Peugeot 205 GTi – History of one of the greatest hot hatchbacks

The 205 GTi is considered by many, including us here at Automotive Daily, to be one of the greatest hot hatchbacks of all time.

Peugeot has never really captured the magic of that car since it ended production in 1994, but with news that the brand still considers the GTI badge an important part of its heritage, hopes have been raised for a modern take on the formula. While hot hatch fans wait with baited breath, we’re looking back at the history of the storming original.

Life for the Peugeot 205 began in 1983, when it was launched as the successor to the 104 supermini. Created to fill the gap between the 104 and the larger 305, the 205 was penned in-house by Gerard Welter with interior touches done by Paul Bracq.

The French manufacturer quickly realised the model’s sporting potential and a year later, in April 1984, released the Peugeot 205 GTi. Powered by a 78kW 1.6-litre engine and tipping the scales at less than 900kg, it could shoot from 0-100km/h in 8.7sec and had a top speed of 187km/h.

The faster GTi 1.9 was launched at the end of 1986, boasting 97kW. It was capable of completing the 0-100km/h sprint in 7.8sec and boasted a top speed of 205km/h. During 1986 the 1.6-litre version was also upgraded, with peak power now quoted at 86kW.

To this day, opinion is still divided among motoring journalists as to which variant provides the better GTi experience, with some preferring the peaky power delivery of the 1.6-litre derivative and others favouring the increased torque of the 1.9. However, the Peugeot 205 GTi in either form is still comfortably regarded as one of the greatest hot hatchbacks of all time.

In 1984 Peugeot Talbot Sport – led at the time by current FIA President Jean Todt – unleashed the 205 T16 on the World Rally Championship. There were also 200 road-going examples built for homologation purposes.

Despite adopting four-wheel drive and a transverse mid-engined layout, the production T16s shared little in common with the WRC cars, and initially had less than half the power at around 150kW. However, the 205 T16 Evo 2 changed that, coming with 335kW and a reputed 0-100km/h time of 3.3sec.

Other potent Peugeot 205s which gained brownie points among petrolheads included the underrated 205 XS built from 1986 to 1992 and the rare ultra-lightweight 205 Rallye. With almost all luxury items and soundproofing stripped and only the bare essential electrics left, the Rallye’s kerb weight was down to 795kg, with a 1.4-litre 56kW engine propelling the car to 100km/h in 11.3sec.

When production finally ground to a halt, Peugeot had sold 5.2 million examples of the 205. The 106 GTI and 306 GTI would go on to find a new generation of fans, but critics agreed that neither could replace the 205 GTI as the best hot hatch to wear a Peugeot badge. The 306 GTI-6, released in 1996, came close with the combination of 125kW 2.0-litre engine and close-ratio six-speed gearbox. The 306 Rallye that followed it shaved 52kg from its kerb weight, though was limited to just 500 cars.

1998 saw the 205’s direct replacement wear GTI badges for the first time, but the 206 GTI was largely considered a disappointment on account of its lack of handling panache. The 207 GTI was better, but it wasn’t sharp enough to hold court with the Renaultsport Clio’s ‘fighting it out at the top of the class at the time.

Peugeot would celebrate 30 years of the 205 GTI in 2014 with a limited-edition version of its latest-generation hot hatch. The 208 GTI was unveiled at the Goodwood Festival of Speed that same year. It featured a 1.6-litre THP petrol engine that produced 153kW and 300Nm, while its Torsen differential was taken from the RCZ R sports car. Lowered suspension, widened front and rear track and larger 18-inch alloys completed the package, but what it clawed back in on-the-limit performance it lost in daily usability.

What about the future? A new-generation 208 GTI makes sense – though it is unlikely to be petrol-powered, and could be the last of the breed to wear the badge. The electric e-208 is a more likely candidate than the 1.2-litre three-pot currently found in the standard 208, as Peugeot sees EV’s in its future and would gain little from producing a more potent engine for its smaller cars.

The company is also testing the waters with a Peugeot Sport Engineered (PSE) plug-in hybrid version of the 508 sedan, and has said that it will be used for any electrified performance models going forward.

Tom Morgan

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