Any of you petrolheads out there with any bit of rose-tinting in your spectacles will undoubtedly have fond memories of one of the greatest hot hatchbacks of all time — the Peugeot 205 GTi and particularly the cracking 1.9 litre version of same, writes Declan Colley
I do have very fond memories of the car and indeed once owned one — well the wife owned it, actually, but she let me have a go in it every now and then. Mind you, if I had told her about some of the antics I got up to, she might not have been so keen to hand over the keys.
Like the time I was driving to work one quiet Sunday afternoon from what was then home in Blackrock and I was giving the Pug a bit of welly as I came along Monaghan Road on the way into the city. Giving it a bit too much welly, as it transpired.
As I got to the junction where you turn off for Centre Park Road, I had a quick, confidence-boosting, lift off the throttle before, as I thought, getting back on the loud pedal at the apex of that curve. The car never gave me the chance.
Just as I lifted my foot off accelerator, the back end stepped out and no end of opposite lock was going to get it back. It spun through a complete 360 degrees and by some miracle I was eventually left facing the way I had been heading.
I was terribly lucky on two counts: first, that there was nothing coming the other way; and, second, that my underpants were still clean.
That was the thing about the 205 GTi — it was wickedly fast and absolutely brilliant to drive, but it had one or two little mercurial traits which, if you were not sharp enough or wise enough, would bite you badly. I suppose that was part of the visceral appeal of the thing — try as much as you would to master the car, it never truly allowed you complete control.
This characteristic was not so much of a worry, but just enough to plant a seed of doubt in your mind to prevent you taking too many liberties with it.
It was every bit the car you had to respect, or it could do terrible damage to the aforementioned under-garments.
The thing was this was a classic Peugeot and the French outfit were rather good at making such things back in the day; and the 205 was not the only one they made.
There was such as the 106 Rallye and the 306 GTi-6 and the outfit that made them, Peugeot Sport, was a serious purveyor of bite-your-ass motor cars.
Established by the legendary Jean Todt (now president of the FIA), Peugeot Sport was not just a tin shed out the back of the main plant with a few Gauloise-smoking engineers kicking ideas around the place. No, those guys engineered everything from rally specials to Le Mans winners and a half-decent F1 engine as well.
But they somehow lost their mojo in recent times — something which was mirrored by the street car output of the main company — but in the last while, they’ve got it back again and this week’s tester is proof-positive that is the case.
The new Peugeot 308 GTi is not only a joy to behold visually, but it is the berries on the road too, oozing the sort of malevolence and jip that any GTi worthy of the name should have in spades.
As a worthy contender in a segment which boasts such as the Golf GTi and the Focus ST, the Peugeot needed to be a pretty classy machine to have any hope of competing — and it is.
It comes in two versions, both of which are powered by a 1.6 litre turbocharged petrol engine; the lesser version outputs some 250bhp, while the one we got to try had a 270bhp output and features all sorts of trickery in its armour.
Stuff like lightweight Mahle pistons and a twin scroll Borgwarner turbo, as well as increased pressure injection, the 270 brake version is heavy on technology — and big on thrills too. It also has a good few electronic tricks up its sleeve, what with a Torsen limited slip diff which liberally apportions power to the front wheel which needs it most.
Ford and VW have already demonstrated that it is now eminently possible to effectively control the massive understeer usually generated by a front driver with a very powerful engine by using a trick diff and Peugeot has obviously learned a lot from them because this thing handles like the racer it wants to be.
Lowered suspension (ride height 11mm down on the regular 308), retuned dampers, revised anti-rolls bars and massively stiffer springs may make for a firm ride, but boy can this thing take a corner.
Sure you will unnecessarily spin wheels if you’re heavy-footed, but more subtle interventions with the right boot will see you getting from A to B rather quicker than you imagined possible.
Brakes too have been upgraded for the 270bhp version and they are devastatingly effective.
The naked performance facts tell us the 308 GTi will complete the 0-100km/h dash in six seconds while top speed is limited to 250km/h.
And there is a ‘Sport’ button too which dramatically ratchets up the aural accompaniment as well as the throttle response, but given the quality of the standard settings, is a tad unnecessary in my view.
Peugeot’s i-cockpit is very minimalist and that means no button or switchgear clutter, although I must say that the touchscreen, which now contains most controls, is a bit distracting and difficult to use.
The bucket seats, though, are very comfortable and seriously supportive when things get sweaty and there is plenty of passenger and cargo space. It is worth remembering too that this only comes as a five-door and is therefore a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde beast, capable of family duties as well as its sporting obligations.
Although still capable of endangering your underpants when you get some lift-off understeer action going, the 308 GTi does respond well to a lighter touch and it truly is shatteringly fast. All of which makes it the sort of automotive equivalent of meeting an old friend who you haven’t seen for yonks.
Without doubt this is the best sporting Peugeot we’ve seen for quite a while, with, perhaps, the exception of the RCZ-R, and something which is a very credible opponent for some of the standard-bearers in the segment.
That is not something we’ve been able to say for some time now and I’m delighted we finally can.
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