Peugeot 208 GTi 2018 review
The Peugeot 208 GTi continues the tradition of great French hot hatches and this one may become special for another reason.
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This was a tale of what could have been.
“Yessssss! I get to drive the new Volkswagen Polo GTI!” I exclaimed as I found out about my weekend rig.
“Noooo!” I groaned, as I remembered I had to go to Canberra that weekend, meaning hours upon hours of Hume Motorway, with trucks overtaking trucks, morons not understanding what the right lane is for, and bugger all in the way of fun bendy bits.
It could have been the dream drive of the new Polo GTI. But, just like life itself sometimes, it was all just a bit… Canberra.
Here’s how the weekend went down.
Up early, I put a towel down on the back seat and strapped in my two little dogs, Jonah and Ziggy, to take them to the kennels. They love a weekend away just as much as anyone else, especially when it includes snacks by the kilo courtesy of kennel owner, Debra.
I’d driven pretty sedately on the way to the kennels, as Ziggy has been known to lose his brekky in the backseat of a car… hence the towel.
On the 27km return leg, I showed no such reserve, punting the Polo wherever possible.
I carved up a few roundabouts, tested the traction at the front end with a standing start or two - the road was damp in patches, and there was some axle tramp and tyre spin - oh, and what's the deal with Bridgestone Turanza tyres on a GTI... shouldn't it have Continentals or Pirellis?
In that mode the steering is heavy but somewhat dull - still predictable and trackable in twistier stuff, but maybe not as edge-of-your-seat fun as, say, the Peugeot 208 GTi. The balance is good, the handling is good, but is it great? Close, I’d say. I’d need a proper thrash session to make a definitive decision on that.
But the engine - a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo thrummer with 147kW of power and 320Nm of torque, which is as much as the previous Golf GTI had - is pretty special. VW claims a 0-100km/h time of 6.7 seconds, which is rather snappy for a budget-friendly ($30,990) hatchback.
Back home to corral my partner Gemma, we lugged our suitcase and some other stuff to the boot, which at 305 litres, is fine for the class. It all fit, easily - a great car for kid-less couples. While we have two fur babies, I don't think I'd be choosing a Polo GTI if I had actual real human children.
We needed to make good time to Canberra, so from our place in Glenbrook in the lower Blue Mountains we headed down the M4, then the M7, and onwards to the Hume. Usually I would have gone out the back way, twisting behind Warragamba and Camden, eventually emerging on the motorway near Mittagong. Alas, it wasn’t to be.
I dialled up the adaptive cruise control (part of a $1400 'Driver Assistance Pack'), and monitored my speed on the excellent 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster (part of the $1900 'Sound and Vision Pack'), chose some tunes through the 8.0-inch media screen’s Apple CarPlay mirroring system, and enjoyed the (very bassy) Beats sound system, which is part of the pack.
I mean very bassy. I think my dogs would have needed the towel for their other ends if I’d put on some thunderstorm sounds, because by God there is some thump to the sound system.
As I drove, music turned down to a more acceptable level, the kilometres disappeared. There was little to complain about aside from some tyre noise on the coarser sections of surface. The comfort on the highway was very good, and yes - this new-generation Polo is bigger in every way, and it feels more complete and considered on the road as a result.
After stopping off to see my parents (showed them the GTI - mum thought it was “pretty snazzy”, dad reckoned it was “cool” and liked the red splash panel across the dashboard) and hitting up Costco to fill the boot even more, we headed to our accommodation and settled in. There was no feeling of fatigue after nearly five hours of travelling in the car, which says a lot about the comfort on offer.
Didn’t do much with the Polo GTI on Sunday, because we’d foolishly decided to do the Bloody Long Walk (that’s why we were in Canberra) - a 35km trek through the burbs and around the lake. We got a lift to the starting/finishing points.
During the walk I got talking with my friend Margie about the Polo GTI we had with us, and she was stoked. She’s looking to upgrade from her nine-year-old Polo TDI manual, and while she’s upset there’s no manual GTI, she thinks the fact the new sporty model still only claims 6.1L/100km means it could be suited to her lifestyle - she lives out near Moss Vale, and does a bit of highway driving (while also sneaking off for runs down the nearby mountain passes!).
At 60 years young, Margie may not be what you picture as your archetypal GTI buyer. But she was so keen to see it and sit in it, we headed straight over to our AirBNB after the walk so she could experience it for herself. She knew plenty about it, and it’s fair to say that after a quick loop in the car she was sold. That’s one GTI that VW won’t need to worry about tallying up.
Oh, and I’m sure it has nothing to do with it, but Margie is South African… and so is the Polo GTI. It’s built in VW’s Uitenhage plant in the Eastern Cape.
Later, after we’d cleaned ourselves up and massaged our feet and egos, it was time to venture out again for dinner. It was kind of exciting to get back out in the Polo, mainly because I remembered our tester had the optional 'Luxury Pack', including heated seats to help soothe our aching glutes (the pack also adds a panoramic sunroof, rear tinted glass, 18-inch wheels, microfleece seats and LED headlights - at $3900).
So, recapping the packs, we’re talking a $30,990 car with $7200 of extras - or 23 per cent of the purchase price!. That makes for a $38,190 list price before you get it registered and on the road.
“Man, this particular GTI isn’t that representative of what you get if you want to buy an actual thirty-grand one,” I said to Gemma. She thought it was still reasonably good value with all the gear, but I reckon it's verging on rudely expensive with every pack added.
Personally I wouldn’t have any of them. I’d want the purist version, because: a) I’m a tight-arse; and b) it lives up to the notion of what the Polo GTI should be - affordable and fun.
Margie and her partner Karl discussed the GTI more with me over dinner, and as designated driver, it fell to me to return our crew (five in total) to our respective accommodations. This was proof enough for Margie that this new Polo was a goer, because five-on-board (including two 182cm-plus blokes) was a cinch.
Did I mention I had a long weekend? There was no way I was going to drive for three or four hours after a huge walk like that, so I drove the GTI back to Sydney on the Monday, and it once again displayed its depth of talent - but also a couple of annoying things cropped up: the front right suspension squeaks occasionally, and the Apple CarPlay system threw a couple of tantrums on the way home.
But those gripes aside, we drove another few hundred kays, and consumed not much fuel at all in the process. I averaged 6.8L/100km, measured at the pump. The fuel tank is compact at 40 litres, so you feel like you’re using more juice than you actually are. And it needs 95 RON premium unleaded, too - we had to search for a suitable servo in Canberra’s northern suburbs.
Soon we were back at the kennels, picking up the dogs. It could have been that they were excited to see us, or to go home… and I could have been imagining things, but I reckon they jumped in the back of the Polo GTI a little more eagerly than the last car I took them in. Could have been the lower jump-in height, I guess?
While I mightn’t have explored the full gamut of what the Polo GTI is capable of, I certainly enjoyed my time in it. Would I buy one? Maybe if I didn't have to spend all the extra dough on the optional packs... it does push the price perilously close to something like a Hyundai i30 N, with all the goodies.
As I said to Margie - if you just want to save some cash, maybe have a look at the Suzuki Swift Sport, which is more affordable and arguably more fun. But not nearly as complete a package as the dearer Polo GTI.
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