The Volkswagen Golf GTi may have started the ball rolling in the then-new hot hatch class, but the Peugeot 205 GTI is the sporty supermini that defined it. In one sweep, the 205 went from family runabout to running rings around every other hot hatch – and plenty of 'proper' sports cars.
It made the 205 GTI a huge hit with drivers, but it really took off in sales when Peugeot swapped the original, slightly weedy 105bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine for a 115bhp unit in 1986. Later that same year, a 130bhp 1.9-litre engine arrived - and then the 205 GTI could see off any challenger.
Even when new there was much debate about which engine best suited the 205 GTI, with many claiming the smaller-engined model offered better handling compared to the 1.9’s greater pace.
Whichever camp you fell into, 205 GTI buyers valued the handling and were often a younger, more enthusiastic crowd than the Golf GTi gang. Easy access to money and finance also helped younger drivers into the Peugeot, and might help explain why so many 205 GTIs ended up taking a final fling into a ditch.
Ah yes, the 205 GTI’s notoriously twitchy handling. While some will have you believe the 205 was too flighty and apt to spin if the driver dared to ease off the throttle in the middle of a corner, it’s also what made the 205 so nimble and agile. Add in precise steering and strong brakes, which the Golf GTI could not claim, and the Peugeot was the back roads champ.
Peugeot didn’t tamper with the 205 GTI much throughout its life. A convertible CTI model joined the range in 1986 and there was a mild update in 1987 with a new dash and better rust protection. In 1990, the GTI gained ABS anti-lock brakes and clear front indicator lenses, while 1992 saw the 1.9-litre engine drop in power to 122bhp thanks to a catalytic converter.
Radio 1 and the end of the line
As a mark of how much the 205 GTI was a part of the culture, 25 1FM special edition models were made to mark the 25th anniversary of Radio 1 in 1991. By then, though, soaring insurance premiums for hot hatches and a joy-rider image meant production came to a halt in 1994.
Ever since then, the 205 GTI has remained a hugely popular car with 'those who know', and was one of the mainstays of the 1990s modified car scene. Now, it’s rightly regarded as a modern classic, and values of cared-for original or restored examples are rising fast.
Those values are bolstered by the 205’s success in the 1980s Group B rally category, where Peugeot’s 205 T16 was a regular winner until the formula was banned in 1986 for being too fast and too dangerous.
Find a good 205 GTI today and you’ll enjoy all of the lively handling and fun in a depreciation-busting classic.
What are your memories of the 205 GTI? Did you own one? Let us know in the Comments section below.