Peugeot 207 GTi

One of the most famous badges in motoring folklore is back as Peugeot pulls the wraps off the 207 GTi

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

For anyone with fond memories of the original 205 GTi, the fact Peugeot has played it safe with the hot 207 will come as a disappointment. Nevertheless, the 1.6 turbo engine is a belter, and early impressions suggest the production car, launched in March, will handle crisply. But the most exciting news is that Peugeot will keep the pressure on rivals with a 210bhp RC.

Not officially unveiled until March’s Geneva Motor Show, and due on sale in UK dealers very soon after, one of the most eagerly anticipated models of 2007 is driven here in an exclusive preview. So, is the latest chapter in Peu­geot’s hot hatch heritage the car to restore pride to the French brand?

The marque used to be synonymous with pocket rockets, but since the 205 GTi’s demise in 1993, it has struggled to keep the memory alive and maintain the interest of driving enthusiasts. So a lot rests on the newcomer, not least because it has to do battle with two fierce new competitors – the MINI Cooper S and Renaultsport Clio 197.

Don’t let this Peugeot’s plain looks deceive you, though. It may be a prototype, but it’s fitted with a number of unique styling modifications which will appear on the final production versions – most notably the rear boot spoiler and silver door mirrors. What’s more, 17-inch alloy wheels are likely to feature. However, unlike the Clio 197, the newcomer won’t gain unique bodywork – and that’s a shame!

Under the skin, though, there’s the 1.6-litre turbocharged engine from the recently launched 207 GT. It has been uprated from 150bhp to the same 175bhp output as the MINI Cooper S – hardly surprising, as the four-cylinder forced-induction powerplant is a joint venture between BMW and PSA Peugeot Citroen. One point of difference bet­ween the two machines is the transmission. While the MINI employs a six-speeder, the 207 GTi will have only a five-gear transmission.

Although bosses claim the healthy 240Nm torque output (available from just 1,600rpm) means the car doesn’t need the extra ratio, buyers in this class now expect it. What’s even more disappointing is the vague, sloppy shift quality of this familiar Peugeot set-up.

That was the only major drawback we noticed, though. True, our car was a stripped-out version which had been converted for rally use (badged LW for Light Weight, it is set to compete in a low-cost championship), and so was stiffer and not as heavy as standard.

But the overall set-up was largely unaltered. As we have said before, the ordinary 207 has superior steering and chassis balance, plus keener handling, than the equivalent Clio, and although it’s hard on this evidence to gauge whether the GTi will get the better of the 197, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic.

The car we drove turns in tautly, grips hard and the flexible engine ensures there’s plenty of torque to pull you out of tight corners. It’s nimble and changes direction with relish, although it doesn’t have the same frenetic energy as the 197. However, once fitted with full sound insulation, it’s likely to be a better companion on long trips, thanks to its more supple suspension.

The brakes were too sharp, although this is an area engineers admit they are still working on. Prices won’t be announced until its unveiling, but the three-door-only GTi is expected to com­mand a £1,500 premium over the GT.

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