First, let’s get the uncomfortable truth out of the way: no matter how hard Peugeot try, they will never be able to recreate the iconic 205 GTi.  While those of us old enough to have driven the original GTi might long for them to do so, today’s safety and emissions regulations alone would render it an impossible mission.

The world has moved on.  The GTi originally made do with just 105bhp, and its light weight that meant that lowly power figure was enough also meant it folded like a napkin when it hit a tree (and many did).

Today, we demand cars that don’t immediately return to their constituent parts on impact; that don’t dissolve if left out in the rain; and that pay more than lip service to the concept of environmental responsibility.

While the new Peugeot 208 GTi might hark back to the 1984 original as far as marketing goes, the company is inwardly realistic enough to acknowledge that this is more a ‘re-imagining’ of what GTi means in the modern world.

In practice, that means taking a boggo Peugeot 208 as a starting point, implanting the 1.6-litre turbocharged engine from the RCZ, liberally sprinkling red trim about the place, and fettling with the twisty-turny parts until a GTi emerges.

The 1.6 THP engine produces its 200bhp maximum power at 5,800rpm, but more helpfully produces its peak torque of 275Nm at just 1,700rpm.  That’s enough beans to sprint to 62mph in 6.8 seconds, with puff enough for a 143mph top speed.  The engine feeds the front wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox with an engaging set of close ratios.

With today’s grown-up GTi receiving the benefit of a turbo, its in-gear acceleration figures offer a clue as to the new car’s raison d’être: with 50-75mph in fifth gear dealt with in 6.8 seconds, the 208 GTi is designed with usable performance in mind.

Rather than having to wring its neck in order to achieve something resembling sporty progress, the 208’s turbo-backed power delivery and close ratio gearbox make nipping through traffic and zipping through bends a delight.

Equally endearing is the handling.  Peugeot have beefed-up both front and rear sub-frames, as well as retuned the springs, dampers, and anti-roll bar.  While the GTi drops only 8mm closer to the ground than its more basic brothers, this does bring the advantage of maintaining the ride quality, and leaves enough travel for the suspension to soak up our roads’ many imperfections before they corrupt your chosen line.

Pushing harder will reveal the Peugeot trait of cocking a rear wheel; that the standard-fit electronic stability control will allow such hooliganism is to be praised, although if outright tyre-shredding is more your thing, it can be disabled altogether.

The larger brake discs (302mm at the front, 249mm at the rear) are grabbed by an effective pair of upgraded calipers, their red paint peeking out from behind the 17-inch two-tone alloy wheels.

There are small flies in various ointments, however.  Despite a reworked exhaust system, the GTi isn’t quite as aurally peppy as its badge would suggest, and while certainly not offensive, there’s no endearing rasp to it.

The steering isn’t overburdened with detail about what’s under the front wheels, either, but it does at least respond quickly and faithfully to inputs from the unfeasibly small steering wheel.  That wheel can block the view of the instruments for some drivers, however, relying on their ability to peer over the top rather than look through it.

Elsewhere in the cabin, there are red accents spattered everywhere: the dials feature red surrounds glowing alluringly at you, there’s a red centre marker on the top of the steering wheel, red stitching on the seats, dashboard, gear lever, and even the seat belts, plus glossy trim on the doors and centre console that features a red-to-black graduation.

Peugeot say they were keen to showcase the new 7-inch colour touch-screen, and this results in its front-and-centre placement on top of the centre console.  It drives the Bluetooth ‘phone connectivity and media functions of the car, with a £400 satellite navigation upgrade available as an option.  There’s no CD slot, although an external unit can be found on the options list.

The aggressively-bolstered part-leather seats are especially supportive, holding you firmly in place during cornering.  They’re set 10mm lower in the car than the standard 208, too, with the overall effect of making you feel more connected to the chassis.

With enough comfort to make the GTi a realistic everyday proposition, thankfully it has the practicality to go with it, with a 285 litre boot capacity that rises to 1,076 litres with the rear seats folded.

It should prove cheap enough to run every day, too, with 47.8 mpg recorded on the combined cycle.  Emissions of 139 g/km place it in VED Band E (£125 pa).

Equipment levels are respectable, with electrically operated and folding heated door mirrors, DAB digital radio, climate control, rear parking sensors, automatic headlights, wipers, and dipping rear-view mirror, all as standard for £18,895 of your hard-earned pounds.

The 208 GTi isn’t intended to be a recreation of the iconic 205 GTi – nor could it be.  It’s more a representation of what the 205 has grown up to become.  Just like those of us who think back to the 1984 original with a misty look in our eye, it’s grown a little softer around the edges, a bit less daring, and a little less nimble than it used to be.

But, while we and the GTi have aged over the last 29 years, we both still know how to have fun.

Entry-level Price £18,895 Price as tested £18,895
Engine 4-cylinder turbo, 1598cc Transmission Six-speed manual
Power 200ps @ 5,800rpm Torque 275Nm @ 1,700rpm
0-62mph 6.8 secs Top speed 143 mph
Economy 47.8 mpg CO2 139 g/km
Dimensions 3962 x 2004 x 1460 (LWH) Kerb Weight 1460 kg

Alex Kefford

Editor

Freelance journalist, ex-offroad driving instructor and long distance road-tripper. If you have any questions about this piece, feel free to hit me up on Twitter.