It might be nearing the end of its life cycle, but the Peugeot 208 GTi is still able to take the fight to its most capable rivals.
It might be designated as a 2018 car, but the current version of the Peugeot 208 GTi isn't exactly new, having first lobbed on the scene here back in 2013.
But that doesn't mean it's any less capable than its key Euro rivals, which include Volkswagen's Polo GTI and fellow French compatriot the Renault Clio RS, both of which are around the same age, albeit with a face lift in between to keep things moderately fresh.
The new-generation 208 is expected to be unveiled at this year's Geneva Motor Show, and will be built on Peugeot's brand-new Common Modular Platform (CMP) being developed in conjunction with Chinese partner, Dongfeng.
However, it's unsure when the next 208 GTi might surface, but either way it's rumoured to be getting a new 1.6-litre THP petrol engine making around 164kW (an 11kW bump over the existing model).
The next-gen Polo is also due later this year, while the Clio RS received a recent face lift, so don't expect anything new any time soon from the Renault Sport camp. Which brings us back to the Peugeot...
For starters, it has aged pretty well and still looks special beside its more mundane 208 siblings. Besides the bigger wheels, lowered stance and dual exhaust tips, there's plenty of bling-enhanced badging to remind you of the fact.
Inside, the hot-hatch genre is a tad more pronounced, with a pair of heavily bolstered front buckets and an aluminium pedal set that do the loudest talking, while the nicely contoured, thick-rimmed steering wheel complete with red centre-position marker are also tell-tale signs of its intended capability.
There's a splash of red on the fist-size, metal-topped manual shifter too (Peugeot still doesn't offer autos with its performance hatches), and we like the red contrasting double-stitch too. But otherwise the cockpit is a mix of piano black accents, metal-look trim and lots of hard grey plastics with the odd bit of leather thrown in for good measure.
Peugeot's questionable i-Cockpit set-up that sees a small-size steering wheel sitting below a floating instrument display is still a sore point, at least with this reviewer. After adjusting the driver's pew into my perfect seating position, including steering wheel tilt and reach, I was dismayed to find that the digital speedo was completely obstructed. Not really acceptable in this camera-infested landscape of ours.
Interestingly, Peugeot's all-new 3008 and 5008 SUVs get an updated version of the system, which we can attest is nowhere near as obstructive. We'd have to assume it will be fitted to the new-gen 208 model series when it arrives later in the year.
Mind you, the 208 GTi is fairly well equipped, counting kit such as rear parking sensors and reversing camera, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, electric folding door mirrors and privacy glass in its standard-feature inventory.
There's also a 7.0-inch touchscreen and steering wheel audio controls, satellite navigation and dual-zone climate control. You also get LED daytime running lights and tail lamps, but disappointingly there are no LED headlamps, and instead you get a fancy version of the old halogen lamps.
Safety-wise, this cheeky little Peugeot gets the standard suite of six airbags, emergency brake assist, ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution and auto activation of hazard lights under emergency braking. However, it misses out on most of today's active crash-avoidance systems like lane departure warning and lane assist, but again expect to see those features on the next-generation 208 range.
In Europe, the 208 is classed as a supermini, but at 3973mm in length, it's also fractionally shorter than both the Polo and the Clio – meaning space packaging is critical to passenger comfort. Just don't expect a whole lot of room – anywhere.
Up front, there's actually a decent amount of living space – that's good head, leg and elbow room, all things considered. Down back, not so much, and getting there is even harder, torturous even, particularly if you happen to find yourself sandwiched between a couple of SUVs at the local shopping mall.
There's even less space behind the second row – barely enough for the week's fruit and veg – but at least the 50:50 split-fold seats fold relatively flat should you need to carry anything more substantial.
But let's be honest, if you're looking at a Peugeot 208 GTi or any of its competitive set, you're far more likely to be concerned with what's under the bonnet rather than boot space. It's just not that important, is it?
In this case, Peugeot has maintained its tried and proven 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine for its light weight and robust power and torque output of 153kW and 300Nm. Good enough to go from standstill to 100km/h in around 6.8 seconds.
And while that's not particularly rapid in a world where there are super-hatches capable of clocking 4.1 seconds, it is, however, competitive thanks to its impressive power-to-weight ratio (135w/kg).
There's 275Nm on tap from just 1700rpm, but oddly enough the 208 GTi doesn't really hurl itself out of the blocks like you might expect – blame it on turbo lag. Instead, the real meat from this small-displacement engine is in the mid-range, where this car is at its most potent state.
There's real pace here and it doesn't let up, either. Pity, then, about the lack of low-down punch, although we can't complain about the super-slick shift action. There's so little effort required to swap cogs, you can row through the gears using just two fingers if you're feeling a bit lazy.
Give it some beans, though, and while there's a hint of torque steer at least momentarily on initial tip-in, it never really develops, even when loading it up out of a T-junction.
As good as it is, and it is that, there's something missing in the noiseworks. I mean, there's no mistaking this for a run-of-the-mill 208, that's obvious from the moment you fire up the turbo four. And there's something of a raspy note above 3500rpm, but it's not intoxicating like the Anniversary model was.
Either way, the 208 GTi is one of those cars that eggs you on to have a crack on your favourite back road, and with a good deal of confidence and pace, simply because of the high grip levels (at all four corners) and the typically wonderful chassis balance of a Peugeot hot-hatch.
More than that, though, it's an entirely chuckable thing thanks to a quick steering rack with decent feedback and meaty weighting.
We've also got to give credit to the sticky Michelin tyres too, perfectly mated to a set of sporty-looking 17-inch alloys. Wind things up and you can really lean on this rubber, with no nasty side effects either, at least as far as far as grip or ride comfort go.
Its ultra-light weight helps too. At 1160kg (kerb weight) it's easily the lightest in class, trumping the Polo GTI by 82kg and the Clio RS by 58kg. And much of that weight-saving is over the front end too, which gives it a high degree of agility and a thoroughly playful character.
Mind you, it's still a lot softer than the 30th Anniversary edition, which had some serious improvements to the chassis for superior body control, but the ride was firm.
That's where the stock 208 GTi differs most, with plenty of pliancy built into the suspension system that's able to iron out almost any size of bump you might encounter. Certainly that was the case in and around the Sydney ’burbs.
For a model nearing the end of its life cycle, the Peugeot 208 GTi still stacks up well against its competition, especially in the performance stakes.
It's priced well, reasonably well equipped, and more than able of taking the fight to its most capable rivals. It's just not overly thrilling or engaging like its larger sibling, the 308 GTi.