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Click for pictures“With 180bhp on tap,
  the range-topping 206
  GTi is undeniably one
  very ‘hot
hot hatch”

JUST ONE LOOK at the Peugeot 206 GTi 180 is enough for you to wonder if the term 'hot hatch' was coined exclusively for the 180.

Seductive styling and a muscular stance hints at its sizzling performance, as do the deep front and rear aprons, the purposeful rooftop spoiler and 17-inch alloys wearing meaty 205/40 Pirelli P7000 tyres under sharply defined wheel arches. A pair of large bore chromed exhaust pipes, micro-carbon gloss door mirrors, an alloy fuel filler cap and colour-coded bumpers, side rubbing strips and door handles add visual polish as does the gleaming pearlescent paintwork — Aegean blue on our test car. But it's not all window dressing, either. The rear spoiler not only looks good, it also increases down-force on the rear axle by up to 25Kg for improved high-speed stability.

Performance it has in abundance, courtesy of 180bhp from a 2.0-litre engine that begs to be revved all the way to the 7,000rpm red line. Costing 15,215, it's available only in the 206 3-door bodystyle. Actually, given how sleek the 3-door GTi looks, that's no bad thing. And the compact size is a positive bonus when enthusiastic driving is on the menu as the 180's compact dimensions ensure it remains firmly in the 'chuckable handling' camp.

Before you fire up the engine there's more good news. The 180's well-built cabin is unmistakably designed to be a driver's workplace. Dominating the interior and trumpeting the exterior 'pocket-rocket' theme are two racing-style front seats with shoulder supports and integrated head restraints upholstered in a pleasing combination of leather, Alcantara and monochrome silver grey/black honeycomb mesh Zagros cloth trim. The two rear passengers also enjoy identically-trimmed, individually-sculpted bucket seats. And, of course, each has a 3-point belt and a head restraint. Access to the back is easy, and the front seats return to their original settings with no problem.

The driver sits low — although there's ample height adjustment on both front seats — with good access to the drilled aluminium pedals and a chunky leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel that's perforated over its main grip areas. From behind the wheel the feeling is that the 180 is wrapped snugly around you like a well-fitting glove. Although the wheel adjusts for height only, the seat adjustment more than compensates.

A stylish touch is the leather-clad instrument binnacle. Four black-faced dials with silver needles and crisp graphics, defined by chrome bezels, keep the driver informed and cover revs, speed, oil and water temperature and fuel. At night they're lit up an attractive soft orange that's gentle on the eyes.

The stubby gearlever, crowned by a polished aluminium gear knob, is nicely to hand. A well-ordered centre stack houses the automatic air-conditioning and audio system/SatNav controls. The fascia is finished in a grained black plastic with more black trim — suede, this time — for the door panels. The black is offset by blue seats and a light headlining which, combined with large glass areas, gives the cockpit an airy feel. Visibility out is good all round.

As befits its range-topping status, the GTi 180 comes well-specced. In addition to the sports seats and set 'n' forget digital air-conditioning with climate control you get a heat reflective windscreen, a remote control radio/CD with a 5-disc autochanger, automatic rain sensing wipers, automatic headlights and a trip computer. Tinted glass, one-touch electric windows, electric folding and heated door mirrors, front fog lights and remote locking can also be taken nicely for granted. In addition there is a handy service indicator and electronic oil level display: the level is shown for approximately ten seconds following the service information after turning on the ignition. A mini-stalk on the right of the steering column allows remote access of all audio and telephone functions.

Despite the heavily-bolstered bucket seats up front, the cockpit offers a reasonable amount of interior space. Behind the 2/3:1/3 foldable
rear bench seat is a practical, rectangular-shaped 235-litre boot, made more usable by minimal intrusion from the rear suspension and a seat-back that folds almost completely flat.

In Euro NCAP's crash tests the 206 achieved a four-star rating. Standard active safety kit includes the sports suspension, ABS with electronic brake force distribution, emergency brake assist, an electronic stability programme and traction control with an easily-reached deactivation switch, along with speed-sensitive power steering. The range of direct and indirect passive safety equipment includes 'smart' driver and front passenger airbags, two side airbags, front and rear curtain airbags and seat belts with pre-tensioners and force limiters. Another convenient safety feature is the automatic hazard light activation in the event of emergency braking.

Okay, now you know that the 180 will do its utmost to keep you safe if the worst happens. Now, how about heading out? Around town and at low throttle openings on the open road, you could be forgiven for thinking you're travelling in an ordinary 206. Under these restrictive conditions the ride feels firm — a necessary by-product of the uprated bushes between the suspension and body to ensure it corners as flatly as possible.

Away from heavy traffic, however, it's a different story. The 180 comes excitingly and entertainingly alive. Sink deep into the bucket seats, drop down a gear or two and hang onto the revs to feel the adrenaline coursing through your veins. Contributing in a big way to the fun is a chassis that's sensitive to throttle input. Also playing a major part is the 180's sports suspension, which endows the car with road-hugging agility.

The 180's biggest strength is that it's easy to drive fast most of the time — so be very aware of the legal limits. Its ability to put down power combined with a flat cornering attitude will bring a smile to the face of demanding drivers. Damping quality is first rate, enabling the car to remain glued to the tarmac over humps and bumps, keeping the tyres in regular contact with the ground.

Even more impressive than what you can do in a GTi 180 is the amount it lets you get way with. For example: carrying in too much speed and braking late in a corner usually has unpleasant consequences. In the 180 you can do that and then lift off to find it still plays along, maintaining handling balance and letting you power out safely. We're not talking about playing brinkmanship with the laws of physics here, just serious or accidental exuberance.

The GTi's 180bhp is sent to the front wheels via a five-speed 'box, but its electronic stability program software quickly puts paid to any wheelspin before it gets started — trying to coax a squeal from its 205 section Pirellis is a waste of time. The speed-related power steering is a tad heavy, but it's alert enough to exploit the nimble handling. The strong ABS disc brakes (vented at the front, solid at the rear) are communicative and deliver good deceleration and stability when braking on poorer road surfaces.

Backing up the GTi's 180bhp is 152lb ft of torque at 4,750rpm, 80 per cent of which is available from 2,000rpm. The engine powering the 180 is the most powerful 4-cylinder engine of the current Peugeot generation. With double overhead camshafts and 16 valves it also benefits from variable valve timing, which does a good job of boosting mid-range torque. While the beefy engine is happiest once it has hit 4,000rpm — when there's a noticeable increase in power — it will pull cleanly in top gear from 70mph even up a long climbing stretch of motorway.

On challenging B-roads you'll find third gear especially entertaining around this rev-band which, incidentally, is a good time to power down the window to enjoy the rorty sound signature. And while peak power doesn't arrive until 7,000rpm — 300 revs short of the red-line — there's adequate low-down pull en route to maximum top-end power. The result: a top speed of 137mph and 0-62mph acceleration in 7.4 seconds.

To make the most of the GTi 180's rev-hungry power delivery characteristics, Peugeot has fitted shorter ratios for second through fifth while first gear has been lengthened to ensure strong acceleration particularly when exiting acute bends. Driving with verve on more challenging roads calls for the engine to be kept on the boil. With you clamped securely and comfortably in the sports seat, the stubby gearlever is well positioned for rapid gearchanging, when a light but positive touch will unerringly slot the longish-throw lever through the gate.

Even if you spent your last 15,000 buying a 180, you can console yourself that, given its performance, the GTi 180 is no gas-guzzling frivolity. Overall we averaged 33mpg, slightly bettering the official combined figure of 32.8mpg. On longer motorway runs — at 80mph the 180 is pulling 4,000rpm in top gear — our test car regularly returned 40+ mpg, although most owners should have no trouble achieving the official 42.2mpg.

Optional equipment includes a high-performance JBL HiFi that's specially matched to the 206 GTi 180's passenger compartment and features a radio/CD with controls mounted on the steering column, 8 high-definition speakers in six locations, a 'bass box' (subwoofer) with an eight-channel, 240-watt electronic amp to ensure a 'surround-sound' acoustic experience.
As part of the 1,315 package you also get Peugeot's telematics system incorporating radio, CD player with 5-CD autochanger, black and white satellite navigation system and GSM dual-band mobile telephone.

Useful features include a microphone built into the roof console which enables the driver to safely talk to his caller 'hands free' while the caller's voice can be heard over the speakers. A voice synthesis function also enables text messages received via the telephone to be read out electronically for the driver to hear.

The system can be operated either by a steering column control or via voice-activation. A quick press on the button on the end of the lighting stalk and a 'beep' indicates it's ready to receive voice commands. The SatNav is connected to a separate monochrome screen that displays written messages and pictograms and allows voice control for selected navigational instructions.

As the GTi 180 proves, owning a decidedly hot hatch today no longer involves serious compromises with safety, practicality, comfort and reliability. It's always a case of 'horses for courses'. But if it's an exciting drive you're after — one that allows you to feel the difference your driving skills make to your driving enjoyment — then the 180 could be the ideal choice for you. — MotorBar

Peugeot 206 GTi 180 | 15,215
Maximum speed: 137mph | 0-62mph: 7.4 seconds
Overall test MPG: 33mpg | Power: 180bhp | Torque: 152lb ft

------------------------------------------------------------- Peugeot 206 GTi 180