Three decades later, can the Peugeot 208 GTi 30th Anniversary rekindle the magic of the iconic 205 GTi original? We drive it in the UK to find out

What is it?

I'm not sure if the phrase ‘making a rod for your own back’ is common parlance on the other side of the channel, but if not, Peugeot’s probably introduced it to the Gallic lexicon.The ‘rod’ in this case is the iconic 205 GTi, a car so good in its day - and still adored now - that in the succeeding three decades, every new sporty Peugeot has been compared with it and usually dismissed as below par.

However, with 2014 marking 30 years since the company revelled in the hot-hatch big time, and using the respectable 208 GTi as a foundation, the chaps at Peugeot Sport were given the green light to go for gold once again and take on the standard-setting Ford Fiesta ST. The result is the rather obviously named 208 GTi 30th Anniversary, of which just 800 will be built.

As you might expect, there is more power, heavily revised suspension and remapped steering, all of which has been dressed in a style that carries hints of the 1980s original but is thoroughly forward looking, modern and aggressive – especially with the optional red and matt black ‘Coupe Franche’ paint scheme of our test car.

What's it like?

The changes start with the 1.6-litre turbo motor, which has been fettled to produce a further 8bhp and 18lb ft of torque. The changes have also brought about a significant drop in CO2 emissions from the standard car, to just 125g/km.

Such diminutive gains in output were never going to result in an exponential performance boost, but nevertheless, 0-62mph drops by 0.3sec to 6.5sec. Whether it feels much faster is arguable, but there's no doubt the engine pulls well from low to mid revs, then invites you to rev it out, delivering an extra burst of enthusiasm in the final 2000rpm before the limiter.

Mechanically, the engine has an inherent smoothness, and from the outside it sounds good, too. Sadly, that doesn’t percolate into the cabin, where a rather run-of-the-mill engine note never manages to stir the soul like a Fiesta ST’s.

Top marks to Peugeot for offering its hottest 208 with a traditional six-speed manual gearbox, with revised ratios matched to the engine's power characteristics. It’s pleasantly slick, if lacking that rewarding clickety-clack of the best, such as the Fiesta ST's.  

Peugeot Sport has effected the biggest changes to the 208’s suspension. The front and rear tracks have grown by 22mm and 16mm respectively and a further 10mm has been chopped from the ride height (the standard 208 GTi is already 8mm lower). Spring rates and damper settings have been tweaked, along with a modified front camber angle and wheel alignment. In a bid to dial out the standard car’s tendency to understeer, they’ve also softened the front anti-roll bar.

Along with the suspension upgrades, traction and drivability are aided by the adoption the same Torsen differential as the RCZ R coupé, as well as 18in alloys, shod with sticky 205-section Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres. At the front, these are bolted to hubs carrying 323mm brake discs, clamped by four-pot Brembo calipers.

The results are impressive. Despite testing it on freezing Surrey roads, the GTi 30th showed decent traction off the line and when powering hard out of corners. It will torque steer, but if you apply the throttle sensitively you can feel the diff shifting drive between each front wheel, searching for the one with the most grip. The less than ideal conditions meant there was always going to be a fight between those Michelins and the greasy road surface, but it's impressive for a front-wheel-drive car with 205bhp.

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The front wheels tend to want to follow the road’s topography rather than your chosen line, but there is a quickness to the rack that means it turns in keenly, and it has a decent level of feel for an electrically assisted set-up. It’s spoiled slightly by a vagueness and lack of weight at dead centre, but once you get past this, it loads up nicely through the pleasingly small steering wheel.

As you’d expect for a focused hot hatch, the ride is firm, although within acceptable limits. It’s worth the loss of compliance for the gains in stability and body control. The GTi 30th corners flat, changes direction quickly and generally inspires confidence. Shut the throttle mid-corner and the rear becomes more playful, but for enthusiasts it’s calm and controlled rather than full-on exciting.

The upgraded brakes also mean that when the need to shed speed arises, there’s plenty of stopping power, although the back end does get light and fidgety if you really lean hard on them.

Inside the premium-feeling cabin, there is a set of superb Peugeot Sport bucket seats trimmed in Alcantara and nice touches such as red seatbelt stitching and bright red floor mats that hark back to the 205 original. To add to the sense of occasion, a metal plaque fixed to the headlining displays the unique build number of each car.

The driving position is good rather than great; tall drivers will wish their seat went back a few inches farther, and with Peugeot’s controversial i-Cockpit design, there will always be those who find the steering wheel gets in the way of the dials.

Standard equipment includes sat-nav with a colour touchscreen, DAB radio, rear parking sensors, LED running lights and dual-zone climate control.

Should I buy one?

With just 100 examples of the 800-strong limited run coming to the UK and all of them already snapped up by Peugeot dealers, a more pertinent question might be: can I buy one at all?

If you can find one, you will need to fork out £21,995, which is about £2000 more than the standard 208 GTi. Even so, for that you are buying into a limited edition, as well as a much-improved, more focused car.

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This anniversary model also feels like a more premium product, particularly on the inside, where the extra details differentiate it from the standard car, as well as rivals such as the Fiesta ST and Renault Clio RS 200 Turbo.

Ultimately, the Ford is still the car that will delight drivers most with its raw ability, but the GTi 30th is a big step forward for Peugeot, showing that the French firm has got some of its mojo back. It isn't quite there yet, but the much-loved 200 series could be on the path back to greatness.

Peugeot 208 GTi 30th Anniversary

Price £21,995; Engine 4 cyls, 1598cc, turbo, petrol; Power 205bhp at 5800rpm; Torque 221lb ft at 1700rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1160kg; Top speed 143mph; 0-62mph 6.5sec; Economy 52.3mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 125g/km, 18%

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5wheels 27 January 2015

Its aweful

torque steer, tramlines, looks horrible and its still French - send it back
5wheels 27 January 2015

Its aweful

Torque steer, tram lines , looks bloody horrible and its still French!
Ofir 26 January 2015

Special product

Yes, you could go faster by paying a bit more for a new or a used car but this car seems, and according to most magazines feels a special product. A small hike in power, LSD to manage it better and stickier tyres and exclusivity due to small production run. By the way it is available in white or red so that paint job is not obligatory. I would consider buying one if it wasnt for that silly steering wheel. If they wanted to create something that resembles the 205 GTI why couldnt they just fit a proper round steering wheel, like in the 207 GTI in fact which was bad in every other respect.