Currently reading: Used car buying guide: Peugeot 205 GTi
The all-time great Peugeot 205 GTi: yours for £6000. Pinch yourself.

Evidence dating back to the days of the original, giant-slaying Mini Cooper seems to suggest that a large-ish or tuned engine in a small and lightweight and decently modest road car of reasonably practical proportions and suitably low cost can be a recipe for biblical success. 

The Volkswagen Golf GTI took the idea and ran with it, way back in the 1970s, begetting along the way the hot hatch phenomenon. Indeed, it ran so hard that it continues lapping all comers to this day. But ask a misty-eyed enthusiast to name but one such hot hatchback to reverse into their fantasy garage and a pound to a penny the car that’ll be mentioned more than any other will be the Peugeot 205 GTi. 

Pourquoi? Well, it’s not just their memories playing tricks: the diminutive 205 GTi really was a responsive and agile humdinger and even now, nearly 40 years after its initial launch, it’s still a bit of a hoot to punt down a winding road. It arguably looked more stylish than the contemporary Golf GTI, too, more pert and rounded and pretty, and it was certainly sharper and more engaging to drive, and it didn’t take long for it to become the hot hatch de jour. 

Peugeot 205 gti front three quarter

Initially launched in 1984, the first GTis were powered by a 1.6-litre all-alloy fuel-injected engine that made just 103bhp. If that doesn’t sound much by today’s standards, remember that the car weighed just 850kg. Great was the clamour and wide the adulation for this eager-handling little beaver and, although some raised concerns initially over the limitations of its suspension and subsequently bouncy ride quality, the legend was born. 

Peugeot 205 gti left side

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Two years later, in 1986, the power of the 1.6 GTi was increased to 113bhp, but of perhaps more importance the 1.9 GTi was launched. It produced 128bhp and was torquier and punchier, with a 0-60mph time of 7.8sec and a top speed of 127mph. 

But what made the 205 GTi, any 205 GTi, so special to drive was its finely tuned chassis and its balance in the corners. However, although the GTi has more than adequate grip, tales of what happens if you lift off the throttle mid-corner are legion, with that chassis deliberately tuned for more than a smidgen of lift-off oversteer, presumably to keep things interesting. You have been warned. 

Some thought that the build-up of self-aligning torque in the cars with unassisted steering a little unnecessary, too, and others felt that its 3.8-turns-lock-tolock rack could have been a little quicker. However, the GTi rode roughshod over all such faultfinding and has now become a car almost beyond criticism. 

Peugeot 205 gti steering wheel

Overall, opinion is still a little divided 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. No matter. What is beyond doubt is that, in either form, the 205 GTi is still comfortably regarded as one of the greatest hot hatchbacks of all time.

What we said then

18th April 1984: “This little car is a standard-setter in the hot-supermini class. It retains the good but firm ride of the standard 205 but adds in truly excellent performance and good handling. The interior is a little cramped in comparison with the likes of the Golf GTI and the Astra GTE, but it is a smaller and more agile car. Indeed, it could be argued that the shortage of space is not such a big issue in cars like this, which are built primarily to entertain the driver, and in that respect, the 205 GTi is a huge success.”

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An owner's view

Mark Francis: “Take no notice of the hoary old 1.6 or 1.9 debate and just buy the best 205 GTi you see or can afford. Then you’ll have a supremely able hot hatch that’s still great fun to drive, even by today’s standards. If you find one of the later models with power steering so much the better. Its unassisted steering could be heavy at low speeds and a bit of a pain. Ride quality varies depending on age, too. The later ones are better. Of course, it’s small and fragile and not nearly as safe as a more modern car, so do take care. ”

Buyer beware

Peugeot 205 gti engine

Engine: Check the exhaust manifold for cracks. A poor idling speed suggests a failed airflow meter. Inspect the coolant for signs of a failed head gasket. Listen for big-end bearings knocking. A dry bearing sound or a ticking could be a failed cambelt tensioner. The belt and water pump need changing every four years. Don’t worry if a 1.9 GTi is a little lumpy on start-up as this is quite normal.

Oil issues: Oil starvation is an issue so keep an eye on the pressure gauge. It can be caused by a non-Peugeot oil filter, the oil pump being blocked with the old gasket, or in the case of worn cams, buckets and lobes, by blocked oil spray bars. Look for leaks at the back of the sump. Oil smoke on start-up is worn valve stem seals.

Transmission: First- and second-gear synchros wear but a worn third-gear synchro means the car has been thrashed. Plastic gear linkages wear, causing a loose shift feel. New linkages and a quick-shift cure it. A worn lower engine mount causes engine rock and wears the driveshafts. When the car is cold, the gearchange can be rather stiff and it isn’t helped when the clutch cable starts to seize up. This will produce a heavy clutch pedal and make the car unpleasant to drive.

Suspension and brakes: Check the rear beam axle for collapsed bearings caused by perished seals. Drop links wear quickly, as do rear wheel bearings and wishbone bushes. Suspension top mount bearings rot and go stiff, causing the unit to creak. Rear discs on the GTi are susceptible to corrosion, and if the discs look to be in poor shape, it’s odds on the calipers are past their best, too. Replacement braking components are relatively cheap and easy to fit.

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Peugeot 205 gti badge

Body: Rust can affect door bottoms, sills, around the headlights and in the boot floor. 

Sunroof: The impressive sunroof, where fitted, can be problematic as the seal is pressurised through a tube to keep the glass in contact with the seal. Releasing the handle relieves the pressure and allows the sunroof to slide more easily. Raising the handle fills the seal with air, so a damaged seal will cause the sunroof to leak.

Also worth knowing

Space inside the cabin is truly impressive, given the compactness of the 205. It’s low-waisted and airy, big people can travel in the rear (although getting them in and out can be a bother) and the front passengers are as well catered for as in far bigger or more modern hatchbacks.

Peugeot 205 gti interior

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How much to spend

£6000-£9995: Still some bargains to be had but check everything carefully. You’ll find a few of the convertible 205 CTis at this price level, too. 

£10,000-£14,995: Some interesting cars in this price range, most of them partially or fully restored or in a good general overall condition. 

£15,000 -£19,995: Nice cars here of all ages in ready-to-roll condition and with good histories. 

£20,000- £25,000: Expect top-spec concours and really well-looked-after or completely restored examples for this money

One we found 

Peugeot 205 gti used front three quarter

1989 Peugeot 205 GTi 1.9, 102,000 miles, £16,995 This looks like the real deal: one previous owner, full service history, recent mechanical overhaul and, the seller says, “completely original” and “dry stored most of its life”. Its MOT runs to January 2023 and it passed the last one with no advisories.

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si73 10 October 2022
For some reason I always preferred the 309, more of a fastback shape that I've always liked I suppose, but I did see a couple at classic shows this year, and I thought they still look great.