It seems that 2013 is fast becoming the year of the hot hatch, with the new Peugeot 208 GTi entering a market that's already buzzing from the launches of the new Ford Fiesta ST and Renaultsport Clio 200.
The 208 GTi uses a turbocharged 1.6-litre engine with 197bhp. Meanwhile, power is sent to its front wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox.
Changes over the regular 208 include a wider track, an 8mm drop in ride height and retuned steering. What's more, Peugeot has given the GTi a host of sporty styling touches, including heavily bolstered half-leather seats, 17-inch alloys and bespoke LED headlights.
A starting price of £18,895 means it costs almost the same as the Clio 200 (which gets a dual-clutch automatic gearbox as standard). However, it's nearly £2000 more than the Fiesta ST. Clearly, the 208 GTi has a lot to prove.
What's the 2013 Peugeot 208 GTi like to drive?
Peugeot is clear about the fact that a modern GTi can't be an unadulterated hooligan. Instead, the new car is designed to be an all-rounder.
Sure enough, it delivers a surprisingly comfortable ride for a hot hatch – in fact, it's more composed than lesser 208s over bumpy surfaces. Unfortunately, the pay-off is substantial nose-dive under braking and fairly loose body control. These things mean the GTi doesn't handle with anything like the sharpness of a Fiesta ST or a Clio 200.
The fact that it struggles to put its power down when you accelerate hard out of corners doesn't help, either, and while the steering weights up to provide some reassurance on turn-in, that weight drops away unnervingly when you start to wind lock off.
The engine is more impressive, making the 208 GTi seriously quick in a straight line. True, it comes on strong only from about 1700rpm, so you have to make regular use of the gearbox, but plenty of buyers will enjoy this boosty delivery. What they won't enjoy is the notchy gearshift action and the mushy brake pedal.
There's a lot of engine boom when you're cruising, too, but the GTi has an appealing engine note when you put your foot down.
What's the 2013 Peugeot 208 GTi like inside?
Peugeot has gone for a subtle upgrade in the GTi's cabin, which means you not only get all the good bits of the standard 208, but also the bad.
The biggest aggravation for most drivers will be the driving position, because the satisfyingly chunky, yet small steering wheel has to be set very low to stop it obscuring a good portion of the instruments.
The other gripe is the fiddly infotainment system. However, the low-set sports seats offer a good breadth of adjustment and loads of lateral support. Meanwhile, a crisp, red LED surround to the instrument binnacle matches highlights on the seats, doors and the rally-inspired dead-ahead marker on the steering wheel. The chrome gearknob feels great, too.
The bulky front seats will leave rear passengers a bit squeezed for legroom, but otherwise the 208's interior feels worthy of its substantial price.
Should I buy one?
The 208 GTi offers strong performance and a forgiving ride, but it doesn't handle much better than regular 208s that cost thousands less.
If you've got your heart set on a quick 208, the cheaper, more generously equipped 1.6 THP XY is a better buy.
However, we'd also urge you to look outside the 208 line-up at either the Fiesta ST or the Clio 200. The Fiesta is the benchmark for affordable fun, while the Clio shows that it is possible to combine the grown-up feel of the 208 GTi with an entertaining drive.
What Car? says...
Ford Fiesta ST
Renaultsport Clio 200
Engine size 1.6-litre turbo petrol
Price from £18,895
Torque 203lb ft
0-60mph 6.8 seconds
Top speed 143mph
Fuel economy 48mpg
CO2 emissions 139g/km
By Steve Huntingford and Vicky Parrott