It's whats inside this Gallic go-kart that counts

PEUGEOT 208 GTi: Surely the prettiest GTi on the market.
PEUGEOT 208 GTi: Surely the prettiest GTi on the market.

Every now and then a new automotive technology surfaces that is so worthy of mass consumption that we scribblers are instantly convinced that it will be only a short time before every car adopts it.

Drivetrain: Transverse, front-mounted front-wheel-drive with six-speed manual transmission.
Output: 1598cc DOHC direct-injection turbopetrol inline four producing 147kW at 5800rpm, 275Nm at 1400rpm.
Performance: Maximum speed 231kmh, 0-100kmh 6.5 seconds, 5.9L/100km, 139g CO2/km.
Chassis: Front MacPherson struts, rear torsion beam. Electro-mechanical power steering. Vented front disc brakes front and solid rear discs. 17-inch alloy rims with 205/45 tyres.
Dimensions: L 3962mm, H 1460mm, W 1739mm, W/base 2538mm, Fuel 50L, Weight 1214kg.
Pricing: $38,990.

I felt that way when the Holden first fitted a solitary driver's airbag to the VR Commodore back in 1993, and now some cars sport as many as 11 exploding pillows to limit injuries in the event of a crash.

DRIVING ENVIRONMENT: Innovative layout places everything important almost directly in the driver’s line of sight when he/she is focusing on the road.
DRIVING ENVIRONMENT: Innovative layout places everything important almost directly in the driver’s line of sight when he/she is focusing on the road.

I had a similar feeling when BMW first made me aware of the ability for a reflected speed display on a car's windscreen to keep my eyes focused on the road ahead. Our focused vision is roughly the size of a 50 cent piece, leaving the rest a blurry periphery, and the first Beemer with a Heads-Up Display (HUD) enabled me to monitor the road ahead more of the time than when driving other cars. So much so, that I would have thought that HUDs would have become as common as driver's airbags by now.

But there must be some stumbling block that is limiting the penetration of HUD technology into the marketplace as only a small percentage of new cars sport it, and as these HUD-equipped cars are usually expensive, it's hard not suspect that cost plays some part in this low take-up. To which Peugeot has provided a solution in the form of the 208/2008 range, which features an innovative driver cockpit layout where everything is positioned so that the instruments and touch-screen can be placed almost directly in the driver's line of sight when he/she is focusing on the road. You still have lower than 50 cent's worth of focused vision to consult the info that the Peugeot's instruments are displaying, but the movement is considerably less than when driving other cars, and the driver's attention is taken away from the oncoming roadscape for less time.

In a perfect world, the new(ish) Pug super-minis would have gained some recognition for this innovation during the recent accolade season of December 2013. That they didn't is possibly a reflection of some of their powertrain deficiencies, as they're some of the few cars that still retain an obsolete four-speed automatic gearbox option these days. The one exception is the 208 GTi hot hatch that enables an exclamation mark to be placed at the far end of the range. The GTi can be bought with only a six-speed manual gearbox, and is a far better choice of any of the 208 range simply because Peugeot forces consumers to become more engaged with it through the provision of an extra driving pedal. This allows a better appreciation of the Peugeot's frisky driving persona, which naturally resembles that of a Mini Cooper S given that both cars share the same 1.6 direct-injection turbo- four/six-speed manual front-drive powertrain.

I doubt that the Peugeot GTi's charms of extra performance for less purchase cost will sway any prospective Cooper S buyer to suddenly change tack, but it is something that they perhaps consider. For the $38,990 Peugeot extracts more power and torque from the engine than the $44,200 Cooper S, to the point where I suspect that BMW might have deliberately knobbled the latter to create market room for the car's considerably more expensive John Cooper Works variants.

The on-paper performance advantages of the Pug are an extra nine kilowatts of the power and an additional 35Nm of torque, and they immediately make their presence felt on the road, especially the thrust of the extra driving force. The GTi's acceleration always feels more immediate and effortless, and in any sprint between the two cars from the traffic lights of a motorway on-ramp, the 1214kg Peugeot will reach the 100kmh limit roughly a half-second before the 40kg-lighter Cooper S. The French car also trumps the Brit in fuel use by consuming a litre less every 100km.

The score on the chassis front is also France 1, German-coached England 0. For the Pug is just as light on its wheels as the agile Mini, but offers a more compliant ride when driven at pace on our bumpy back-roads. The extra suspension travel of the Gallic go-kart definitely pays dividends here.

But it's the interior of the Peugeot that would sway me if I was seeking a hotted-up supermini with a strong European pedigree. That clever layout with the squashed-donut for a steering wheel not only has safety benefits, it's a well-furnished and pleasing place to be as well. We have a frazzled trans-continental drive through a European blizzard to thank. For it lead to the "Eureka moment" that convinced Peugeot to adopt the unique vision- enhancing format. Now it hopefully won't be long before other car-makers follow suit.

Sunday Star Times