Peugeot 206 GTi
Have fun with this perky pug Peugeot 206 GTi

BEFORE the marketing departments of car manufacturers hijacked it, the GTi badge might have meant "guaranteed to interest" for driving enthusiasts.

After years of seeing GTi badges stuck on standard hatchbacks with "sports" trim, it is all too easy to dismiss any car bearing a GTi badge as merely a marketing exercise with all show and no go.

Not so the Peugeot 206 GTi.

The 206 features the standard GTi cues inside. Polished metal pedals and gearknob are de rigueur for any hatch with sporting pretensions, as is a small, leather-clad, three-spoke wheel.

Combination leather, alcantara, and cloth trimmed seats provide the right amount of lateral support for a sports car, and the Pug even provides creature comforts in the form of automatic climate control.

Safety is not forgotten either. There are airbags for the driver and passenger, as well as sidebags for both.

Unfortunately, the dash is an expanse of cheap-looking black plastic, which makes nasty reflections in the windscreen on a sunny day, letting the tone down somewhat.

The same cannot be said for the exterior, though. Pardon the French cliche, but the exterior is like Brigitte Bardot in her prime: a stunning face, and curves in all the right places. Being seen in the company of this French beauty is enough to strike envy in most hearts.

But it is the driving experience which is the true test of a GTi, and the 206 sails through with flying colours. For a start, the 206 GTi is only available with a five-speed manual gearbox, which should help to interest keen drivers.

It also has a 2-litre engine to power its relatively small body, which means that snappy acceleration is never more than a quick downshift and flex of the throttle foot away.

Except for the soggy brake pedal, all the controls offer perfect feedback. This is a wonderful urgency to the Pug's responses to any steering and throttle inputs. Turn-in is sharp, the gearbox precise, and the Pirelli P6000 tyres cling tenaciously to the tarmac, despite being comfort rather than performance-oriented. A little torque steer is evident, too.

The engine performs smoothly enough, but its 137-bhp output figure is fairly modest for a 2-litre unit. The upside is that the engine performs strongly over the whole rev-range, and it does feel faster than its quoted 8.9 second 0-100 kmh dash would suggest.

In grin-factor terms it wins from the moment you get behind the wheel, and for that alone it warrants the GTI badge.

It is a shame that GTi means something less than it once did, but maybe in the 206's case, it should read GTe instead, for "guaranteed to entertain".

FAST FACTS 

Peugeot 206 GTi

Price: $118,800 with COE

Engine: 1997cc 16V in-line four

Power: 137 bhp at 6,000 rpm

Torque: 194 Nm at 4,100 rpm

Gearbox: Five-speed manual

Top speed: 210 kmh

0-100 kmh: 8.9 sec

For enquiries: Call AutoFrance on 473 7727