Price: £14,345. On sale November
Engine: 1,598cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, direct injection, turbo, 150bhp at 5,800rpm, 177lb ft at 1,400-3,500rpm
Transmission: five-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive
Performance: 131mph, 0-62 in 8.1sec, 40.3mpg official average,
Here is the product of a slightly confused marketing mind. The Peugeot 207 GT Turbo with a 1.6-litre petrol engine you see before you looks exactly like the GTs with the 110bhp, 1.6-litre HDI diesel engine you may have seen driving around since the 207 range's recent launch. There aren't even any unique badges to signal the difference.
But difference there is. This 207 GT Turbo, far from being a mere blinged-up version of the regular article, is the signpost for the rebirth of the Peugeot hot hatchback. This is massively significant for anyone who loves driving, because Peugeot created in 1984 possibly the most driver-engaging, most entertaining hot hatchback there has ever been. And, 306 Rallye apart, the company hasn't managed to repeat the 205 GTI's magic since.
It claims to have tried with the 206 GTI in its two forms, but the spark had gone out and, besides, in most markets it wasn't even called GTI. The sacred letters had been reduced from what was the very definition of an automotive mode of thought to a mere trim and power grade. If a car is a real GTI, it must be called that everywhere - like the Golf originally was and now is again, but wasn't during the wilderness years of 1992 to 2004.
We've received some conflicting messages about Peugeot's intentions for its new performance hatchback. On the day I drove the 207 GT Turbo, I was assured that next spring's 207 GTI really would be the real thing. Had I been told that before the drive, my preexisting cynicism would have been maintained. After all, for the previous few days I had been driving the GT HDI 110 and had been unimpressed by its jittery, too-firm ride and the artificial feel of its electric power steering, even if the latter was better than it had been on the cars I had originally driven on the press launch.
Something happened on the GT Turbo drive to make me think that, yes, maybe Peugeot has rediscovered what needs to be done. As the owner of an old 205 GTI, I was delighted.
The 207 GT Turbo uses the 150bhp version of the new, 1.6-litre petrol engine range jointly developed by Peugeot and BMW. The German company took the lead in design, the French one in parts procurement and manufacturing systems. There will be a normally aspirated version next year for gentler 207s and before then for the new Mini Cooper, plus a more powerful, 175bhp version for the new Mini Cooper S and the 207 GTI. This 150bhp variant differs from the more powerful one in the timing of its two variably timed camshafts and in its electronic calibration, but has the same direct injection, high compression ratio and twin-outlet turbocharger (this last to reduce interference between the exhaust pulses that drive the turbine blades).
Its peak of pulling power, 177lb ft, is really a plateau because it's available all the way from 1,400 to 3,500rpm. The more powerful engine has the same peak torque, plus the facility to increase it for a short time, but it arrives at higher engine speeds. The stage is set, then, for the 207 GT Turbo to pull with diesel-like muscularity from low revs but maybe not prove as energetic as, say, a Renault Clio 197 at high revs. That may be no bad thing, because you're forever changing down a gear to get the Renault to go.
Not so the 207 GT Turbo. Its response to the accelerator is both crisper and stronger than that of the new Mini Cooper S I drove a few weeks ago, with the 175bhp engine. It does fade away at very high engine speeds, having passed an intrusive resonance around 5,600rpm which the engineers are working to eradicate, but you won't be troubled by this. It's one of those engines that keeps you relaxed as it effortlessly thrusts you down the road, like a good diesel but with a broader speed range.
Such an engine in a small car is always appealing. It's what the 205 GTI had, after all. It's a pity about the shift quality of the five-speed gearbox, though, which is rubbery and not at all mechanical-feeling in its lateral movements. At least the gear ratios are quite close, so the engine speed doesn't drop too far when you change up. It helps cement the sporty ambience.
But not as much as the revised suspension does. Compared with the GT HDI 110, it has stiffer rubber in the lower front suspension arms' rear mountings (vital for steering precision), a stiffer crossbeam between the rear suspension arms (it helps load up the outside rear wheel when cornering), and dampers recalibrated to suit the lighter engine. Don't be put off by these technicalities, because they account for what happens next.
For me, it was a life-affirming moment. In it was contained the feeling that it's all going to be all right, that Peugeot has found the plot again. I turned into a fast flick on an open country road outside Paris, felt the nose tuck in with exact precision, felt the steering wheel pulling at my hands with a strength convincingly matched to the cornering force, and felt the 207's rear move smoothly out to an attitude designed to help point the front.
This is it: a hot hatchback with a tail mobile enough to help to point the nose, the amount by which it does so dependent on how hard I'm accelerating or whether I'm suddenly slowing down.
Peugeot's past car-handling guru, Jean Baudin, always said that the way the rear suspension behaves has a vital effect on how a car steers. Channel the forces the right way and you can have a car eager to respond to a driver's inputs, a car whose trajectory is finely controllable on the accelerator as much as with the steering wheel.
The 207 GT Turbo does this and it's a joy. It even rides over bumps better than the HDI 110 version. Peugeot has got back on the Damascene road, and the revelation has been properly imparted.
Nor need you fear that the tail's eagerness to help out might turn into a spin if you're not paying attention. The old 205 could do that but the 207 does not, thanks to innately benign characteristics and a subtly helpful, never intrusive ESP system.
Even better, the GT Turbo actually costs less than the HDI 110. So, unless you absolutely must have the hyper-economical version, the GT Turbo is clearly the one to have. Now Peugeot just has to make sure the 207 GTI fulfils the expectations the GT Turbo has just created. The car world is watching. Don't mess it up, mes braves.
Ford Fiesta ST £13,595
The most obvious rival has great handling but its 2.0-litre engine is rougher and less punchy than the 207. Outright pace is similar, standard equipment significantly less. Looks good with optional stripes.
Seat Ibiza 20vt FR 150 £11,975
Seat uses fat wheels and hard suspension to impart "sportiness", but it's a shallow transformation. Turbo engine has 20 valves and 1.8 litres, with a similar pace to the Peugeot's. Good value.
Mini Cooper with Chili pack £13,695
About to be replaced by a similar-looking new model, the Mini remains an extraordinary car-culture phenomenon. Great fun to drive, however, it's slower and less well-equipped than the 207.Reuse content