Currently reading: History of the Peugeot 205 GTi – picture special
As Peugeot confirms the GTI badge remains important to the brand, we take a look back at the history of the best light-footed French hatchback to carry it
Tom Morgan, deputy digital editor
News
4 mins read
30 June 2020

The 205 GTI is considered by many, including us here at Autocar, 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. In its debut year, the Peugeot 205 finished runner-up in the European Car of the Year but was rightfully awarded the 1983 Car of the Year by What Car?.

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 105bhp 1.6-litre engine and tipping the scales at less than 900kg, it could shoot from 0-62mph in 8.7sec and had a top speed of 116mph.

The faster GTi 1.9 was launched at the end of 1986, boasting 130bhp. It was capable of completing the 0-62mph sprint in 7.8sec and boasted a top speed of 127mph. During 1986 the 1.6-litre version was also upgraded, with peak power now quoted at 115bhp.

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.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Ford Kuga 2020 road test review - hero front
    3 July 2020
    Car review
    SUV practicality, Focus underpinnings, plug-in hybrid tech: is this another...
  • Alpina B3 2020 first drive review - hero front
    3 July 2020
    First Drive
    Bavaria's alternative M3 gets an added injection of performance and...
  • Hyundai i30 N 2020 UK first drive review - hero front
    2 July 2020
    First Drive
    Suspension tweaks aim to make the Hyundai hot hatch a more usable daily...

Read our review

Car review
Peugeot 208 GTI

Peugeot re-enters the hot hatch fray with its 208 GTI, but does the firm still understand what those three letters mean?

Back to top

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 200bhp. However, the 205 T16 Evo 2 changed that, coming with 450bhp and a reputed 0-60mph time of 3.3sec.

In 1985, Peugeot exploited the skill of Pininfarina to design the 205 cabriolet and a ‘CTi’ version was released partnering the same sportier styling as the GTi, but without its roof, and the 1.6-litre and later, 1.9-litre powerplants.

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 75bhp engine propelling the car to 60mph in 11.3sec.

In 1992, Peugeot UK revealed a special limited edition of the 205 GTi - badged the 1FM - to celebrate BBC Radio 1’s 25th birthday. Only available in black with bespoke ‘Radio1FM’ badging and decals, grey alloy wheels and individual brass-plate numbering marking the build number, only 25 examples were made. 

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 167bhp 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 Clios and Vauxhall Corsa VXRs that were 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 supermini. The 208 GTI was unveiled at the Goodwood Festival of Speed that summer, and was limited to just 100 UK cars. It featured a 1.6-litre THP petrol engine that produced 205bhp and 221lb ft, 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.

Back to top

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 EVs 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 saloon, and has said that it will be used for any electrified performance models going forward.

READ MORE

Used buying guide: Peugeot 205 GTi​

Best hot hatches through the ages: Autocar's top five face off​

Renault 5 GT Turbo - better than the 205 GTi?​

Join the debate

Comments
5

9 December 2014
Picture 40 appears to show the dashboard of an electric 205? I never knew they did one? I had a 205 XS in 1987 (E46FLK), and they were indeed fabulous cars. I worked in London but had to visit a site in Stratford-on-Avon every week, and it was a real joy driving out there across country in the pre-M40 days.

5 January 2014
I had a run in a 1.9 back in the day, I was looking to replace a 5 GT turbo and decided on a 309 1.9 gti in the end. A better car in the real world. Would have loved a 16v 309 gti but they never arrived in uk showrooms. So replaced the 309 with a 405 Mi 16. Seems a very long time ago now....

9 December 2014
Still the best in my opinion. 1.9 is fast even in modern terms. Automotive world simply didnt progress much in any area apart from safety which is not paramount for the likes of us, and even that is questionable and has a lot to do with image rather than safety.

5 January 2014
....it suffered from too little suspension travel and too heavy steering. The 309 GTi I had after that was better in the real world, by far. Back in the late '80s, a group of us would compare our GTis and GTEs with the 8v Golf GTI, a TR4A, a TR6, both tweaked, and a Stag with tweaked suspension, and on busy single lane 60mph highways the Golf and the Stag were better. The Stag was a revelation with its V8 mid-range.

Compared to the Pugs, the Golf was a better quality car but lacked feel. At least it was made of metal. The Stag though was pure beef, and I grew to love Triumphs after that but sadly never owned one.

9 December 2014
Back then a choice of two - 205 or Uno. No competition. Now? Lots, but none of them pretty. Pretty is a thing of the past. Anyone know why?

Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Ford Kuga 2020 road test review - hero front
    3 July 2020
    Car review
    SUV practicality, Focus underpinnings, plug-in hybrid tech: is this another...
  • Alpina B3 2020 first drive review - hero front
    3 July 2020
    First Drive
    Bavaria's alternative M3 gets an added injection of performance and...
  • Hyundai i30 N 2020 UK first drive review - hero front
    2 July 2020
    First Drive
    Suspension tweaks aim to make the Hyundai hot hatch a more usable daily...