Yesterday one of the car world’s worst kept secrets finally became official. For the third time, Peugeot is to attempt to replace the 205GTI (below).
Logically enough, the new car will be called the 208GTI and goes on sale in the UK in the Spring with a yet-to-be-disclosed list price rumoured to be around £20,000. For that your 208 will be fitted with the same 1.6-litre turbo motor used in cars as disparate at the Mini Cooper S and Citroen DS4.
In the Peugeot it will have 200bhp, an output seemingly sure to provide interesting acceleration not least because the car will weigh just 1160kg, making it lighter even than the RenaultSport Clio, for many years the most outstanding small sporting hatch on sale. Peugeot talks of a 0-62mph time of under 7sec, but on this evidence that smacks of either Peugeot being conservative or a car with a traction problem.
On top of this Peugeot promises a close ratio six-speed gearbox, and completely new suspension strategies front and rear. This is not just the usual re-tune of springs, bars and dampers, but a widening of the track and the stiffening of the front subframe and rear crossmember to ensure the car more immediately and accurately interprets the instructions of its driver.
It all sounds very encouraging, not least because the standard 208 on which it is based was such a vast improvement on the dismal 207.
But I’m not celebrating yet. When I first drove a 206GTI I couldn’t believe how the fire of the 205 could be so quickly snuffed. And then I drove the 207GTI, which was so dull it didn’t just ignore the memory of the 205GTI so much as raise two fingers to it. I remember the billboard campaign featuring a picture of the 207GTI with a tag line stating “I’m back” with the ‘I’ in the shape of some devilish imp. I’ve not often felt the desire to deface property belonging to another, but the appalling smugness, not to mention utterly misleading nature, of the statement made we want to drive a car into it, preferably a 207GTI.
What worries me about the new car is the accompanying press release. As with any document designed to convey news, it’s a fairly basic requirement that you get the important stuff out there first. This means you can usually tell a lot about how a car manufacturer is seeking to position a car by the way this information is ordered. And the statement put out by Peugeot regarding the car it describes as the one that “regenerates the values of the iconic 205GTI” is fully 14 paragraphs old before it provides any detail about how this car will be powered and what it might be like to drive.
The first sentence relating to the car states “Intended for demanding individuals, 208 GTi owners will benefit from sophisticated choices of the materials and colours employed.” And then you’re into 800 words of LED light technology, gloss black grilles, satin chrome beads (whatever they might be) and overstitched leather hand brake levers.
Only then, right at the very end and for just four short paragraphs does it deign to talk about how the car will be powered and measures taken to improve the driving experience. Hierarchically Peugeot appears to be suggesting that the material with which the handbrake is covered is more important to the customer at which this car is to be aimed than how much fun it is to drive.
Of course we must not read too much into this. It’s just a press release and I’ve long lost count of the number I’ve read that ended up bearing no discernible relation to the cars they sought to describe. Even so, right now it’s all we have to go upon. We’ll know a little more when the 208GTI is unveiled at the Paris Motorshow later this month. But until I’ve actually got in one, driven the door handles off it and felt at least an echo of that incisiveness, communication and enthusiasm that so defined the original, the champagne stays in the refrigerator.