Peugeot rediscovers its former design language with the new 208 GTi

The Peugeot 208 GTi is the brand's best-looking car
The Peugeot 208 GTi is the brand's best-looking car to wear the GTi badge since the original
(Image credit: Peugeot )

Back in the pre-designer era, when objects of desire were typically matte black and thick plastic and produced by Braun or Sony, the quintessential compact performance car was a certain Peugeot 205 GTi. Thirty years later, and the neat simplicity of the 205's design and the delectable deftness of its controls are a distant memory (opens in new tab). Cars are bigger, heavier and more powerful. The 'hot hatchback' genre is a squeezed and specialist niche, dominated by Golf's perennial GTI, while Peugeot is forever being made to atone for its failure to photocopy its original blueprint and produce a worthy successor.

The new 208 GTi  is the first time Peugeot has explicitly referenced the original, lining them up alongside each other for photo shoots and practically begging the press to make the comparison. The new car passes the first test by being the best-looking Peugeot to wear the GTi badge since the original, now that the company's design language is finally rediscovering the innate elegance that was lost at the turn of the century. Inside, too, it's a pretty decent place to be, although the splashes of red trim are trying slightly too hard and the big touch screen infotainment system is hamstrung by a needlessly complex operating system.

On the road, the GTi delivers a very contemporary blend of swiftness and refinement. Sure, the memory of the original is hazy, if not non-existent, for most people. Today's driver - even small car driver (opens in new tab) - demands levels of comfort, reliability, efficiency and technology that would be unimaginable in 1984. Even the Golf GTI has evolved into a compact piece of premium design, rather than a tool for downsized racers. The Golf is also substantially more expensive. Appeals to heritage are a tricky balancing act, given that nostalgia is a notoriously inaccurate emotion. The 208 GTi is not a pure enthusiast's machine - they'll have to dig through the classified adverts to find one of the now rare original cars - but it is compact, quick, appealing and very easy to live with.

The GTi delivers a very contemporary blend of swiftness and refinement

The GTi delivers a very contemporary blend of swiftness and refinement, with improved versions of all the usual hatchback features such as a reinforced subframe, sports springs, struts, anti-roll bars and snappier brakes

(Image credit: Peugeot )

Inside DAB radio and dual-zone air conditioning

Inside, too, it's a pretty decent place to be, with DAB radio and dual-zone air conditioning, although the splashes of red trim are trying slightly too hard...

(Image credit: Peugeot )

The big touch screen infotainment system is hamstrung

...and the big touch screen infotainment system is hamstrung by a complex operating system

(Image credit: Peugeot )

The 208 GTi is not a pure enthusiast's machine

The 208 GTi is not a pure enthusiast's machine - they'll have to dig through the classified adverts to find one of the now rare original cars - but it is compact, quick, appealing and very easy to live with

(Image credit: Peugeot )

Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.