- Prices can be as low as £1,500
- Revvy, responsive engine
- Excellent steering feel and great ride
- Electrical gremlins are annoying but cheap to fix
- Cheap interior plastics...
- ...but styling timeless
When the Big Book of Hot Hatchery comes to be written, it may well record that Peugeot's finest example was not the sainted 205 GTI. Yes, it was the one that put the French firm on the performance map. But it's possible that the best fast hatch it has made is the 306 GTI-6, and its lightweight Rallye derivative.
Introduced in 1996, power for the GTI-6 came from a naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre petrol motor producing 167hp at 6,500rpm. With 142lb ft at 5,500rpm, it was officially capable of an 8.5-second 0-62mph dash, but many owners reckon Peugeot played down the car's true stats to lower insurance costs. The car is said to be easily capable of a sub-eight-second sprint to go with its 135mph top speed. Those figures seem modest by today's standards, but the GTI-6 was about much more than just off-the-line speed.
What makes the car so special is the way it gets down the road. A kerb weight of 1,214kg for the GTI-6 makes it fairly light and the Rallye version stripped a further 65kg from the bottom line thanks as it ditched front fog lights, air-con, electric windows and the sunroof. The Rallye also had unique upholstery that was less weighty than the GTI-6's cloth and Alcantara mix, which was standard from early 1998.
Both versions shared the same six-speed manual gearbox - a strong USP in the nineties for cars of this segment - with long first and second gears that also meant initial acceleration wasn't as vivid as you might think. However, on the move, the engine was praised in road tests for its eagerness to rev, while the gearbox was well matched and could be worked hard.
A 1997 facelift saw new headlights, grille, bumpers, doors, instrument panel and side protection arrive, while another update was applied in mid-1999. These last Phase 3 cars have 'crystal' headlights, clear side repeater indicators, round foglights, silver dash trim and an aluminium gear knob.
In total, around 4,500 GTI-6 of all types and 500 Rallyes were sold in the UK. Many of those have now disappeared - HowManyLeft suggests there are fewer than 300 GTI-6s and only 80 Rallyes left - making this superlative hot hatch one to look out for and cherish when you find a good, original example. The lack of available cars does make it hard to gauge prices at any given moment, but at the last check runners with MOTs could be had for little more than £1,500. Find an immaculate, low mileage model and you'll be closer to five figures.
SPECIFICATION | PEUGEOT 306 GTI-6
Engine: 1,998cc, inline four
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 167@6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 142@5,500rpm
Top speed: 135mph
MPG (official combined): 35.3
Wheels: 6.5x15 (f), 6.5x15 (r)
Tyres: 195/55 (f), 195/55 (r)
On sale: 1996-2001
Price new: £18,670
Price now: from £1,500
Note for reference: car weight and power data is hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it's wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
The 2.0-litre XU10J4RS engine used in the 306 GTI-6 and Rallye is unchanged between the two models and the three phases of the car's life. It's a robust unit, but with one major caveat: the timing belt.
Peugeot originally specified a 70,000-mile interval before dropping this to 40,000 miles or five years. Even then, plenty of belts snapped before the car reached the 40,000-mile mark and left owners with an expensive fix. It's now reckoned a new belt every 30,000 or three years is the safe limit. With any GTI-6 or Rallye you're thinking of buying, check the service records very closely for receipts to prove when the timing belt was last changed, and look for evidence the water pump was swapped at the same time. Even with cars where this work has been carried out, you should still reckon on replacing the belt and pump as routine service items to be on the safe side for around £300 at a specialist.
Any car with a ticking noise that rises as the engine is revved has probably had a snapped timing belt and poor repairs. Some noise from the fuel injectors when the engine is cold is common, but this will stop when the engine warms through. If the XU engine doesn't idle smoothly from cold, a new idle control valve and stepper motor should solve it. Make sure you use a correct and original spec Magnetti Marelli unit so it lasts a long time - aftermarket items are known to fail quickly.
As well as the water pump, the cooling system in the GTI-6 should be inspected carefully. Keep an ear out for the thermostatic cooling fans switching on when the engine begins to get hot. The cooling system is fragile and radiators corrode. Replacement radiators are easy to fit and many owners upgrade to an aftermarket aluminium item for improved efficiency.
With your head still under the bonnet, check the area where the top engine mount fixes to the bodyshell as it can crack and let the engine start to move unnecessarily. Air con pipes corrode and are also prone to damage from underneath as they sit low to the ground. Few cars have functioning air con as a result as many owners don't bother to spend the £300 to replace pipes that will almost inevitably be damaged again.
A heavy clutch was common when new and it gets heavier with age as the routing of the hydraulic pipes passes close to the exhaust, and the cable's grease dries out on right-hand drive cars. Replacing the cable will cost £35 plus fitting or you could do it yourself in around three hours for the competent home mechanic.
For more power, aftermarket exhausts add to the sound but do little to the overall horsepower. Freeflow induction kits should be fitted with caution as some mount the inlet very low in the engine bay, which risks scooping up water from deeper puddles and do some serious internal damage. Some cars have had supercharger kits fitted, which can provide up to 300hp, but bring their own, even tighter requirements for maintenance.
The GTI-6 and Rallye have a simple MacPherson strut, coil spring and shock absorber with anti-roll bar front set-up. At the back, a torsion beam with trailing arms, coil springs and anti-roll complete the chassis.
The torsion beam rear end has an undeserved reputation for being snappy and tail-happy. Worn bushes will make it less predictable, while poly bushes are not the best bet for road use as they remove some of the passive rear steer from the set-up. The bushes between the boot floor and torsion bar also fail and cause a banging noise, but it's simple enough to sort this, albeit quite time consuming.
Cars that have been lowered need not be shunned, so long as good quality front springs are used, such as Eibach ones. Also, the rear beam needs to be carefully lowered to match the front to avoid a tail-up stance. Doing this will almost undoubtedly show up seized bushes, so budget for replacing these with original or uprated ones depending on the type of use you have in mind.
A GTI-6's steering will feel quite heavy to anyone used to modern assisted systems, but the pay-off is superb feedback. Listen out for worn drop links, which are simple to replace. The originals were made from plastic, but metal replacements are available. The turning circle is not great as Peugeot had to limit the lock to allow for clearance of the six-speed gearbox (most rivals made do with five speeds), while 3.2 turns between the stops doesn't feel especially quick for a hot hatch. However, the steering is one of the defining traits of this car.
Peugeot fitted 6Jx15-inch Cyclone alloy wheels, which are cheap to refurbish and their 195/55 VR15 tyre size means there's lots of choice for those on a budget and anyone looking for stickier track day rubber. Balancing the wheels can be tricky as they don't have a centre cap, so make sure any fitter knows how to balance this type of wheel.
The 283mm ventilated front discs and 240mm solid rears are well up to the job of stopping the GTI-6 as it has an all-up weight of 1,214kg, or 1,163kg for the Rallye. Check the rear calipers are working and let the wheels rotate freely, even if the car has a recent MOT pass to its name.
The steel monocoque shell is galvanised but rot can appear behind the sills and in the nearside front wheelarch. For some reason, Peugeot didn't always fit an arch liner to the front nearside arch so stone chips will develop into corrosion. Also, have a look around the rear seat belt mounts and the surrounding area for rust as this is an MOT fail point.
Check the fuel filler elbow joint if you can as it rots and is tricky to access to replace, so have a good sniff for any whiff of petrol in the cabin and boot that might indicate this.
Otherwise, there's little to worry about the with the GTI-6 and Rallye beyond the usual inspection for crash damage and poor repairs. You may find most cars have a fair smattering of parking dings and dents. While this is age-related, the thin metal used on the doors and wings means they are more prone than contemporary rivals, such as the Volkswagen Golf GTI.
Most 306 GTI-6s have leather and Alcantara upholstery, which looked great when new and the seats offer excellent support. However, age often sees the driver's side outer bolster wear and split, which looks awful but can be fixed by a professional upholsterer.
The rest of the interior trim is no better or worse at lasting the distance than most cars of this age and generation. Expect the occasional rattle or squeak. While sat in the driver's seat, look up for signs of water leaking into the cabin through blocked drain holes if there's a sunroof fitted.
When you turn on the ignition, make sure the oil temperature gauge is also working to tell you the oil level. Check the electric windows and door mirrors work as the door looms are known to break. Try this with the doors open and closed. Another electrical fault that shows up is the airbag warning light not going out after the car is started. This is most likely a broken wire under the seats and is simple to remedy. Central locking fails as water gets in though the aerial hole and causes the electrical PCB to stop working.
When the 306 GTI-6 landed in the mid-nineties, Peugeot was on a roll. The 205 was already a legend and subsequent hatchbacks promptly won the hearts and minds of buyers, and often embarrassed the competition. The sheer bandwidth plumbed into the GTI-6 and Rallye - which allowed them to be driven on their door handles or else as remarkably comfortable cruisers - is admired even today.
The handling and steering came in for considerable plaudits at launch because they allowed the Peugeot to shine on any sort of road. Like its predecessors from the same firm, the rear end will step out if provoked and anyone who has seen a 306 GTI-6 or Rallyes at track days will know just how competent both models are through the bends. It's little wonder that so many have been lost over the years; plenty were adopted for track use, making a cube-shape resting place almost inevitable. Finding a good, clean 306 GTI-6 in particular has become increasingly tough.
But when you do, expect the magic of Peugeot's chassis know-how to shines through. Primarily it is the amount of feedback coming back through the 15-inch wheels, hubs and steering rack that impresses in a modern context. Add in that responsive 2.0-litre motor, a workable six-speed gearbox and an amenable chassis balance, and it's still a recipe for hot hatch pleasure. Granted, the 306 has lost a step or two compared to its modern-day equivalents, but the underlying handling talent is forever and it's easy to forgive anyone who stripped back a GTI-6 to create a track hack.
Inevitably those wanting more power have been lured elsewhere since the hot hatch segment rediscovered its mojo in the decades that followed the 306's introduction - although it's no great stretch to say that Peugeot has rarely troubled the class leaders in the same way it did in '96. With honourable mention to the most recent 208 GTI, the 306 is still something of a high watermark for the firm in a time when it could justly claim to rule the hatchback roost. Which is easily reason enough to seek one out.
[This is a comprehensive update of a Used Buying Guide originally published in 2016]
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