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Thursday 24th May 2012


TELL ME I'M WRONG: PEUGEOT 205 GTI

Harris dares to question hot-hatch lore by suggesting everyone's wrong about the 205 GTI


The three fundamental, over-arching opinions of the 1980s were quite straightforward: capitalism was good, the 205 GTI was sweeter with the smaller 1.6-litre motor, as was the Golf GTI with just eight valves. So long as you grasped these three tenets of life under Maggie T, all would be fine. I am not qualified to comment on the first point, and shall leave the last one for another time, but after years of enforced silence I feel compelled to speak out on the veracity of point two. It's tommy-rot: the 1.9 is better.

According to myth and legend the 1.6 is sweeter
According to myth and legend the 1.6 is sweeter
I love reading old car magazines - I still do it most days and generally replace them on the shelf with a warm glow. But my predecessors did get some stuff badly wrong. Fair enough, we've all made a wrong call and lived to regret it but in the case of the 205 GTI something strange happened. A weird, pervasive, blanket opinion spread itself over the industry, compelling people to believe that the 115hp 1.6-litre car was better than the 130hp 1.9-litre car in mostly subjective terms. I wonder how many times the comparative 'sweeter' was used in test verdicts?

And so it was written...
As a young, impressionable scrote I digested pretty much every published word on these cars rather than gain a formal education - and I took it as read that the 1.9 was not the one to have. A few years later I drove both and it seriously rocked my faith in the people I'd previously considered sage voices on anything car-related. The 1.6 was a blast. The 1.9 was nuts.

Lifting at this point probably not advised
Lifting at this point probably not advised
And the 1.9 had much more effortless performance because it benefited from 119lb ft of torque compared to the 1.6's 99lb ft. Never has a measly 20lb ft made such a profound difference to a car. You could drop the 1.9 in fourth at 40 mph and it still pulled hard. Okay, the smaller motor was a little smoother and it was keener to rev to beyond 5,000rpm, but I just couldn't understand why journos wouldn't want the extra oomph - it tipped the little Peugeot's pace from being amusing to leaving Porsche 944 owners tearing holes in their Pringle jumpers.

The same, just a bit more so
Understanding the general consensus on handling was a bit baffling too. According to my predecessors, a 1.6 was a little honey, whereas the 1.9 only existed to shorten your time on this planet. From where I was sitting, both had an unhealthy appetite to wag their rear axles on a trailing throttle, the 1.9's was only a little worse because it was stiffer and the 195/55 tyres were deflected a little more easily.

Nice, but nicer with the 1.9 says Harris
Nice, but nicer with the 1.9 says Harris
Added to this was a nicer looking interior with part-leather seats (more on those in a minute), 15-inch wheels and rear disc brakes. It was just a better package.

The downsides of the larger displacement car seemed to be poor behaviour around town. You had to dip the clutch to stop it bunny-hopping, but then the 1.6 was hardly easy under the same circumstances. And I did prefer the smaller 185 section, 14-inch wheel/tyre combo on gnarly B-roads. It gave the car more compliance, but on most roads the 1.9 was a hoot.

A hairy experience
Anyhow, I've said it now. I don't doubt that there will be hundreds of people who think I've gone mad, but I have driven healthy examples of both cars and always find myself falling for the 1.9's extra torque. Don't get me wrong, the 1.6 was always an exceptional machine, and it didn't suffer quite the same retribution from the insurance industry, but the 1.9 was, and I think still is, the definitive car of its type.

Not just the handling that was hairy
Not just the handling that was hairy
Oh, on the subject of those 1.9 seats - the ones that stretched the definition of the word 'leather' to new levels. A chap from Peugeot who used to work on the dealer side in the late 80s told me some 1.9 customers made warranty claims on those front seats. Turns out the curing process was so poor that one batch had started sprouting hair.

So, all you children of the 80s, please tell me why I'm wrong about the 1.9 GTI being better than the 1.6 GTI.

 

 

Author: Chris Harris