There’s a lot riding on the new 208 GTi – the troubled French car maker needs a halo model to draw customers back into its showrooms after cutting 8,000 jobs in July. Sales are down 23% compared to 2007 levels and unions have described the cuts as a “declaration of war”.

If ever there was a time to ‘get it right’ with a GTi model, this is it.

But if you thought this would breed an extra dose of caution into Peugeot’s plans, think again. It’s nearly 15 years since the iconic 205 GTi ceased production and the 208 GTi is said to “pay tribute” to the classic hot hatch, according to Peugeot.

Marie Beaumont, 208 GTi Dynamics Manager, said “The 208 was an excellent base for developing a sports hatchback. We have worked with particular attention on the steering response, the chassis dynamics and the rigidity of the suspension. The 208 GTi successfully combines performance, safety and driving pleasure.”

But are there any foundations to these claims?

Well for a start the 208 GTi is light – not 205 GTi light (which was a mere 900kg), but nevertheless 1160kg compares favourably with the 1240kg Clio Renaultsport and is a whole Atkin’s-Diet-Class lighter than its predecessor, the 165kg heavier 207 GTI.

The 208 GTi features a wider front track (+ 10mm) and even wider rear (+ 20mm), the visual appearance is enhanced by body sills and wing extensions on its three-door frame, with wheels that hug the arches.

Fitted with 205/45 tyres, the 17″ diamond Carbon wheels, with Storm paint and matt varnish, house 302mm ventilated discs at the front and 249mm diameter discs at the rear.

The 1.6-litre THP 200bhp 4-cylinder petrol engine sports a reworked exhaust system for a more appealing sound, while a manual gearbox with six, close-ratio gears provides the driver with a direct connection to its tunes.

With a maximum torque of 275Nm (203 lb-ft), the 208 GTi will sprint from 0 to 62mph in less than 7.0 seconds. 50 to 75mph in 5th gear is achieved in less than 7.0 seconds while the 208 GTi emits just 145g/km of CO2.

Apart from the wider track, the GTi uses an enhanced front subframe and rear crossmember, together with recalibrated springs, shock absorbers and anti-roll bar to provide an agile and responsive chassis. To underline its purposeful driving credentials, the 208 GTi’s ESP system can be ‘fully’ disengaged.

Inside, all the familiar hot hatch ingredients are present and correct, including a colour scheme combining red, black and satin chrome with red GTi overstitching throughout.

205 GTi fans will recognise the familiar full grain Club Nappa leather seats with Caro Weave cloth, made more dynamic by a red line detail.

The dashboard with red overstitching has a decoration of red graduating to black, matching the door crossbars, while black seat belts with red edging and 208 GTi floor mats, overstitched in red complete the classic GTi look.

Peugeot has already taken 9,000 UK orders for the 208 GTi with first deliveries due in Spring 2013. If you can’t wait until next year then the 208 GTi will be on display at the Paris Motor Show later this month.