IT IS difficult to follow in the footsteps of a legend, to have to impress immediately, to have to turn a broad shoulder to comparisons while you are finding your way. The task is made even greater when those that have come before you have failed and all eyes are waiting for you to follow suit.
Well for Peugeot 208 GTi, the road ahead is anything but smooth, expectations weigh heavy on the spritely arrival because in its shadow lies the distinct shape of the 205 GTi, one of the major players, in fact a class leader in hot hatches in the 1980s.
Weighing in at less than 1000kg the 205 GTi was a thrilling little number, a pocket rocket with a go-kart heart, its 1.9-litre affording it the power and willingness to produce a helluva ride. It showed its prowess in a number of nail-biting rally wins and strengthened Peugeot's reputation as a real player.
But the manufacturer dropped the ball with the GTis that followed - the 206 and 207 were spectacular pretenders and now the onerous task of reviving interest in the brand lies with the 208 GTi.
Of course there is little chance that the 205 GTi as it was then could be built today simply because of new safety and emissions laws but Peugeot claims its latest creation is as close to mirroring its performance as it could get.
The finish is slick, with textured materials in the places you are most likely to touch and the fit is tight, with nary a jiggle in sight. It looks different, slightly edgy even and that is a refreshing change in a market in which so many interiors are just run of the mill.
Sporty shaped seats are supportive and comfortable holding you snugly around tight bends but wide enough at the shoulders to please the more burly driver. The GTi's smaller steering wheel is nice to the touch and certainly adds to that go-kart feel but it does manage to obstruct the view of those essential instruments. Storage options are few and at times oddly placed but door pockets are big offering room for incidentals.
A sloping roof in a small car is never going to do any favours for headroom and that is the case in the 208 GTi with rear seat passengers getting the short straw here.
The back seat may make provision for three occupants (and even has anchorage points for car seats) but in reality that would be two at a push as this car is more suitable for a car lover and someone to show off to.
At 285 litres, 1152 litres with the back seats down, the boot space is more than decent.
On the road
The 208 GTi's wide stance keeps it fixed to the ground while a powerful 1.6-litre turbocharged engine provides the necessary guts to deliver a tinglingly satisfying driving experience.
The steering is fairly direct and the suspension, while firm, manages to offer some cushioning comfort over poorer road surfaces.
This GTi is at its best on windy mountain roads where it uses its scant body weight - just 1160kg - to its advantage in negotiating tricky tasks with practiced zeal. It reacts quickly to instructions and thrills at being slung, even incompetently, into corners.
The gearbox is slick with short ratios which are easy to execute but also create some "hot hatch" thrill. It's not a thrill a minute, but the overall experience is one of enjoyment. Most disappointing perhaps was a lack of that truly throaty growl that turns heads.
What do you get?
The GTi comes with impressive bells and whistles including 17-inch alloys, daytime running lights, dual-zone climate control, cruise control with speed limiter, auto headlights and wipers, cornering front fog lights, seven-inch touch screen with sat nav and a six-speaker stereo, Bluetooth with two USB ports, rear parking sensors and chilled glove box.
Like the rest of the 208 range, safety is five-star, featuring six airbags, ABS brakes with electronic brake force distribution, electronic stability and traction control. There is also a front plastic panel to limit leg injuries to pedestrians if they are hit at speeds below 40kmh.
This has been a year for hot and warm hatches. The Peugeot 208 GTi's main competition should come from Ford Fiesta ST (from $25,990), Mini Cooper S (from $40,700), about to be released new Renault Clio RS (from $28,790) and Volkswagen Polo GTi (from $27,790).
Provided you are young without kids or older empty-nesters, the 208 GTi is a fun, value-filled choice. A few things could be better such as practically placed storage, dials that light up a bit when driving at night and a reverse camera. We believe that cars of this ilk are most suited to manual transmissions but the lack of an auto option may hurt sales.
The official figure is 5.9 litres/100km - ours was closer to 7L/100km which is still good considering our week had only a handful of highway trips of more than an hour. Peugeot offers three years/60,000km capped price servicing scheduled to cost a total of $1110 and a three year/100,000km warranty.
The GTi differs from the standard 208, with a lowered suspension and 17-inch alloys the starting point for a sporty look. Add a new rear spoiler and a specially designed GTi grille as well as a heap of chrome - in the twin tailpipes, lower window ledge, on the rear skirt - and you have a look that will pique the interest. The GTi badges round off a slick effort.
The Peugeot 208 GTi is one of the more exciting hot hatches we've seen this year blending looks with performance and value for money. It's not the legendry 205 but it is a worthy drive none the less. It's not entirely sensible but then a fun car rarely is and this is certainly worth a look if you are in the market for a hot hatch.
What matters most
What we liked: Nice handling, sporty looks, impressive inclusions.
What we'd like to see: Reverse camera, more throaty engine sound.
Warranty: Peugeot offers a three year/100,000km warranty with three years/60,000km capped-price servicing at $370 annually or every 10,000km.
Model: Peugeot 208 GTi.
Details: Three-door front wheel drive light hot hatch.
Transmission: Six-speed manual.
Engine: 1.6-litre DOHC turbo petrol generating maximum power of 147kW @ 5500rpm and peak torque of 275Nm @ 1700rpm.
Consumption: 5.9 litres/100km (combined average).
CO2: 139 grams/km.
Bottom line: $29,900 (plus on-roads).