The French have a uneasy relationship with history. In battle, fighting alongside Napoleon and suffering an unexpected string of defeats - as most defeats are unexpected - the French are the ones who probably angrily refuted claims that history never repeats itself.
They would be right. Peugeot's 208GTi channels its 1980s bombshell the 205GTi and with it, there is hope that the embattled car builder can repeat the glory days. Days when "hot hatch" was the byword for an affordable and compact car with knife-edge performance and Peugeot wore the tag.
There's a lot of the 205 essence in the 208 veins though the near 30-year bridge makes substantial leaps in safety, features, handling and reliability. The fun factor, of course, remains.
It looks a lot more expensive than its $29,990 price tag. The French have thrown everything at this hatch, from leather upholstery to sat-nav, fat alloy wheels to touch-screen control.
Basically, it's cheap as chips and only the Volkswagen Polo GTI comes close (the Golf GTI is bigger and more expensive), though the German has reported initial problems with its complex engine and dual-clutch transmission. Peugeot offers an annual capped price service program that costs $1110 for three years. Glass's Guide says resale after three years is a high 58 per cent.
Like the 205, the 208's short, blunt profile with tiny overhangs looks suitably aggressive. Lots of black leather and red striping - even the seat belts get a pinstripe - with red lighting at night, chromed dial surrounds and bright alloy trim. It seats four though is a bit squeezy in the back, primarily because of the access offered by the two-door body. Boot space is good at 285 litres.
Fold down the seats and get 1152 litres - excellent given the full-size spare - compared with Polo at 280/952 litres. The top-deck instrument panel is novel yet gives heads-up information to benefit safety. It's also used by Honda. But the dials are small and have fussy graphics. Switchgear placement isn't perfect and many buttons are unlit and impossible to locate at night.
The engine is the PSA-Mini 1.6-litre turbo heated up to 147kW/275Nm (Mini Cooper S is 135kW/240Nm and costs $10,700 more) for a 0-100km/h of 6.8 seconds and average fuel use of 5.9L/100km. The GTi is basically a three-door 208 with sports-oriented dampers, springs and roll bars. The front subframe and the rear cross members have been further stiffened. The brakes are also upgraded and the steering ratio altered and feedback is firmer.
The 208 GTi has the same safety features as the other five-star 208 models and includes six airbags, electronic stability and traction control. There's a front plastic panel to limit pedestrian leg injuries in the event of a sub-40km/h impact. Standard is LED tail lights and daylight running lights, rear park sensors and optical alert (but no camera), auto headlights and wipers, brake emergency display, heated mirrors and a full-size spare.
Few cars bond with the human body like this one. Low-ratio steering and the small-diameter steering wheel helps make it react quickly and confidently to driver inputs. Cornering stance is flat and even pushed hard it displays minimal understeer. The engine is a winner thanks to its meaty torque that peaks at only 1700rpm and is always on tap and is almost dismissive of the chosen gearbox ratio.
Then there's the form-hugging leather seats that keep you in place. Ride is firm but it's rarely harsh. In fact it's a very easy hatch to drive as a commuter and thanks to the perfect gearbox, you won't want an auto (which, incidentally, isn't an option). The 208 GTi is so much fun that it's a difficult car to exit at the end of the day and the fact that it seats more than one person is just a bonus.
It still gets me at "hello" and is as practical as it is affordable. Only the Polo can echo the 208's go-kart feel.
Peugeot 208 GTi
Price: from $29,900
Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cyl turbo, 147W/275Nm
Transmission: 6-speed man; FWD
Thirst: 5.9L/100km, 98RON