Evolution rather than revolution is the order of the day for many car makers.
Witness the styling of the Peugeot 207 and the third generation new Mini.
You need to take a second look at both to avoid confusion with their respective predecessors. The 207 is closely aligned to the 206, and a double take is necessary to distinguish the upcoming new Peugeot 308 from the run-out 307.
Seven versions of the 207 are offered in New Zealand, with prices from the entry-level 1.4-litre XS at $24,490 to the Coupe Cabriolet manual turbo.
The three-door GTi THP 175 that arrived more recently than the mainstream versions is the model with the best-known heritage and, arguably, the variant with the strongest image.
At $37,990, the GTi represents good buying in the performance hatch sector.
It’s difficult not to be impressed by the specification. Standard gear includes six airbags, leather steering wheel, an electronic stability program, automatic and directional headlights, rain sensitive wipers, rear parking aid, climate control air conditioning and cruise control.
Some of this kit costs extra on the Mini Cooper S which uses the same engine, yet the Peugeot is several thousand dollars less and offers greater interior space.
But the French car has a five-speed gearbox against the Mini’s six speeds.
Still, you could argue that with this much power and torque on hand, five gears are as many as are needed.
This does not, however, forgive the Peugeot for having a less than perfect transmission. The gear change is vague; the lever is floppy even when in gear, and the action hardly the height of perfection.
The gearbox simply doesn’t like to be rushed. All this is a sports model? Really.
We are picky since this car has a reputation to uphold after the barn-storming 205 GTi of the 1980s. Poor Peugeot must tire of critics reminiscing about this classic but, to be fair, they continue to remind us of the car.
In the hand-out material for the 207 GTi, Peugeot talks of the 205 GTi legend that “delighted enthusiasts of pure driving sensation and provoked some wistful thoughts among drivers of less tempestuous versions”.
The French car maker has been struggling to emulate the 205 GTi legend even if they would like us to think the world has moved on.
While we’re getting the bad stuff out of the way, the test car suffered from snatchy brakes and poor brake pedal feel, an engine that was flat down low and an unforgiving ride at urban pace.
Of course, the 205 was also a bone-shaker at pottering speeds but redeemed itself when the pressure was applied.
The handling of the new car is good, but you would expect that given the amount of work on the suspension and the standard Bridgestone Potenza 205/45 tyres on 17-inch, nine-spoke, alloy wheels.
Maybe you can excuse the lack of ride compliance because of the low profile tyres, but Peugeot used to be a master of combining good ride with impeccable handling and roadholding.
There’s no shortage of grip, and though security always feels strong, the electrically assisted steering lacks feel or engagement, with a touch too much assistance when travelling slowly and a slightly vagueness when pressing on in earnest.
Throw the GTi into a corner – part of what this car is all about – and after the initial body roll, the 207 doesn’t turn in quite as well as expected.
For this most powerful of 207s, the rear torsion beam and strings are stiffened, the dampers re-valved and special suspension bushes installed.
The car can feel slightly awkward when switching from corner to corner, even though the chassis is well balanced and behaves itself under heavy braking from high speed.
This is still a quick car with tidy behaviour, but the opposition has moved on, and Peugeot is no longer the hot hatch flagship leader it once was.
New Zealand spec cars take the new steering stability program (SSP), linking the ESP function to the anti-lock brakes and power steering. The idea is to improve stability and straight line stopping distance when braking on surfaces where traction differs between right and left wheels.
ESP recognises the road surface, limiting braking when necessary, and when instability is anticipated, more torque is applied to the steering.
The driver feels more resistance in the steering and is free to take responsive action rather than the system providing an automatic opposite lock reaction that could be unnerving.
Although engine capacity is similar, the 1598cc DOHC turbo power in the 207 GTi is a far cry from the 85kW (115 bhp) single cam injected motor in the old 205 GTi. Offset this against the fact that the newer car is bigger and heavier – and safer.
No harm has been done for PSA Peugeot Citroen working with BMW on the engine, which is made in both France and England.
The EP6 DTS engine set out to equal the performance of strong 2.0-litre power units while returning good economy.
Our average consumption of eight litres/100km (35.3mpg) over a mixture of open road and urban motoring was a good result given the 220kmh top speed potential of the car and its ability to zip to 100kmh in just over seven seconds.
Good torque is achieved at low revs and the peak of 240Nm kicks in at a modest 1600rpm, remaining unchanged until 4500rpm. Given those perimeters, we didn’t expect the response down low to be so flat.
Once on the boil, however, the Peugeot felt strong, and peak torque is boosted to 260Nm in any of the top three gears under full throttle up to 5200rpm.
The twin-scroll turbocharger groups the cylinder gas ducts in the exhaust manifold in pairs, pulsing the gas through scrolls to give better thrust. Rather than using cast iron, the KKK turbo is made of steel to cope with the high output.
Reduced internal friction, continuously variable valve timing and an alloy head and block all contribute to efficiencies.
Three-door cars have their disadvantages with heavy, wide doors and restrictive rear seat access. Retrieving the seatbelts is an awkward, long-arm stretch for front occupants but there are no arguments about the comfortable and highly-supportive front sports seats, finished in half leather.
A dark interior and extra tinting for the rear side windows make the interior feel claustrophobic. Heavy C pillars restrict rear vision, but at least rear park distance control is standard.
Interior materials have improved and overall finish is excellent. Retro white on black instruments strike a happy chord, and there’s even an oil temperature gauge.
The 4030mm long GTi has grown up and now weighs 1325kg, but still has the right look, with the metallic mesh grille, twin exhausts, discreet tailgate spoiler and bold alloys.
This is a keenly priced and competent high performer that strikes a note of individuality without being brilliant.