Base anything on a 205 GTI and the end result will likely be a very good car; if the 80s were anything like today, some kind of small SUV could have been made from it and still delivered a lovely drive. That lusty, effervescent 1.9-litre engine would have provided all the performance required, its lightweight construction immediate responses, and something in the 80s' Peugeot design template would have surely looked nice enough. As it happened, perhaps the best car built using 205 GTI bits was not a 205 at all - it was, of course, the 309 GTI.
With so much carried over from the 205, the main explanation for enthusiasts' fondness for the 309 GTI came thanks to its finer chassis balance. Where the 205 GTI entertained with its madness and tendency for sudden and sometimes unforeseen lift-off oversteer, the 309 GTI and its 2,470mm wheelbase - 50mm longer than the 205's - was more consistent and less flamboyant in its handling. That wasn't to the detriment of nimbleness, either, because the 309 GTI was hailed as offering the sort of dependable adjustability that you can regularly exploit; the 205 GTI, by comparison, demanded more respect and a more delicate approach.
Then there was the added practicality of the 309 shell, which provided extra rear legroom and a generous boot thanks to the body alterations. Arguably (very arguably, Sam - MB), the model wore its wide arches and alloys better thanks to the dinky back deck that supported a touring car-esque rear wing. Although back in the 80s, the conventional hot hatchback design flaunted so well by the 205 GTI was at the height of fashion, thanks in part to the Golf GTI. The breed was so popular, in fact, that it was considered the main cause of death for affordable sports cars, particularly those from Britain. These were the days before the MX-5, of course.
This love for the smaller hatch shape was probably the main reason why the advantages of the 309 GTI didn't translate into higher popularity in Britain. The 205 had a trendier, prettier design for the day and it was slightly cheaper, plus there was the 1.6-litre version that extended its reach drastically, so the 205 GTI sold in far greater numbers. Today, where there are over 1,100 205 GTIs registered on UK roads, just 82 309 GTIs are currently on the system (according to HowManyLeft). There has been a very slight resurgence in numbers since 2017, however, with five more returning to the road, suggesting owners are realising the value of their retro hatches.
Certainly there has been an increase in values according to the market, where we've found an immaculate 1990 309 GTI with 54,000 miles on the clock that's being advertised for £15,495. That's £5,500 more than the similarly tidy and 59,000-mile-old 1988 car we saw two years ago, pointing to a big boost in used values - or an optimistic 2019 advert. Whatever your thoughts of the price, there's a strong chance that this is the finest 309 GTI in existence in Britain right now - and as the model drivers have long believed to be the best all-round Pug GTI from this era, it's only fair that it ranks among the very best 205 GTIs. Isn't it?
SPECIFICATION - PEUGEOT 309 GTI
Engine: 1,905cc, four-cyl
Transmission: 5-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 130@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 122@4,750rpm
First registered: 1990
Recorded mileage: 54,000
Price new: £9,599
Yours for: £15,495