Road test: Turbo Technics Peugeot 205 GTi 1.9

Some like it hot . . .

Volkswagen's Golf GTi started the trend a dozen years ago and Peugeot cannily carved out for itself a niche in a sub-strata, which hitherto did not exist, with its 205 GTi 1.6, at a time when the company was down on its knees with indifferent sales. As this model caught the imagination, so the competition began to catch up, many manufacturers casting a greedy eye on this new market segment. The response from the rejuvenated French manufacturer was a 1.9-litre version of the model, announced in 1986 and which to date remains one of the best "hot" hatchbacks available.

It is thus all the more intriguing, if not to say mysterious, that it has been the subject of some special attention from one of Britain's foremost turbocharging specialists.

Turbo Technics of Northampton has now been established for eight years and in that short time has created an enviable reputation. Geoff Kershaw, its founder and Managing Director, has a blue chip engineering background having spent time at Rolls-Royce and Napier, but it was his spell at Garrett AiResearch, one of the principal manufacturers of turbochargers, that was the most beneficial. Not only did it bring him to prominence as one of the masters of turbocharger technology in this country, but it also forged a bond with Garrett that was to sustain his fledgling company in the early days. Even today, Turbo Technics is the only company officially allowed to tailor Garrett's normally sealed units to suit its own requirements.

Although the first conversion was on a Metro, it is Ford products which brought the company's first success and which today accounts for over half its conversions, with turbocharger kits for the Fiesta XR2 and Sierra 4x4 at present being the most in demand.

Other manufacturers have not been overlooked, however, with Volkswagen Golfs, Vauxhall Astras and even Jaguars subjected to the "TT" treatment. Of most interest, though, is the Peugeot conversion, for if there ever was a model that would seem to benefit less from more horsepower, it would be the 1.9 205 GTi.

Engineering

The eight-valve all-alloy 1905cc engine provides the platform for the operation. Before its appearance in the 205, the powerplant, codenamed XU9 JA, had been seen in various other Peugeots and Citroens, though in more detuned state, but for the GTi the French engineers were given their head. Even in standard form, this belt-driven overhead camshaft unit produces 130 bhp at 6000 rpm and a peak torque of 121 lb ft at 4750 rpm. The addition of the Garrett water-cooled T25 turbo boosts those figures to 175 bhp at 5000 rpm and the peak torque to 182 lb ft at a low 3000 rpm. What this means in practice is that there is greater power on tap throughout the range, but that those front driveshafts will be taking a real hammering with brutal driving.

The T25 is one of the smaller turbochargers in the range and can be found on a number of other smaller engines. Its advantage is that by being small turbo lag is countered and the power it produces is more readily on tap.

An innocent looking switch, marked "high" and "low" instantly alters the boost setting. The lower setting is 0.3 bar but flicking the switch to "high" produces a pressure of 0.65 bar, which is just over 9 psi. To cope with all this extra load, the light and compact engine has had to be slightly modified, with, for example, the compression ratio being raised from 9.6: Ito 8.6:1 by milling the piston crowns, the electronic control unit being re-mapped and the oil cooler being uprated. Additionally an oil supply is fed to the turbo from the engine through an Aeroquip pipe before returning to the sump where a baffle is fitted to prevent oil surge. To cope with the increased torque, the clutch has of necessity become heavy duty. The Bosch LE2 Jetronic fuel injection system, however, remains as on the production car but with an additional injector mounted in the throttle body.

On the road

Despite a top speed of 131 mph (against the 132 mph claimed) this car is at its best around town and on A and B roads, if only for the reason that the unvarying buzz of the engine becomes wearisome after a while. This is partly accounted for by the close ratio gearbox, with shorter final drive ratio and a longer fifth gear, which was introduced at the same time as the 1.9 engine to capitalise on the flexible unit. Pressed to the 7000 rpm red line, gearchanges are at 44 mph in first, 69 mph in second, 93 mph in third and 118 in fourth, but it is this latter gear which acquires a significance of its own and brings the car into the supercar league. In fact the car is at its worst below 7 mph up to which speed it refuses to run smoothly along, acting more like an angry kangaroo, unless the clutch is dipped.

It takes just 4.5 seconds to reach 60 mph from 40 mph in fourth and just one tenth of a second less to reach 70 mph from 50 mph. While the talk of tenths of seconds might appear academic, the figures can be put into perspective when compared to other cars which command respect. For instance those for the Audi quattro, which is no slouch at 135 mph, are 8.0 seconds and 6.4 for the 40 to 60 mph and 50 to 70 mph respectively while those of the Alfa Romeo 164, the subject of last month's road test, were 7.6 and 7.9 seconds respectively.

Playing with the boost button can create a lot of fun although it is ultimately ruinous of the tyres. Because it is such a small car, the impression made when accelerating remains more indelible than with other more exotic and faster accelerating cars. With the throttle floored, the tyres scrabbling for grip and the engine note rising, it is as if the car is about to reach Mach 1. That is on the "low" boost. On "high", the road ahead quickly narrows down to a point in the distance and you feel as if you are aboard the Starship Enterprise and entering a time warp speed when the stars and all the surrounding objects become nothing but a blur. Impressive though 0-60 mph in 6.7 seconds is, it is a time achieved by some other cars, but with nothing like the Peugeot's heady sensation.

The car on test was fitted with an optional handling pack costing £140 plus VAT. While the rear dampers were uprated from those fitted to the 1.6 on the production 1.9 litre, the springs had remained the same, common to both models. The handling pack therefore comprises of new, stiffer rate springs on the front while those at the rear are reset. The effect is to lower the car by half an inch and tauten the handling, but the ride, always the worst aspect on the car, especially on poor road surfaces, is further worsened.

The brakes, disc all round, ventilated at the front, are good, and the steering, without power assistance, is nicely weighted, especially on the move when its feedback is as precise as could be wished for. Aggressive acceleration does result in a tussle with the steering wheel, as is bound to happen with so much power in a light, front-wheel driven car, but it is never uncontrollable.

Understeer is the basic handling characteristic, but the tail can be made to wander out when entering a fast corner with too much lock. On a trailing throttle through a fast bend there is just the slightest tendency towards understeer. For anything less than hooligan-style driving the car's overiding handling characteristic is safely neutral.

Accommodation

Although up to the standards of the class, this is the area where the Peugeot is let down when one takes into account the £14,500 asked for it with the conversion. Although the driving position is good, the seats themselves are thinly padded and can become uncomfortable. Everything is there, including electric windows, although the switches are too low for convenience, and driver-side only central locking, but the predominantly black trim and the whole aspect of the car once inside lacks the feel of a good quality car.

Externally therein little to differentiate it from its more pedestrian (!) brother. Two small Turbo Technics logos adorn the flanks to the rear of the front wheels while a badge is attached to the rear hatch, but otherwise there is little to give the game away — no skirts, aerofoil, front air dam, special wheels. The car aims to surprise and doesn't wish to announce its intentions.

Conclusion

Priced at around £14,500 there is no doubt that the Turbo Technics Peugeot is an expensive car which places it amongst rivals which the manufacturer had originally aimed to undercut. It is £1000 more expensive than the 16-valve Golf and £1200 more than the 16-valve Astra, with a length of 157.00 and 157.4 inches respectively against the 145.9 of the Peugeot.

I doubt, though, whether that worries Turbo Technics unduly. It is aiming at the customer who has already been seduced by the undoubted charms of the little Peugeot, but who might want the ultimate performance. To do Turbo Technics and the Peugeot an injustice, it is the same idea as BMW's in the early Seventies when the ultimate 2002 model was the "Turbo", offered for the person who loved the 2002 so much, was unwilling to change models, but who wanted even more performance. Since the 205 GTI 1.9 is the top of the range model, Turbo Technics is fulfilling a demand for those customers wishing for that something special. For £2550 plus VAT, the cost of a conversion on the 1.9, or L1960 plus VAT for a 1.6-litre conversion, the customer will be extremely satisfied in his quest for a higher speed and an engine with even greater torque for a relatively modest outlay.

If ever the phrase "it takes your breath away" was applicable to a Peugeot product, it should be to the Peugeot 205 GTi 1.9, for it is a dynamic little car. That such a great car can be made any better without spoiling it unduly takes some believing, but Turbo Technics seems to have achieved just that. The whole car is about performance in every sense. It has superb acceleration, a very healthy top speed, tremendous torque, handles superbly and the steering is well weighted. If I had a Peugeot 205 GTi, I would be sorely tempted. WPK

Model: 205 GTi 1.9.

Conversion: Turbo Technics Ltd., Northampton. NN4 0EE.

Type: Three-door sports hatch.

Engine: Transverse. 1905cc, four cylinders in line. Garrett T25 turbocharger, with inter-cooler, with water-cooled centre housing and integral wastegate pressure control. Maximum boost to 0.65 bar. Turbo Technics two stage boost system incorporated. Compression ratio lowered to 0.6:1.

Lubrication: Larger 10 row oil cooler.

Clutch: Uprated assembly.

Ignition: Standard high-energy electronic ignition retained with a modified advance characteristic incor,rating a vacuum advance/pressure retard capsule. Wide heat-range spark plugs employed.

Performance: 0-60 mph : 6.7sec. Standing start 1/4 mile : 15.6sec.

Top Speed: 131 mph.

Economy: 20.7 mpg.

Price (as tested)  Approx. £14.500.