The new 208 GTi is Peugeot's attempt to return to the core values of the legendary 205 GTi, which South Africans sadly never got to savour.

Tipping the scales at 1160kg, it's not only lighter than its 207 predecessor, but its 1.6-litre turbopetrol engine has also been beefed up to the tune of 19kW.

Now pushing 147kW at 5800rpm and 275Nm from 1700, the direct injection motor in the 208 certainly has the power to make it a top contender in the Polo GTI-Fiesta ST-Corsa OPC tug of war.

SILENT PUNCH

Yet, according to our Star Motoring launchman Jesse Adams, Peugeot's hot hatch wrestler is somehow just a little more congenial.

"The 1.6 turbo remains fairly incognito even at full steam, but performance is still decent even if there's not a lot noise happening.

"Boost comes on in one solid burst, rather than a gradual feed like other small force fed engines in this size bracket. It almost feels like the turbo works on a toggle switch."

For the record, Peugeot claims it'll shove you from 0-100km/h in 6.8 seconds, which is the same amount of time it'll require for an 80-120km/h overtaking rush. Keep the pedal planted and you'll eventually reach 230km/h. Lose all the former ambitions and it'll sip just 5.9 l/100km on the combined cycle, according to Peugeot.

To keep things tidy through the bends, Peugeot stuffed the arches with shiny 17-inch alloys and completely reworked the braking, steering and suspension systems. In the latter case that entailed fitting stiffer springs, recalibrating the damper settings and fitting thicker anti-rollbars. Peep underneath and you'll also see a modified front subframe and a more rigid rear cross members.

SMOOTH CRUISER

Yet none of this has turned it into a harsh, hard-core machine, as Jesse explains:

"The 208 handles well, although it's not quite as extreme as its tautly sprung rivals.

"Yet I think it works as a nice alternative because of this. It's quite comfortable on the road, even when pushing quite hard on uneven surfaces as we did at the press launch near Port Elizabeth this week.

"It absorbs road harshness nicely, but there is quite a lot of wind and tyre noise that comes into the cabin. Yet at inner city speeds this is obviously less of a problem, and I'd say this is very liveable day-to-day hot hatch.

On the track, however, the 208 GTi was found to be a little out of its depth:

"While I was impressed with the longevity of the rather ordinary braking system, there's just too much power loss through the inside front wheels. This of course leads to tons of wheel spin and understeer - an area where some of its harder core competitors will gain ground on it."

Which brings us to the essence of what this Peugeot is really about.

SNAZZY CABIN

It trades trick differentials and a tail happy suspension setup for touch screen infotainment systems and vibrant colour-fading paint jobs on interior trim embellishers - which might not be a bad thing in a market segment dominated by machismo.

As Jesse puts it: "The interface for the sound, navigation and connectivity systems is by far one of the most modern and snazzy-looking in this segment, with fun graphics like you'd find on tablet devices today.

"It's actually quite tricky to work through the menus though, but I do think that young owners could grow more accustomed to its inner workings over time.

"There is one flaw that baffles me though, and I wonder how Peugeot managed to develop this car with the inability for many drivers to see the gauges through the steering wheel. It's a problem the normal 208 has, but in the GTi - with its extremely small diameter steering wheel - it's even worse."

What is certainly impressive, though, is the feast of standard kit you'll find in the cabin. The aforementioned touch-screen display also incorporates satellite navigation and in addition to that you'll find cruise control, dual zone climate control auto lights and wipers and even a semi-autonomous parallel parking assistant.

All its performance and luxury is yours for R259 900, which includes a five-year/60 000km maintenance plan.

Hot hatchdom needs a soft side, and this is it.

RIVALS

Ford Fiesta ST (134kW/290Nm) - R254 500

Opel Corsa OPC (141kW/266Nm) - R284 000

VW Polo GTI (132kW/250Nm) - R289 600