very firm car. Take it on a twisty back road and what this car is capable of becomes apparent. There is unbelievable grip, incredible handling and a steering wheel that simply speaks to you.
The Peugeot 208 is also a revelation on the road, the wider track, stiffer suspension and better steering all combine to transform the 208 into a vastly better car than the standard one. It is so controlled and beautifully weighted that you can almost forget this is a GTi. But this is no slouch, power can be summoned instantly when needed but in a restrained and composed manner. This is one very obedient car.
The six-speed manual gearbox is slick but the steering is a little light and not as involving as we would have liked.
Our test car was the Fiesta ST2 model priced at €27,260. Strip all the extras out, including LED daytime running lights, leather trim on the Recaro seats and push button start and with an ST1 model you can be on the road for €25,760.
The Peugeot 208GTi comes in at €27,995 but the overall specification is better and includes Sports seats with full grain black half leather, LED daytime running lights and Leather trimmed steering wheel all as standard. Fuel consumption on both cars is 47.9mpg and emissions are virtually the same at 139g/km for the GTi and 138g/km for the ST so motor tax is €280 per year.
These are two of the best hot hatches to come along in years. They are also two very different cars that will appeal to totally distinct buyers. The Peugeot is a car you could live with on a daily basis and it would deliver fun and comfort in equal measure. This grown up hot hatch is by far the best car Peugeot have produced in a very long time. It is spacious, subtle and stylish but on the road the Fiesta just shades it in sharpness. My head yearns for the subtle sophistication and sheer comfort of the Peugeot 208 GTi but my heart wants the Fiesta. It’s exactly what you expect from a hot hatch, from the exhaust note, the razor sharp handling to the masses of torque.
The Peugeot may be a grown up hot hatch that is both refined and fun but my inner teenage craves the Fiesta. It left me wanting more …..
Peugeot 208 GTi
Engine: 1598cc, 16v turbocharged 4cy, 197 bhp, 275Nm @1,700 rpm
Transmission: Six speed manual, front wheel drive
Performance: 0 -100km/h 6.8 seconds, 47.9 mpg, 139g/km
Ford Fiesta ST
Engine: 1596cc, 16v turbocharged 4cy, 179bhp, 240Nm @1,600 -5,000rpm
Transmission: Six speed manual, front wheel drive
Performance: 0 -100km/h 6.9 seconds, 47.9 mpg, 139g/km
A version of this article appeared in the Sunday Independent on the 16/06/13
19th June, 2013