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Archive for the tag “Rallying”

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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Cholmondeley Pageant of Power 2011 – Press Day

Bentley, Lotus and Lamborghini on Cholmondeley Start Line

An impressive line up at Cholmondeley Castle

Friday the 15th of July sees the start of this year’s Cholmondley Pageant of Power, held at Cholmondley Castle. For those of you unfamiliar with the event, it’s possibly best described as Cheshire’s answer to Goodwood’s Festival of Speed, only with a more generous variety of fast, loud attractions for lovers of machinery in general.Founded in 2008, the Pageant is now in its fourth year and this week I elected to attend the press day to find out what we can look forward to next month.

Following on from the success of previous years, this year’s event is a full 50% longer than ever due to the addition of a third day. The gates now open on Friday, not Saturday as has been the case at prior Pageants of Power. This will give even more people the opportunity to enjoy the action and the event organisers are keen to emphasise that the Friday will offer the same levels of excitement as the following two days.

Hannu Mikkola's Audi Quattro Rally Car

The actual Audi Quattro as used by Hannu Mikkola

Another new feature for 2011 will be the purpose built tarmac rally stage, specially designed to offer spectators optimum viewpoints at various positions. I was lucky enough to hitch a ride in John Hanlon’s works Audi Quattro Rally car and I can wholeheartedly confirm that these 350+ hp beasts are not to be missed. Over 30Lombard rally cars are expected and giving them their own natural habitat will surely provide even more of a spectacle.

Thundercats powerboats on the lake at Cholmondeley Castle

Thundercats on the lake

For those of a more nautical persuasion, the Castle’s own Deer Park Mere provides the setting for powerboats of all shapes and sizes including hydroplanes, monohulls and catamarans, some of which are capable of 125mph! Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing the wetbike from ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’, but that’s just me.

Helicopter landing at Cholmondeley Castle

Helicopter landing at Cholmondeley Castle

Looking skywards, there will be aerobatic displays from, amongst others, the Breitling Wing Walkers and the Arbarth Aerobatic display team. A team from RAF Valley will also be putting on a marine search and rescue display (HRH Prince William will hopefully pop along for the day). The Pageant is actually Europe’s largest helicopter event so is undoubtedly a must for anyone with a passion for these amazing machines.

Sir Jackie Stewart and four time World Rally Champion, Juha Kankkunen are just two of the famous names attending the event this year, no doubt putting the rest of us to shame with their god-like driving abilities. With ticket sales already 40% up on last year, organisers are confident they can top the £75,000 they raised in 2010 for Help the Heroes, with this years chosen charity being Combat Stress.

With further attractions for both young and old on offer around the grounds and a little bit of luck with our ‘summer weather’, this year’s Pageant looks set to be bigger and better than ever. Anyone who’s never been should undoubtedly take the family down and I’m fairly certain that if you have been before, you won’t be able to resist this year’s show.

Full details and ticket sales can be found at www.cpop.co.uk

I’d like to thank both Thunder Cats UK (www.thundercatracing.co.uk) and Helicentre Liverpool (www.helicentre.com) for allowing me the unique experiences they kindly provided me.

Special thanks must go to John Hanlon and the rest of the HanSport team. A truly friendly bunch who allowed me to fulfil a boyhood dream – a high speed rally stage in an Audi Quattro!

By Ben Harrington

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