Although 2010 is Peugeot’s 200th anniversary, it’s one of its more recent cars – the 205 GTi – that has had the biggest impact on the company. As one of the first hot hatches of the Eighties, it remains the epitome of the genre even today.
So what was it that made the car so good and keeps it so today? Firstly there was the speed. The car’s original 1.6-litre engine may have only produced 105bhp but the GTi weighed just 850kg. By comparison the average weight of the current 207 is 1200kg. This lightness resulted in a 0-60mph dash of 8.9 secs. Might not sound quick by today’s standards but this was the early eighties, don’t forget, where normal family cars – such as the Ford Fiesta – took a day and half to reach 60mph.
Secondly, there was its handling. The non-assisted steering was sharp and responsive, the front wheel drive layout offered huge amounts of grip while its lightness give it a sense of nimbleness often missing front today’s heavyweight, equipment laden hot hatches. It was like driving a street legal go-kart.
It also looked good with Peugeot only needing to add a set of alloys and a simple body kit to the already handsome Pininfarina design to make it stand out from the crowd.
Yet the main reason why the 205 GTi enjoyed such huge successes was the price. At £6,250 (June 1984) it was half the price of a Porsche 924 yet its abilities weren’t too dissimilar, especially the 1.9-litre version from 1986. It brought the kind of speed normally associated with specialist and expensive sportscars to the masses. And although it was by far the first hot hatch, it quickly became the benchmark for the genre and in many ways remains so to this day. Roadtesters like myself still can’t help but compare any new hot hatch against the 205 GTi even though production finished 16 years ago.
It would also have a huge effect on the company that built it. Although by the Eighties Peugeot was a major player in both Europe and Africa, it was more known for producing strong, robust but otherwise very dull saloons, such as the 504. The 205 GTi, by comparison, was glamorous, exciting and gave the French firm some much needed publicity. It was the first Peugeot to be bought by those who wouldn’t normally look twice at the French brand and it pushed the company into the mainstream market.
Unfortunately, subsequent Peugeot hot hatches have been nowhere near as good. Although cars such as the 306 GTi-6 and 207 GTi had all the right ingredients, they were short of the mark set by the 205 GTi. Heaviness, cost and not enough emphasis on fun were the main culprits.
Peugeot has tried to readdress this with the RCZ coupe but while it ticks many of the boxes, it doesn’t begin to get close to the 205 GTi’s simplistic fun. For despite building bigger and more luxurious cars, the company needs to relearn what it knew 26 years ago. When it comes to fun, less is more.