Peugeot seems to have happily vacated its place at the top of the hot hatch pile in recent years. What’s the 207 GTi going to do to change our minds?
Make the competition look expensive, for a start. We thought Vauxhall had pulled a canny trick when we learned that the 189bhp Corsa VXR would cost £15,495, undercutting Renault’s Clio 197 and the Mini Cooper S by £500. But now Peugeot has pulled the rug from under Vauxhall by offering the 207 GTi for £14,995.
What’s the difference between the GT and GTi?
About 25bhp and £600. Both use the same 1.6-litre engine co-developed with BMW for the new, new Mini; both use twin-scroll turbochargers and develop the same 177lb ft of torque. But the GT makes do with 150bhp while the GTi enjoys 175bhp. That still doesn’t sound like much to propel a tubby 1250kg hatch, not when the Clio has nearly 200bhp and the Corsa 189bhp. But Peugeot still claims 6.9sec to 62mph, so it’s just as swift on paper as its rivals.
So what’s it like?
Comfortable, quiet and easy to drive in traffic. The steering is light (too light) for all those nasty parking manoeuvres and the sporty-looking seats don’t prevent adults fitting comfortably in the back. The standard-fit air conditioning (it’s a £600 option on the Cooper S) hums away quietly keeping you cool and the clever turbocharged 1.6-litre four delivers an astonishing 39.2mpg on the combined cycle (although the Cooper S parries with 40.9mpg). It looks the part too, what with those chunky tailpipes and alloy wheels. But the enormous chrome wing mirrors are truly horrific.
Err, I meant what’s it like to drive? Hot hatches are still for driving, aren’t they?
So there are a few of you left who actually like driving? Goes against everything manufacturers have been telling us. Well, it’s not entirely without merit just in case you thought I was about to give it both barrels. The engine is brilliant, feeling far more like a big naturally aspirated four than a small blown one and it makes mincemeat of the Clio in the low- to mid-range. Boost comes in at very low speeds, there’s no lag to speak of and it keeps on pulling right up until the 6500rpm limiter. Offering just five gears when all rivals, including the Mini which uses the same engine, offer six seems an odd choice and we were sceptical, but it works well because the engine’s torque is spread so evenly throughout the rev-range. Shame the gearchange is that typically sloppy Peugeot affair. You can change gear incredibly quickly, but only if you’re accurate. The steering is similarly irritating. Unlike the gearshift, it is accurate, but that’s its only trick. Peugeot has embraced electric steering for its fuel-saving benefits and other manufacturers are following suit. But while it weights up subtly, it just isn’t as satisfying or as convincing as an old-fashioned gas-guzzling hydraulic set-up. And that’s a shame because the chassis itself is pretty good. The low speed ride is brittle, certainly more so than the Corsa VXR’s, but as speeds rise the Peugeot-designed dampers make a great fist of reigning in unwanted body movements and isolating the cabin from angry tarmac. There’s not much in the way of lift-off action and certainly nothing nasty to catch you out, but you can at least tuck the nose in with your right foot.
But is it as good as the 205 GTi?
One day I’ll drive a new fast Peugeot and someone won’t ask me that question. But I can’t see it happening soon. Anyway, depends what your criteria is. The 207 is quicker, more refined, quieter, roomier, friendlier at the limit, better built, packed with kit, doesn’t kangaroo in traffic and is far safer. I dread to think how many NCAP stars a 205 GTi would get - but it certainly wouldn’t match the 207’s four. Stuff like that matters to the modern hot hatch buyer. But if you’re talking steering feel, throttle response and proper throttle-steering, the 205 walks it. Driving the original, you’re reminded how fun it is but also how unacceptable it would be to someone stepping out of a hot 207.
So when’s the more powerful one coming? Sounds like there’s room for a quicker version 207
Peugeot has already developed a kit boosting the 1.6 turbo to 200bhp, but hasn’t given it the green light for sale because it’s not sure it can bring it to market at a reasonable price. No such concerns over at BMW. Essentially the same dealer-fit kit will be available this year, but then Mini owners seem happy to spend absurd amounts of money on their cars. And we can’t imagine many people wanting to splash out £20k on a Peugeot 207.
Forget about the 205GTi and 306 Rallye; sadly for lovers of hardcore hot-hatchery, those days are gone. So rather than judge the 207 GTi against its predecessors, the more relevant question is whether it’s a good example of a modern hot hatch and better than its current rivals. And it is fast, it is capable and it is refined, requiring no compromises to use day to day. But surely there’s more to a hot hatch than that. Good car, but not the car we’d hoped for.