Peugeot 205 GTI front three quarters

Peugeot 205

BUYER’S GUIDE

Peugeot 205 GTI Review

A true hot hatch great, good examples of the Peugeot 205 GTI are now commanding big money as buyers seek to relive their first-car glory days…

What Is It?

Back in the 1980s hot hatch buyers were rather spoiled for choice but, even among a stacked field of rivals, the Peugeot 205 GTI still stands apart as one of the era’s best. Launched in 1984, the original GTI combined a 1.6-litre, 105PS (77kW) engine with an 880kg kerb weight and some expertly judged suspension modifications to deliver a driving experience some reckon is yet to be bettered. The fact it looked great thanks to some decisive but tasteful bulking out of the 205’s already pretty lines was the icing on the cake, the looks arguably ageing way better than others of the period.

While mechanically very different, it didn’t do any harm that the mad, four-wheel-drive rally version was the car to beat in the Group B era, the 205 GTI translating that success into an attainable, exploitable package enjoyed by a generation of hard-driving fans. Many of whom are looking to re-live this golden era and elevating the 205 GTI to the status of true modern classic, with values to match.   

Corrosive Areas

Sill/rear wheel arch join

Bulkhead

Inner wings

Checklist

  • 205 GTI launched in 1984, a year into general 205 production
  • There are three main engine evolutions, the original 1.6-litre engine kicking off with 105PS (77kW) before being uprated to 115PS (83kW) in 1986 for the 1987 model year, where it was joined by the 130PS (93kW) 1.9-litre; post 1992 1.9s have slightly less power due to fitment of a catalytic converter
  • 1988 interior update saw ‘slider’ heater controls replaced by rotary ones, along with other changes that see them referred to as ‘Phase 1.5’ cars
  • 9 is significantly quicker by the numbers, the 7.8-second 0-62mph time over a second faster than the 1.6 while top speed climbs from 122mph to 128mph
  • Beyond badging the obvious differences for the 1.9 include the different wheel design and replacement of the rear drum brakes with discs all round
  • Although identical in appearance 1.9s ran either Speedline or SMR wheels, the latter considerably heavier – check all four are the same via the manufacturer stamp on the inside of the wheel
  • 205 Rallye is a different car altogether, and uses a carburettor-fed 1.3-litre engine combined with GTI suspension parts; UK versions were less exotic than the European homologation versions with only a single carb
  • Engines are generally tough, though the aluminium block can be vulnerable to cracking if inadequate or wrong antifreeze mix is used and to seized head bolts on strip-down
  • Blue smoke suggests worn valve stem seals; cambelt and water pump need replacing every four years, grumbles, rattles or other sounds could suggest worn belt tensioner
  • Faulty fuel injection can result in snatchy throttle response in low-speed driving
  • Sunroof (where fitted) uses a vacuum actuated seal – make sure this operates correctly
  • Thin panels vulnerable to minor dings, so check carefully along flanks
  • Many GTIs were driven hard in their earlier lives so check carefully for signs of accident repairs or damage manifested in creased bodywork around fuel filler cap, overspray and other tells
  • Rust can manifest around headlight mounts, on the bulkhead, at the trailing edge of the sills where they meet the rear arches, in the void between the petrol tank and rear seat panel, in the boot floor and on rear bumper mounts; leaking brake fluid can also corrode the footwell around the pedals
  • Interior trim parts can be hard to find but Peugeot is offering an increasing range of original parts to support restorations and refits
  • Interiors are cheaply made and can wear; collapsed seat bolsters common but can be repaired but seat face fabric can be hard to source
  • Rear trailing arm needle bearings can wear – look for excessive negative camber on rear wheels and, if possible, jack car or get it on a ramp to check for play
  • Handling should be taught and precise – sloppiness points to worn ball joints and bushings
  • Sloppy gearshift can be fixed with new linkage bushings, though crunching shifts can point to worn synchros on a hard-driven car

How Does It Drive?

Even the 130PS (97kW) of the 1.9-litre GTI sounds pretty modest by modern standards but, with less than 900kg to haul and combined with perfectly tuned suspension and relatively skinny tyres, the 205 GTI proves less can indeed be more. While power steering was an option on later cars and had a quicker rack the feel and weighting of the non-assisted set-up means you can read the grip levels through your hands, clever suspension tuning pairing super sharp turn-in with that famously adjustable rear axle to permit a driving style as mild or wild as you want.

Over the years the tail-happy response to mid-corner throttle lifts has become legendary, the reality being the 205 communicates its intentions so clearly it should be more exploitable than terrifying. Don’t disregard the smaller 1.6-engined versions either. Indeed, many fans reckon the high-revving nature is actually more fun, though others prefer the more muscular power delivery of the 1.9. Both share the same gutsy power delivery and should be equally fun to drive, just with subtly different characters.

What’s Good?

Pretty much everything! Styling that wowed in the mid-‘80s still looks sharp and fresh to this day, the growing reputation of the 205 among both enthusiasts and the wider motoring world making it one of those cars that will both turn heads and attract nods of approval across the board.

While prices vary wildly and covetable cars are getting very expensive it’s still a relatively attainable modern classic, with a broad fanbase and growing community of knowledgeable specialists committed to keeping them in fine fettle. Peugeot has even got in on the act, and now offers an increasing range of factory spares. For a nearly 40-year-old car the 205 still feels modern enough to enjoy today, its size and the way it delivers its performance perhaps more relevant to the twisty roads it excels on than most modern hot hatches.

Simple mechanics and electronics mean it’s a relatively easy car for the DIY mechanic as well, while usable rear seats and a decent boot make it a practical classic to run as well.

What’s Bad?

Hot hatches have always appealed for their accessible performance and, back in the day, a 205 GTI was a relatively affordable way to go very fast indeed. And the kind of people who bought them new were very keen to do exactly that, meaning many (if not all) GTIs led hard lives. The intervening years where they were even cheaper will have seen most examples rack up even more hard miles, the inevitability being that many will have very much been used and abused, not every lesson in lift-off oversteer ending well.

As mechanically tough as the 205 is, it’s safe to say accident damage and dodgy repairs are going to be high on your list of things to check and, as values rise, the temptation for unscrupulous sellers to disguise damage or corrosion in the hope of landing a windfall is only going to increase. The flipside of increasing value is that sorting out poor repairs and rusty bodies now makes more financial sense, though, so the hope is the growing 205 restoration business will save the good ones for future generations to enjoy.

Which Model To Chose?

Your biggest decision is going to be between 1.6 and 1.9-litre engines, the choice being a personal one with both having their advocates. Purists may err towards the very earliest cars, despite these being the least powerful on paper. An apparently lighter kerb weight offsets that, so all things being equal there should be little meaningful difference in performance between a 105PS (77kW) 1.6 and the later 115PS (85kW) one.

Fans will point to the revvier nature of the short-stroke engine and the perfect balance of grip to performance, though the 1.9 is hardly lethargic and has considerably more punch to enjoy. Thanks to longer gearing it’s also a little more chilled on a cruise. If you’re not sure the best bet would be to try both, safe in the knowledge the fundamentals of the GTI’s character are there in either case.

The only other real choice is whether you want the Phase 1 orange indicator look or the post-1990 Phase 2 with its smoked lights. The Miami Blue and Sorrento Green limited editions that launched this era are sought-after among fans but, frankly, finding the best you can afford of any age and enjoying as intended is the best advice.

Specifications – Peugeot 205 GTI 1.9

 

Engine

1.9-litre four-cylinder, petrol

Power

130PS (97kW) @ 6,250rpm

Torque

164Nm @ 4,750rpm

Transmission

Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive

Kerb weight

880kg

0-62mph

7.8 seconds

Top speed

128mph

Production dates

1986-1994 (overall production 1984-1994)

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