A big improvement on the disappointing 206 GTi, but still no match for a Clio 197 or Corsa VXR

What is it?

The fastest car in Peugeot's newest supermini range, this is the new 207 GTI, which we've come to the twisting bitumen of the Col de Venice to sample. We are not expecting Peugeot to replicate the 205 GTI, for that is a totally unrealistic ask. Rather, we are hoping that the company can make amends for the very disappointing 206 GTI.

The badge on the back of this French registered 207 says RC, but ours won't say that. Also, UK cars will have a slightly different front bumper and sill skirts but, unfortunately, the same rather dull-looking alloys as this one.

The styling on the 207 GTI is a little bit dull overall. You get smoked rear and tailgate glass, a pair of serious-looking bucket seats, an alloy gear knob, alloy pedal covers and naff looking plastichrome rings on the dials. Perhaps I would be less critical if my transport to the airport in the UK hadn’t been the new Vauxhall Corsa VXR. The person who designed that car’s cabin obviously sleeps with a Demon Tweeks catalogue on his or her bedside table.

The 207 GTI's package looks more promising on paper, however. Instead of going for a large swept volume engine, Peugeot has downsized and fitted the 1.6-litre four cylinder that it developed in conjunction with BMW. It’s turbocharged with direct injection – which permits an efficient 10.5:1 compression ratio (the fuel enters the combustion chamber after the point at which pre-ignition would occur).

Maximum power is 175bhp at 6000rpm. There’s an overboost facility that boosts torque from the normal peak of 160lb ft to 195lb ft as long as you’re beyond second gear. Unlike the Vauxhall Corsa VXR’s system there’s no time limit for the overboost. Only five ratios live inside the gearbox which strikes me as a welcome victory for engineering over marketing.

What's it like?

There’s another technical detail in the gearbox that works particularly well on these roads and that’s a long first gear. It’s perfect for hairpins that are a bit too tight for second gear and too quick for a short first ratio. Also, the engine management lets you go 300rpm past the 6500rpm red line in first gear only, making first even longer.

The engine loves to rev and there’s no discernable lag (thanks to the twin-scroll turbine and high compression ratio) and neither is there a tailing away of torque after 5000rpm. Whereas in many turbo cars you’d short shift to get back into the meat of the torque, the 207 GTI’s engine pulls hard right to the limit so you can let it scream between hairpins.

The chassis engineer’s goal with this car was to make a 1205kg hot hatch feel like a 1000kg hatch and to do that they concentrated particularly on the front axle. The springs are stiffer, the dampers (built by Peugeot as usual) re-valved and solid bushes used for the pivot where the bottom of the strut meets the wishbone, and for the forward bush where the wishbone attaches to the subframe.

So have they succeeded? Well, the 207 GTI's chassis has a very good balance, there’s not much body roll and the rear axle works perfectly when you’re braking hard into a corner and nosing the front in.

Energy-saving electric power steering is here to stay unfortunately. It’s fine when it’s perfectly set up, but when it isn’t it can spoil an otherwise excellent package. The GTI’s power steering is over assisted at slow speeds and has a rather odd feel when you’re going quickly, especially through switchbacks. When you change direction the steering loads up slightly – almost sticking – as it goes past the straight ahead position onto the other lock. It’s not a fatal flaw, but it spoils what is otherwise a very good package.

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Should I buy one?

The 207 GTI is vastly better than the 206 GTI, so if you're a fan of the latter, you'll be blown away by it. More's the pity, then, that it is only a partial return to form.

We already have the 150bhp 207 GT, so Peugeot could have easily afforded to go more raw with what is now the 207 performance flagship. In order to satisfy the appetites of modern hot hatchback lovers, I suspect that it should have – and when the 207 GTI meets its rivals, I suspect I will be proved right.

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