Peugeot has released its latest hot hatch contender, the 207 GTi, complete with 1.6-litre turbo power.
Drawing on a long line of illustrious hot hatch predecessors, including the venerable 205 GTi, which at one time constituted a quarter of all 205s sold in the UK in the 1980s, the new 207 GTi enters a market with high expectations.
Ensuring it has the requisite performance credentials Peugeot has bolted in the joint venture PSA/BMW engine. The 1.6-litre turbocharged four, also powering the highly acclaimed Mini Cooper S, is a 2007 engine of the year winner in its class.
Based on the 207, the GTi retains the gaping mouth of the rest of the range, and despite 17-inch mags and a tailgate spoiler, there is very little to distinguish it as the performance derivative.
Compared with its hot hatch competitors the 207 looks decidedly tame. From the front it appears nearly anonymous, with nothing in the line of mesh inserts or modified bumper panels. It lacks the overall styling verve and presence of its predecessor, the 206 GTi 180.
The interior is understated in its design too. You get sports seats, Alcantara trim and inserts, but no GTi decals or anything else flash. You could essentially be sitting in any other 207, bar the splendidly cosseting seats. The interior design mirrors the underwhelming exterior design, and you subconsciously get the impression the GTi was a bit of a rushed parts bin job.
Overall, the design elements, especially considering Peugeot's hot hatch pedigree and its inherent French design flair, really do not synergise. The droopy door mirrors for instance, detract from the overall fluidity of the shape, and the 207 GTi ends up looking cute, but not overtly menacing or sporty at all.
Powered by a 1.6-litre turbocharged four cylinder engine the 207 is going up against a bevy of 1.8- and 2.0-litre competitors. It is hardly a case of Peugeot bringing a knife to a gunfight though.
The 1.6-litre power plant has impeccable pedigree, already proven in the Mini range, and produces a noteworthy 128 kW at 6 000 r/min and 240 Nm, which is a lot of power for a 1 250 kg car.
Utilising the overboost function, which can only be enabled for a brief period between 1 600- and 4 500 r/min with the engine operating at optimal temperature in third, fourth and fifth gears for a brief period, you can unleash 260 Nm through the front wheels. It's a shame this function only works in the higher gears, as low speed tractability would surely also have benefited from it.
Winning the 2007 engine of the year award in the 1.4- to 1.8-litre capacity category was no fluke for this powerplant, since it proves to be very keen and potent. Unfortunately, Peugeot has not mated it with the six-speed gearbox it uses in the Mini. Subsequently, in the 207 GTi application, one has to make due with an awful five-speed manual gearbox.
Vague and with a terribly inaccurate throw action, you easily find fourth instead of second on hurried up shifts, and the ratios are not ideal either. With the latent performance of the 1.6-litre engine, the dynamic package really suffers because of this unhappy marriage between the differing driveline components.
Despite all this, the 207 GTi is still plenty quick, dispatching 0-100 km/h in 7.1 seconds and besting a top speed of 220 km/h, according to Peugeot. On our launch route in Gauteng, it felt quick enough once on the move, but was a bit lazy exiting tight corners in seconds gear.
Part of the GTi launch programme centred around drag racing and gymkhana antics at Wesbank Raceway in Germiston on the coldest day of the year, I might add, with snow decorating much of Johannesburg.
The GTi stood up well to most of the punishment this track environment dished out to it, but the gymkhana and short circuit runs proved it was not a particularly sharp handler.
Throw it into a tight sweep and the front washes away very easily, and if you do something silly mid-corner the GTi indicates its willingness to play with some very tail happy behavior.
This might be a heap of fun on track, but there is a key difference between correct, sharp, focused handling and entertaining, oversteer happy handling. The GTi is a proponent of the latter.
A track environment is a very synthetic unit of analysis for a car that will spend all its working life on a public road network. Here the GTi redeemed itself with a comfortable ride and neat high speed handling on some of Gauteng's faster, twistier public roads later on.
Clever steering, comprehensive package
The 207 GTi is not positioned as the Golf GTI giant killer its illustrious forebears the 205 and 206 GTi were. Packaged as an altogether more drivable hot hatch, it blends potent performance with reasonable comfort and unobtrusive styling.
One of the unique features that has found itself on the GTi specification sheet is a steering stability programme dubbed SSP. Using the basic principle of pulse correction and modulation much as ABS brakes do, SSP applies opposing lock pulse correction to the steering wheel to counter imbalances when braking hard on differencing surfaces.
Essentially, where ABS controls the deceleration stability of a car under extreme braking, SSP controls the lateral movement during deceleration.
Although the new GTi might not be the all-conquering hot hatch icon it once was, this 207 GTi is a performance three-door which is not unduly hard to live with. Despite lacking ultimate handling sharpness and having an obstinate gearbox it has an endearing side to its all round dynamic character.
Think of it as a happy hot hatch, not a robot-to-robot racer or Sunday morning breakfast run tool. And priced under the psychological R200 000-barrier at R199 000 it represents very keen value, especially considering its potent, but highly efficient 1.6-litre turbocharged engine.