Driving Torque

Articles, reviews and opinions about cars and all things automotive

Archive for the month “August, 2013”

Peugeot 208 GTi – Driven and Reviewed

When Sir Alex Ferguson announced his retirement from management earlier this year, Manchester United were left with the unenviable task of replacing one of the most successful managers since the notion of hoofing an inflated pigskin was deemed to be an idea worth taking seriously. They took a grand total of four days to name his successor.

Only time will tell whether Mr Moyes will be up to the job, but still, four days is pretty impressive.

The original - Is it still the best?

The original – Is it still the best?

Believe it or not, Peugeot‘s mighty 205 GTi was killed off almost two decades ago and so far, regardless of how hard they try, a replacement worthy of being uttered in the same breath has been conspicuous by its absence. I’m well aware of the various 306s and 106s that have got near, either in XSi or Rallye guise but nothing has dragged Peugeot back into the limelight in the same way that the superb 205 GTi did all those years ago. Trust me – I owned one. (1.9, in case you were wondering)

The 208 GTi - can it retake the hot-hatch crown?

The 208 GTi – can it retake the hot-hatch crown?

What we have here then is the latest attempt from Peugeot to reclaim its place on the hot-hatch throne – the 208 GTi. Can it possibly be the car to live up to its lofty bloodline?

Initial impressions are good – on paper.The 208 GTi trumps the much-lauded Fiesta ST in the race to 62 mph, and although it may lose out by a smidgen in that department to the Renaultsport Clio, it’s more economical, undoubtedly prettier and has a ‘proper’ 6 speed gearbox – not the much maligned ‘flappy paddle’ effort as found in its Gallic cousin.

So, that’s the competition sorted out – on paper anyway, let’s get back to taking the 208 GTi on its own merits though.

Peugeot 208 GTi rearFrom the moment the first press shots of the standard 208 were released, I found the whole thing, well, a bit ‘busy’ if you know what I mean? That’s not to say that it’s ugly by any means – the jutting jaw and toothy grin may not be to everyone’s taste but it’s a welcome relief from the recent ‘wide mouth frogs’ that Peugeot seemed to have developed a fixation with. The 208’s proportions are near-perfect and it’s got some very pleasing features. I simply felt that the 208’s designers should maybe have known when to stop and adopted the ‘less is more’ theory a little more readily when applying some visual aspects to the car.

Peugeot 208 GTi sideOf course, a GTi is supposed to be an assault on the senses, and that’s why the 208 GTi gets away with it. The only downside to all this is the slight lack of contrast between the GTi and its lesser brethren. I found myself studying passing 208s, checking whether they were also GTis and this just won’t do. If you’ve worked hard and want your supermini to be the most superest (!?!), it’s got to stand out, not only in a crowd but in a family photo too.

GTi's gear-knob is particularily satisfying!

GTi’s gear-knob is particularily satisfying!

It’s a completely different story in the GTi’s cabin, with many highlights and features that constantly remind its inhabitants just what statement this car is intent on making. Ignoring the 208’s multitude of red flashes that adorn just about every surface at some point (in homage to the 205), there are other, possibly more significant features that transform this car’s living space from everyday hatch into B road king. Not least of which is surely the slightly unusual driving position.

The 208 GTi’s grippy sports seats are mounted 8mm lower than the standard car to give a more ‘sit in’ rather than ‘sit on’ sensation. Once in the driver’s seat though, things can initially feel  rather alien due the combination of a semi-race- car, small diameter steering wheel and the fact that one’s view of the dash dials is achieved by looking over it, rather than through it. There has been much already written that this position is distracting and the steering wheel can end up in the driver’s lap – I’d say that this is purely due to driver error, as after two minutes’ instruction from a trained Peugeot representative on how to match seating and steering wheel position, the whole effect was conducive to a spirited, almost rally-driver effect, whilst all dials were clearly in view.

One of the many homages to the 205

One of the many homages to the 205

On the road, the GTi feels instantly alive, as it should with 200bhp on tap from it’s 1.6 litre engine. This unit may be the same one as found in Mini’s Cooper S but it’s important to remember that it is a Peugeot product, not a BMW one so fettling it to the 208’s needs shouldn’t be a problem. 0-62 mph is taken care of in less than seven seconds, with the driver feeling an integral part of achieving this speed as they grip the wheel, correcting the inevitable torque-steer from the front-driven wheels. The GTi – only exhaust outlets may look the part but one of my major criticisms of the 208 is the lack of drama and noise. I’ve recently driven Peugeot’s excellent RCZ, equipped with exactly the same engine and the aural sensation was worlds apart. Definitely an area to improve upon to achieve true GTi greatness.

The most often admired quality of the 205 GTi was the way it negotiated corners in a go-kart like fashion. It’s modern-day equivalent has extra weight and power which usually hinder satisfying handling but it’s certainly no slouch on the twisty stuff. There are obviously a whole host of electronic aides to assist in hedge-avoidance but the trick for manufacturers is to keep them operating in the background without being intrusive and I’d say the 208 does an admirable job of achieving this. By utilising variable-electric power steering, the feather-light feel around town recedes at higher speeds and weights-up nicely, although I did find myself yearning for a touch more feedback around the tighter corners.

Any front-driven car is asking a lot of its multi-tasking front wheels, even more so when power is increased as they attempt to direct whilst also providing drive. Introduce an uneven surface for the suspension to deal with and this is where the 208 GTi can come slightly unstuck. I found that the, once train-like handling characteristics developed an unnerving, skittish feel over  typically unkempt British Tarmac, which could undoubtedly lessen confidence as our roads aren’t likely to be completely fixed anytime soon, if ever.

Peugeot 208 GTi headlightIn reality, it’s nigh-on impossible for anyone to recreate the hot-hatches of the ’80s and ’90s due to the added complications of safety and emission constraints. It’s therefore a fairly fruitless task to constantly compare Peugeot’s GTi products to the 205. Peugeot are obviously proud of their heritage though, and are keen to utilise it in their marketing of the 208 so I’ll go along with it. No, it just doesn’t feel alive as the original, no car ever will. However, the 208 GTi is undoubtedly faster, more comfortable, built to a higher standard and, perhaps most importantly, safer than the 205 so I think we should lay that old ghost to rest and look forward.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Peugeot 208 GTi 1.6 THP 200, Transmission – 6 spd manual, Layout – Front engineFWD, Power – 200bhp, Torque – 275Nm, Emissions – 139g/km CO2, Economy – 48 mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 143mph, Acceleration – 6.8s 0-62mph, Price – £18,895 OTR, £20,070 as tested.

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A selection of images from Car-Fest North 2013

Chris Evans Carest4

Chris Evans Carfest1

Chris Evans Carfest2

Chris Evans Carfest3

Chris Evans Carfest5

Countach Carfest 2013

E type Jag Carfest 2013

Ed China desk Carfest

Ed China Pete Waterman Carfest 2

Ed China Pete Waterman Carfest 3

Ed China Pete Waterman Carfest 3

Ed China Pete Waterman carfest

Ferrari 250 GTO Carfest 2013

Grey Ferrari Carfest 2013

Jaguar XJ15 Carfest

Line up Carfest 2013

Loud dragster Carfest

Mcrae Impreza Carfest

Nick Mason Carfest 2013 2

Nick Mason Carfest 2013 3

Nick Mason Carfest 2013 4

Nick Mason Carfest 2013

Silver Mercedes Carfest 2013

The Feeling Camaro Carfest (2)

The Feeling Camaro Carfest 3

The Feeling Camaro Carfest

Ford C-MAX 1.0l Titanium X – Driven and Reviewed

2013 Ford Focus Front angle

2013 Ford Focus Zetec S

So, you’ve been on plenty of test drives, engrossed yourself in a small forest’s worth of brochures and come to the conclusion that Ford’s Focus, powered by their much-lauded 1.0l Ecoboost engine is the car for you and your family.

BUT THEN. You take one last look inside your steed of choice and that nagging feeling creeps into your head again, that sneaking suspicion that it may just be a little small for your needs.

C-MAX Ecoboost front

Ford’s C-MAX

So, what do you do? The prospect of starting at square one again is just one big headache but, don’t despair, there could be an answer and it comes in the shape of Ford’s C-MAX.

Launched in 2003 and originally labelled ‘Focus C-MAX‘, it did resemble exactly that; a slightly disproportional version of Ford’s ubiquitous hatchback whose good looks had faded during the transition process. Now simply named ‘C-MAX’ in its own right, it’s easily identified as part of the Ford stable without the requirement to cling so closely to the Focus‘ coat-tails.

C-MAX Ecoboost rear

Available in 5 and 7 seat (Grand C-MAX) flavours, the two models are easily distinguished by the more voluminous C-MAX’s, slightly van-like rear sliding doors. What we have here for your delectation is the, undoubtedly more attractive, 5 seat C-MAX in range topping Titanium X flavour, powered by that all important, diminutive lump, the 1.0l Ecoboost engine.

Although the C-MAX shares the Focus’ platform and is slightly enhanced in terms of both length and width (4380mm x 2067mm vs 4358mm x 2010mm), it’s the extra height it’s gained (1626mm vs 1461mm) that offers the C-MAX it’s justification over its little brother.

C-MAX Ecoboost side

High shoulder-line and less glasshousing makes C-MAX more purposeful

On the inside, the extra room is noticeable and adds a sensation of airiness, especially when combined with our test car’s panoramic glass roof. The trade-off for this increase in living space in MPVs is usually a more vast glass-house and a certain ‘gold-fish bowl’ sensation. Not so with the C-MAX, however. Ford have apparently raised the car’s shoulder line, keeping glass to a minimum, the result being a more purposeful stance and a less ungainly appearance.

So far then, it’s looking like something of a no-brainer: Why buy the smaller Focus when you can have the C-MAX? It’s well designed and economical, just like the Focus, but you gain a sizeable chunk of extra room to swing the proverbial cat around in. Game over. Decision made.

C-MAX Ecoboost Boot

661 litre boot is cavernous

Well, not quite. I’m the first to admit that I was wrong about Ford’s 1.0l, 3 cylinder Ecoboost engines. On paper, I wrote it off as some marketing stunt that couldn’t possibly work and would result in the most yawn inspiring range of cars that Ford, née, the world had ever seen. Having driven many cars equipped with this marvel of engineering, I could immediately see what the rest of the planet also saw – that it does work. It capably hauls the Focus around without any struggle and in the Fiesta, it’s positively fun.

I’m going to go out on a limb here though and state that I think the C-MAX may be a bridge too far for such a diminutive unit. On paper, the Focus and C-MAX are separated by just 0.1 seconds (11.4s vs 11.3s) in their race to 62mph and the larger model is alleged to achieve better mpg and Co2 levels. In the real world though, things just don’t work like that. The 6 speed ‘box in the C-MAX may go a long way towards achieving those impressive statistics but there’s no getting around the fact that if you want more space, you’re also going to get more weight and your aerodynamic qualities are going to suffer.

I felt that the extra weight of the C-MAX just took the edge off what is still a fun drive in the Focus. The difference is negligible, but to try to achieve adequate fuel consumption figures, the ‘change-up’ light seemed to be quite insistent on a move up the ratios at times, when my natural instinct was to hang onto a gear for a second longer.

Although Ford have done an admirable job of making a compact MPV handsome – no mean feat – the trade-off is an increase in ride height that affects the legendary Focus handling traits. It’s not a significant loss and it would be unfair to say the C-MAX wallows around like an old American police car, but there is a difference.

All this talk of performance and handling in relation to the C-MAX is perhaps unjust as, ultimately, that’s not it modus operandi. So let’s forget it’s Focus roots for a minute and just take it as a stand-alone car – does it score highly compared to its direct competition?

C-MAX Ecoboost interiorThe answer to this would be a resounding ‘Yes’. I’m going to assume that it’s the living space in a car of this nature that makes or breaks a potential sale and this is where the C-MAX excels. The layout and dash may be standard Ford fare but this should in no way be taken as a criticism; it’s attractive, well-built and, perhaps most importantly, simple to use. The theatre style seating will give any rear passengers that commanding view of the road they crave and the extra height of the C-MAX definitely adds an essential sensation of airiness and space – especially when combined with the Titanium X’s panorama roof.

If you’ll allow me to put my critical head back on, I still don’t fully get on with Ford’s Sync system as it seems easily confused but, in true Microsoft style, a simple turn on/turn off procedure seems to remedy any glitches. I’d also be less than 100% trusting of the C-MAX’s self parking system – my first attempt resulted in a collision with the kerb and a coming together with a lamp-post was only narrowly avoided when I intervened with the brake pedal. Some work still required here I feel.

To conclude, the C-MAX is a highly useable, well thought out car, but then most compact MPVs are these days. Where it excels though is its visual charm and it’s car-like drive, just don’t expect it to be quite as sorted as the Focus.

By Ben Harrington

Specifications; Ford C-MAX 1.0l Titanium X, Transmission – 6 spd manual, Layout – Front engine, FWD, Power – 125ps, Torque – 200Nm, Emissions – 117g/km CO2, Economy – 55.4 mpg combined, Maximum Speed – 116mph, Acceleration – 11.4s 0-62mph, Price – £22,345 OTR, £24,020 as tested.

 

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