Peugeot 205 GTi
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5
The Peugeot 205 GTi can be considered the first true "Hot Hatch", starting with a 1.6 litre single camshaft motor developing 115 bhp. The vehicle was incredibly popular due to its Pinnifarina styled body - making it the prettiest among all hatchbacks. Distinctive C pillar, headlamps and front grilles, accompanied with the remarkable build quality, made it virtually irresistible. You can hardly find any flaws no matter which angle you viewed it.
The chassis and engine were equally impressive. Despite the lack of innovative technology, the suspension
was carefully tuned to deliver the best handling
ever experienced. Steering was ultra-responsive and direct, making nowadays' hot hatches feeling numb. It was so crisp that it would go wherever the driver pointed. It wouldn't forgive wrong input, and that's exactly why good drivers liked it so much.
Power came from a high-revving 1.6 four with an astonishing 115 bhp. While hesitant at low speed the motor loved to rev high. As a whole, 205GTi was a car that encouraged the driver to drive hard. The faster it went, the more fun the driver gained. Another variant was the 205 GTi 1.9, which was powered by a punchy 1.9-litre engine good for 130 hp and 119 lbft. The new engine made the 205 GTi a true pocket-rocket. The 205 GTi was undoubtedly "King of the Hot Hatch".
A Revelation To Australian Drivers
Prior to the 205 GTi, Australian drivers had to settle for the likes of the Laser TX3, Corolla Twin-Cam and Nissan Pulsar Q - ordinary by any standard. There were a few exceptions, such as the Nissan EXA
, but if you wanted your hot-hatch thrills naturally aspirated, the shopping list was average. Pretty much any of the hot-hatches, no matter how good, paled almost into total insignificance when placed alongside the Peugeot 205 GTI. So brilliant was the Peugeot, it was destined at launch to become the new benchmark in its class. And that includes the EXA.
At the time JRA were the Australian Peugeot importers - and they had released some details to motoring journalists that had them salivating. The stumbling block had been the price - a little high when compared to the Japanese opposition. If you could call the Japanese interpretation of a hot-hatch "competition". They weren't - but buyers needed to understand that. Luckily full scale production in France and a grudging adoption of Australia's quirky design rules enabled JRA to secure the 205 GTI from Peugeot for launch into Australia - we got them. That said, JRA could never afford to stockpile 12 months worth of cars, so the 205 Gti was ordered in very small batches - making them rare and highly sought after.
Nothing Special On Paper
On paper it seemed the 205 GTi was nothing special - in terms of mechanical specification it was hardly startling - front-wheel-drive
, five speed transmission
, single overhead cam and rear drum brakes were hardly soul stirring stuff on paper, but as a package the 205 was utterly brilliant. The engine
may habve only been an undersquare four cylinder displacing 1905cc., but construction was all alloy and the pistons ran in removable wet cylinder liners. Bosch electronic fuel injection allowed the motor to cope with a compression ratio of 8.4:1 on ULP and helped punch out 75kW at 6000rpm. As with Peugeot engines of yore, the power output was not really indicative of the on-road performance. Under the right foot, on the road, the driver would soon discover the engine essence as a grunter.
It was a stump pulling powerhouse with torque of 142Nm at 3000 - and the torque curve was incredibly flat. Yet the engine still knew how to rev, enabling the driver to wring the most acceleration from the car when the road permitted or blast forth in almost any gear they desired. Suspension was independent all round with coils, struts and an anti-roll bar
at the front. The rear set up consisted of torsion bars trailing arms and anti-roll bar
. Motoring journalists said the suspension would feel a little firm on first encounters, especially over short sharp bumps and potholes, but on serious rough patches "...the car shows its true Peugeot colors. Despite its short wheelbase, the 205 devours deep holes and savage corrugations and absolutely refuses to be thrown off line." The secret was the long travel suspension
which was compliant enough to allow the car to track true, but controlled enough to give kart-like handling.
Behind the Wheel
The 205 was available in Australia only with a five speed manual transmission, the automatic option deemed unnecessary by JRA. Ratios in the slick five speed were almost perfectly chosen and allowed quick smooth progress in traffic. The biggest gap in the ratios was from first to second, but the torque was such that the hole was never felt. Fifth gear was actually overdriven, but when combined with a numerically high final drive ratio of 3.93:1, gave quite short overall gearing. At an indicated 100km/h, the 205 engine was spinning at almost 3500rpm. While that may have kept the engine on the boil, making overtaking possible in fifth, it did induce an element of thrashiness into the otherwise impeccable cruising capabilities of the baby Peugeot.
Steering was by rack and pinion
and was one of the 205's most endearing features. No power assistance option was available - but the car really did not need it - admittedly you would never sell it today without it however. The leather covered wheel could get tiresome at walking speeds, but once on the move it had an amazing amount of feel and allowed the car to be placed accurately while keeping the driver informed on all aspects of the road surface. The steering, on paper, seemed a little slow with 3.8 turns lock to lock, but the extra lock was all consumed by wheel movement giving the 205 one of the smallest turning circles in the business. What a shame that, these days, few will ever experience such a well sorted "non-assisted" steering setup.
The brakes were probably the least communicative of all the controls, if the road tests done at the time are anything to go by. This is where things get a little confusing, as unlike so many other aspects of the 205, the brakes "on paper" were well capable of hauling the car down from high speeds. But it was the pedal feel that drew criticism. When the pedal was really tramped on the feel was at its best, but for normal braking the pedal tended to be a touch rubbery and a little overassisted. The overassistance was felt when bringing the vehicle to a complete halt when the car would stop a few metres short of the intended stopping mark and passengers were thrown into their seat belts with a jerk. The trick, apparently, was to ease off the brakes significantly as the car rolled to a stop, but so light was the pedal pressure anyway, it was hard to tell how much to ease up.
On The Outside, And Behind The Wheel
The little Peugeot was indeed an extrovert. The styling was functional with a high roofline at the rear and a short, dropaway bonnet, but the stylists incorporated as much dash and cheek as could then be crammed into such a small car - given the slab sided designs of what was considered modern at the time. The 205 sports alloy wheels were shod with low profile Pirelli rubber which combined with the black wheel arch extensions to give the 205 a proper car look and took away any hint of "mini car". Doorhandles, badgework, mirrors and bumpers and grille were either matt black or body colored and in Australia, colors were limited to white, red, silver or graphite.
The first thing that would catch your eye on opening the door was the carpet - a bollocks-out red - which, once you were over the shock, actually complimented the black seats rather well, the latter having a thin stripe effect, while the rest of the trim was grey, a combination which would have hardly sat well in most cars from the era, but it was right for the 205. The seats were firm but offered good support over long distances and were placed high to give a commanding view. As such the driving position was very upright but pedals and steering wheel were all placed to compensate for this. Instrumentation was clear and comprehensive, the only niggle being the top two smaller dials were hidden by the steering wheel rim - something that is in common with the 2014 Peugeot 205 GTi.
At launch JRA had the sticker price of the 205 at A$29,500 and therefore attempted to justify that figure with the inclusion of a few creature comforts. But it was here that an interesting contrast developed when compared to the competition - no matter how many options were piled onto the GTI, it remained - on its home ground at least - a basic box. That is why the 205 was unique on the Australian market as being the only car with power windows, central locking and air conditioning
as standard but with painted metal inside the cabin. It was all a matter of priorities, and while some 205 buyers - we would like to think - bought the car for its driving excellence, many others probably took delivery of a 205 because it was European, and loaded with kit.
On The Road
The 205 possessed one of the nicest, most communicative chassis then going - at a time when the French were utterly brilliant at getting it just right. Combined with the engine's strong mid-range punch it made for a car that was blindingly fast point to point. Turn in was crisp and decisive, especially from the driver's vantage point, and the car remained neutral until the very limit, when it would understeer
gradually and predictably. On loose surfaces, the tail could be coaxed wide with a trailing throttle but the transition was communicative and could be balanced with some throttle application. The throttle and steering could be used to counter or induce any slide the driver desired, and stabbing at both accelerator and wheel at the same time would send the GTi drifting on all fours.
The only problem was, apparently, deciding which line to take. As one motoring journal noted, "...there is probably nothing closer to a racing car with number plates." The problem for most punters, however, was the admission price. And because of their scarcity, getting one on the 2nd hand market was rarely an option. No doubt there were some that discounted the 205 based simply on what they were getting for their money - which in sheet-metal terms was not a lot. But for those able to look past that, and see it for what it was, a brilliant performer offering exceptional handling and great style - the 205 was an investment in driving pleasure. And compared to a Laser or Corolla? Seriously. No. You wouldn't.