There are fantasy petrolhead garages and there are dream petrolhead garages. There is a difference.
A fantasy petrolhead garage will be an air conditioned barn, with superb lighting, wipe clean floor and enough room to house any number of exotic motors. Maybe a Pagani Zonda. A Ferrari F40. A Bugatti Veyron. A McLaren F1. A Lamborghini Miura. The list would go on. There’d be no cut off. No budget. Nobody getting in the way.
A dream petrolhead garage on the other hand would contain a number of more accessible, usable cars. The kind of cars that if you saw one going the other way, would give you a warm feeling inside and a small nod of approval. Think Corrado, Integrale, M3 and MK2 Golf GTi and you’d be on the right lines.
There’s a good chance that when compiling a final short list of cars for their dream garage, the name Peugeot would feature quite prominently in the initial selection. And for good reason. The 205 GTi for example is regarded by some as the best hot hatch of all time. Yes, there’ll be those who prefer the MK1 Golf GTi, but the little Pug has a legion of loyal followers. Indeed, even today, it is lauded by specialist car magazines as one of the greatest front wheel drivers ever. Very few cars built since the 205 GTi was launched have come close.
If the 205 GTi was the greatest hot hatch of the 80s, Peugeot also had a claim to the greatest hot hatch of the 90s, with the claim coming from two corners.
Firstly, the 306 GTi-6 shared the same dynamics and road manners as the 205 and is regarded as the spiritual successor to the 205. But to let the GTi-6 take all the glory would forget the rawness and outright driving appeal of the 306 Rallye. Stripped of all but the bear essentials, the Rallye is all about the driver and the road. The closest hatch to an Elise?
But the 306’s little brother, the 106, is also a great little hot hatch. In either GTi or Rallye spec, the cousin of the Saxo is again regarded as one of the all time greats. So it is fair to say that any petrolhead would hold Peugeot in high regard for their output in the 80s and 90s.
But since then, the brand has lost sight of the petrolhead. Whilst the French cousin, Renault goes headfirst into driving heaven, Peugeot no longer seems equipped to deliver a car with true driving dynamics. Indeed, RenaultSport is a strong sub-brand, delivering a stable of excellent cars – the Clio, Megane and Twingo. In fact, it has recently unveiled a number of RenaultSport dealers, solely delivering cars to the petrolhead. Nice.
It isn’t as though Peugeot has decided to move away from exciting cars. Quite the opposite. There have been a number of failed attempts at building a true successor to the 205 GTi, but the 206 and 207 just cannot cut it.
But recently, Peugeot seems to have taken another nose dive. My local Peugeot dealer rarely has anything of merit to raise the mood of my daily commute. But this week, a new arrival has appeared in the showroom – a white 207 in full rally-spec livery.
Upon further investigation, I discovered that the car in question is none other than a 307 S16. Based on the fact that the last Pug to wear the S16 badge was a rather wonderful predecessor to the 306 GTI-6, I got a warm feeling of excitement which no new Peugeot has delivered over the past decade or so.
Unfortunately, the excitement was short lived. The S16 is none other than a cheap marketing effort. A slur on a once great car. Does Peugeot have no respect for its glorious past? The S16 actually delivers some 55bhp less than the already dynamically challenged 207 GTi. A 0-60 time of over 10 seconds will do little to get 205 GTi owners reaching for their keys and heading down to the dealer. The 120bhp figure will do little to encourage a second look. Maybe the individually signed interior badge signed by rallying champion Kris Meeke will heighten the excitement? No, didn’t think so.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the S16 is an okay car. The level of spec offered for the price is very good. The shameful thing is that some 17 years after the S16 was launched, Peugeot is capable of diluting the brand and showing little respect or concern for a glorious past.
But why should we care that Peugeot has lost sight of what makes a truly exciting car? The fact is, we know that Peugeot is capable of delivering an all time great. Don’t rest on your laurels Peugeot, your competitors are delivering some exceptional cars, but there will always be room for a manufacturer who can give us the likes of the 205 GTi and the 106 Rallye. Let’s just hope the lion will roar again.
In the meantime, a top tip. If you’re easily offended, don’t hunt down a 5-door 107 Rallye. That’s a whole different blog…
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