The manufacturer has responded with a car as fit and lean as any heir should be, showing up rivals which have put on weight like Henry VIII - cue the Volkswagen Golf GTI. What's more, where the 205 GTi offered 1.6 or 1.9-litre engines, the 206 GTi arrives with an even finer charger below its bonnet, Peugeot's new 2.0-litre 16-valve 137bhp engine. This has just been fitted to the 406, and races the upper medium contender from standstill to 62mph in just 10.8 seconds, so its impact in the supermini 206 is phenomenal.
Thanks to a much enhanced power-to-weight ratio, the hot-hatch sprints to 62 mph in 8.4 seconds, and is capable of 137mph on the autobahn. Available from June, and likely to carry a price tag of about £15,000, the 206 GTi should cast a halo over an already popular 206 range, and restore Peugeot's position in the heart of boy-racers of all ages up and down the country. In fairness, the 206 has been crying out for an engine of this quality since its launch, with the car's splendid ride and handling let down by lacklustre power units.
Available only as a three-door, the 206 GTi comes with widened front wings to accommodate 15in alloy wheels featuring low-profile V-rated Pirelli 185/155 R15 V tyres. New headlamps have been fitted and a large lower air intake added below the grille to boost the car's sporty appeal, all finished off with a chrome exhaust tail pipe. Sadly, Peugeot has not added symmetrical air intake valves in the bonnet to match the two already there, but it has continued the sporting theme inside with alloy pedals and gear lever, a fat three-spoke leather steering wheel, and body-hugging seats.
Any notion, however, that this is a pared-out racer like Peugeot's Rallye cars should be quashed immediately. The 206 comes with the luxuries expected of a £15,000 supermini, including automatic air conditioning, and while its faux-suede alcantara seats may look sporty, they are really designed for comfort rather than anchoring driver and passenger for a charge through twisty mountain roads. The GTi took to these routes with gusto, its short-throw five-ratio gearbox delivering more than enough power whenever required.
Its exhaust note is a mite disappointing given such performance, and only with the radio turned off can you hear the engine working its socks off, but such refinement is a blessing for the 95% of journeys when it's hard to push a car anywhere near fourth gear, let alone its limits. On the other 5% of thrilling drives it is at least reassuring that the 206 GTi comes with four disc brakes with ABS, although getting into trouble is more difficult thanks to subtle tweaks to the car's chassis and suspension to provide enhanced directional stability. The lack of body roll when cornering at speed is one of the most noticeable aspects of the new GTi.
The technical statistics for pub torque reveal that the 2.0-litre engine produces 137bhp at 6,000rpm (and it is happy to rev all the way through to the red line), and maximum torque of 190Nm at 4,100rpm. The important factor, however, is the 170Nm of torque available at just 2,000rpm, just where you want it for overtaking and celebrating the revival of a genuine, supermini hot-hatch.