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Peugeot 206 GTi 180




Can Muhammed Ali's son punch and dance around a ring like his father? How hard must John Lennon's children find it to write songs?

The weight of expectation can be unbearable for the next generation following in the footsteps of greatness – and perhaps that is why Peugeot has waited so long to finally produce a 206 that gets close – in a contemporary context – to the original 205 GTi. The 206 GTi 180 is that attempt. There has been a 138bhp GTi version around since 1999 but, down on power to the competition, it was no spiritual successor to the legend.

So 180bhp gets the new GTi up there in the power stakes with similarly-priced efforts in the shape of the Seat Leon Cupra, Renault Clio 172, Mini Cooper S and Honda Civic Type R.

With 180bhp, the 206 GTi should be a pocket rocket. The 2.0-litre, four cylinder engine is a development of the unit in the 138bhp version with some significant tweakery, helped by Lotus, that improves breathing to and from the engine. There is not a huge improvement in torque though – 152 lb-ft at 4,750rpm, although 80% of that is available from about 2,000rpm.

The addition of variable valve timing ensures the engine does not run out of puff at high revs. That means it will do 0-62mph in 7.4 seconds, and in fifth will sprint from 50-70mph in around 10 seconds.

The suspension system has also had a good going over, with stiffer springs at the front, and tie rods at the back to improve rear axle stability and limit lift off oversteer, which is when backing off mid-bend produces a sudden rear end slide – something for which the sharp-handling 205 GTi was legendary. These changes are coupled with 17in wheels shod with Pirelli P7000 tyres.

All the usual suspects are here on the electronics front as well, with ABS, enhanced stability braking system, anti-skid and ESP.

So in terms of dynamic extras, Peugeot has raised its game. On the cosmetic side, I'm not so sure. Yes, it has the big wheels, dual chrome exhausts, a spoiler mounted high at the back and some carbon fibre trim on the door mirrors.

But the overall effect is on the a bit subdued, probably due to four years of seeing so many 'Max-Powered' 206s on the road. The GTi 180 looks too conservative and does not have the hardcore impact of the hot Civic or Leon.

Inside, things are better. Racing seats made out of alcantara, leather and mesh hit the right note, as do the two in the back – this is a four seater, not five and they are designed to keep rear passengers tucked in. There is also a chrome gear knob, leather around the binnacle, alcantara on the doors and glovebox, a CD autochanger, rain sensing wipers and automatic lights. So the options list is happily short.

At £14,995, the 206GTi is at the right price to attract users choosers, as the Leon Cupra and Civic Type R have. Emissions are 204g/km of CO2, which would see a 22% taxpayer forking out on 24% in 2003/2004. That's £782 for the year.

CAP reckons the 206 GTi will be worth £4,825/33% after three years/60,000 miles, which is on a par with the Clio, marginally worse than the Civic and nowhere near the Mini Cooper S, which is predicted 44%.

Peugeot expects to sell around 1,500 cars in the UK, which will be the biggest market outside France, and it sees it as the icing on the cake for the range rather than a high seller. Time will tell though. Honda had similarly conservative aspirations for the Type R, but it has done much larger numbers than expected.

Make: Peugeot
Model: 206 GTi 180
Engine (cc): 1,997
Max power (bhp/rpm): 180/7,000
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 152/4,750
Max speed (mph): 140
0-62mph (sec): 7.4
Comb fuel consumption (mpg): 32.8
CO2 emissions (g/km): 204
Transmission: 5 sp manual
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 50/11
On sale: August
Prices (OTR): £14,995

Behind the wheel

THANKS to its variable valve engine, slow moving in the GTi 180 is a perfectly simple affair – no drivetrain shenanigans or need to keep the engine blipping. There is a distant blurting from the exhausts, and the unmistakeable shudder of stiff suspension hitting ruts.

Open the 206 up and, once above about 4,000 revs, the car starts to burst forward. The steering, which is stodgy at low and mid-speeds starts to become much more silky.

The same cannot be said about the gear change, which is more direct than standard 206s, but nowhere near the precision of Honda, Mini, or even Seat for that matter. The ratios have been closed up, and first gear has been made 15% longer for those slow hairpin bends, so it was just as well we were in a mountain range with plenty of them to try it out. There are only five gears though – not the de rigueur six in this sector. Would that stop somebody choosing it? The driving position is still the mish-mash of other 206s with a high seat and a far away steering wheel, although general comfort is helped by the excellent seats.

Give the 206 GTi some encouragement though, and it becomes a pretty involving drive. Nothing like the primal fizz of the old 205 GTi: weight gains, safety requirements and electronics mean that probably no car in this sector will have that pared-down brilliance again.

It turns in relatively sharply, accelerates relatively urgently, particularly at the high end, and stops relatively well. Body roll is contained, even through quick directional change S bends, and the electronics take care of silly behaviour to keep you on the road.

Nothing much in the way of feel is coming through the steering wheel though, and there is no real buzz to it unless you're right on the ragged edge. Keep it boiling, and the GTi covers ground very quickly, if not spectacularly.

Driving verdict

For a spine-tingling engine note, the Civic Type R is number one and for kart-like behaviour, the Mini Cooper S is the choice. What is the 206 GTi's 'thing'? Well, it has got a lot of standard equipment. It is a very good car, there is no doubt of that, but it is not the best in the sector. And of course, it has the burden of family heritage to contend with.

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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