Back in the pre-designer era, when objects of desire were typically matte black and thick plastic and produced by Braun or Sony, the quintessential compact performance car was a certain Peugeot 205 GTi. Thirty years later, and the neat simplicity of the 205's design and the delectable deftness of its controls are a distant memory. Cars are bigger, heavier and more powerful. The 'hot hatchback' genre is a squeezed and specialist niche, dominated by Golf's perennial GTI, while Peugeot is forever being made to atone for its failure to photocopy its original blueprint and produce a worthy successor.
The new 208 GTi is the first time Peugeot has explicitly referenced the original, lining them up alongside each other for photo shoots and practically begging the press to make the comparison. The new car passes the first test by being the best-looking Peugeot to wear the GTi badge since the original, now that the company's design language is finally rediscovering the innate elegance that was lost at the turn of the century. Inside, too, it's a pretty decent place to be, although the splashes of red trim are trying slightly too hard and the big touch screen infotainment system is hamstrung by a needlessly complex operating system.
On the road, the GTi delivers a very contemporary blend of swiftness and refinement. Sure, the memory of the original is hazy, if not non-existent, for most people. Today's driver - even small car driver - demands levels of comfort, reliability, efficiency and technology that would be unimaginable in 1984. Even the Golf GTI has evolved into a compact piece of premium design, rather than a tool for downsized racers. The Golf is also substantially more expensive. Appeals to heritage are a tricky balancing act, given that nostalgia is a notoriously inaccurate emotion. The 208 GTi is not a pure enthusiast's machine - they'll have to dig through the classified adverts to find one of the now rare original cars - but it is compact, quick, appealing and very easy to live with.