Peugeot 205 GTI: Road car buying guide

Is this petit French fancy the greatest hot hatch of all time? Robert Ladbrook looks at the growing argument in favour of the Peugeot 205 GTI

Side view of Peugeot 205 GTI

Don’t you wish you’d kept hold of yours? The 1.6 GTI was launched in 1984, with a 1.9 arriving in ’86

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The 1980s was a golden age for the hot hatch fan, and few did it better than the French. Sure, the Germans may have got there first with the mighty Volkswagen Golf GTI, but if you wanted a true lightweight, performance pocket-rocket, you just needed to look across the Channel.

While the Renault 5 GT Turbo also stakes a strong claim, arguably no hot hatch has ever been more sporting than Peugeot’s 205 GTI. It was so good that Peugeot has never managed to live up to it since, despite numerous attempts to recapture the magic of the 1984 original.

Launched in 1983, the Gerard Welter-designed 205 caused a significant stir straight away, netting a handful of high-profile awards for its sleek styling and keen performance. Despite original engines starting from a humble 954cc, the mixture of lightweight chassis (c.800kg) and fully independent suspension made the 205 a riot when things got twisty, and Peugeot quickly spotted its sporting potential.

Just a year later, the first GTI variant was launched, boasting a 105bhp 1.6-litre 8V engine. Equipped with that, the 205 could sprint to 60mph in 8.7sec and on to a top speed of 116mph – figures that already put it well in line with VW’s MkII GTI.

Jean Todt was a 205 fan and based Peugeot’s Group B rally contender on the two-door GTI

Then in 1986 Peugeot upped the ante further by fitting a 1.9-litre 130bhp unit to expand the GTI range, while also giving the 1.6 a jump up to 115bhp. Which one was better is a long-running topic of debate among enthusiasts and usually just came down to personal preference – whether you enjoyed the more peaky 1.6 or the extra torque of the 1.9 (some even insisted on mixing and matching gearboxes between the two in search of a ‘perfect’ GTI experience).

And if its road reputation was stellar, its motor sporting one is the stuff of legend. Jean Todt was a fan of the 205 and settled on basing Peugeot’s new Group B rally contender on the two-door GTI. Peugeot Talbot Sport rolled out the 205 T16 for 1984 as the hardest of hard-core hatchbacks. With its 1.8- litre turbocharged engine kicking out close to 400bhp and mounted right behind the driver, it shared little other than a silhouette with its road-going cousin. The 205 T16 would celebrate 16 WRC victories between 1984 and ’86.

Of course, to homologate such a machine, Peugeot also had to create 200 road-going variants, which have now become perhaps the most desirable (and valuable) hatchbacks for collectors. Despite lacking the four-wheel drive of the Group B monster and having half the power, the 205 Turbo 16 is as rare as hen’s teeth. One did sell recently at auction with Artcurial offering the final Turbo 16 ever produced, chassis 200, fetching £235,000 in July. Restored and low-mileage standard GTIs are becoming valuable regulars at accessible auctions.

One for saleRear view of Peugeot 205 GTI

1990 Peugeot 205 GTI

It may have 104,000 miles on it, but it’s a fully restored 1.9 in Solid Black with only four previous owners

Peugeot 205 GTI

Price new £6245 (£20,590 today)
Price now £10,000-£25,000
Engine 1.6 or 1.9 8V (1.8 T16)
Rivals Renault 5 GT Turbo, VW Golf GTI MkII, Vauxhall Astra GTE
Verdict Ultimately the perfect hot hatch comes down to personal choice, but this will top many people’s list