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Peugeot 205 buying guide (1983-1998)

The classic hatch turns 40, but we’ll leave the heartfelt soliloquies to someone else. Here’s how to celebrate the 205 properly: buy a good one

Published: 24 Feb 2023

Today, the Peugeot 205 is 40 years old. That’s right – 24 February 1983 was the day that Peugeot launched the car that would come to define it, win countless plaudits and stay on sale in one market or another until the last days of the 20th Century.

And, of course, form the basis of a hot hatch that, decades after its introduction, is still the yardstick by which hot hatches – and any number of putatively sporting cars – are measured against. And often fail to match, if we’re honest.

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Now, we could continue on waxing lyrical with waning returns – its lasting impact on Peugeot, on hatchbacks, on diesel power in small cars, on hot hatches and so on. Or we could just get on talking about the car itself. Well, guess which one we picked.

What are the Peugeot 205’s engine and transmission options?

Our first two thoughts are as follows: ‘many’ and ‘varied’.

Because the 205 had such a long life – from 1983 until the 206 finally replaced it in 1998 – it also had a laundry list of engines in the intervening years. In fact, the entire complement of engines was overhauled in the late Eighties, replacing the old PSA-Renault ‘Suitcase’ engines with new ‘TU’ four-cylinders. Some Spanish-built 205s even came with Simca-Poissy engines, until they too were replaced by the new TU units.

Because of this, a 205 could have one of 16 different engines under the bonnet (or thereabouts; remember that it’s us doing the counting here), ranging from 954cc to 1905cc, diesel or petrol, carburetted or fuel-injected. Some had catalytic converters, a few had turbos and one very special one had the engine mounted in the middle.

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The ones of note are the 1.6-litre and 1.9-litre petrols from the GTi and CTi, the former being the old ‘Suitcase’ and the latter the ‘TU’. Niche points for the limited-to-200 T16, which had a 1.8-litre turbo version of the 1.6 from the original GTi, and the 1.3-litre from the Rallye, which was a hotted-up, rev-happy version of the TU engine.

What do I need to check on the Peugeot 205’s bodywork?

The obvious bits to start – is it connected to the car you intend to buy? How much of it is formed from automotive filler? Does it have new and interesting swage lines and creases in the metalwork?

In more serious terms, the obvious problems with cars of this age are rust, accident damage and uncaring owners.

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Rust was less of a problem on the 205 than many of its contemporaries, but we’re talking about cars that are into their third (and marching towards their fourth) decade on this planet. Checks for rust will be in the places you’d check any other car – battery tray, wheel arches, around windows, in the footwells, under the boot floor and along the seams and bottoms of the doors.

Accident damage, unsympathetic use and missed maintenance can open up more avenues for rust – joins between sills and panels can crack just enough to allow water ingress and the inevitable.

Contrary to the popular opinion of flimsiness, the 205 is actually a well-engineered car, but failing to maintain mechanical bits – around the rear suspension and axle in particular – can put extra stress on the bodywork. But it’d have to be a particularly unloved example for that sort of damage to manifest.

How do I check the Peugeot 205’s suspension is good?

That’s actually a pretty simple operation.

The first step is a visual inspection. If it’s been lowered or mucked with, it’s almost certainly been ruined – Peugeot got it so right from the factory that keeping things stock and in good order is generally the best idea. If the suspension is standard, but has the kind of camber that’d warrant an entry in Speedhunters, there’s almost definitely an issue with the rear trailing arm setup – bearings, generally – which can require anything from a simple fix to pretty solid remedial action, of the ‘replace the rear axle assembly’ variety.

The second is an aural assessment. Creaking or knocking from the front can indicate worn ball joints in the drop links, but there’s also the possibility that bushes or other ball joints have reached the end of their useful life.

The third is tactile. It should feel great to drive. As in pick-a-superlative great. As per the Big Book of Motoring Cliches, the steering should be comparable to razor blades and katanas, the phrase ‘cornering balance’ should be invoked without any further context and you should be overcome by feedback and road feel.

What are the common problems with the Peugeot 205’s interior?

A common problem you’ll find in the GTi’s interior is the presence of its owner, and the fact that it isn’t you.

As for bits that break? Well, the driver’s seat bolsters will always take a caning that the other seats avoid – such is the nature of the beast – but sometimes the seat itself can eventually collapse under the weight of decades’ worth of derrieres. Gear knobs can break (always fun when you’re 400 miles from home) and some interior trim pieces will wear worse than others (again, a function of extra wear), but second-hand trim pieces can be harder to find than you’d think. Luckily enough, Peugeot’s now making replacement parts.

What trim levels does the Peugeot 205 come in?

So very many. Depending where you are in the world, you can find 205s with specs levels as prosaic as ‘Junior’ and ‘Base’, or as esoteric as ‘Look’, ‘Style’ and ‘Sunset’. Oh, and any number of initialled versions – XE, GE, GR, SR, XT, XS, XR, XLD, GRD...

With that said, from a modern standpoint, there are really just a few to keep straight.

There’s the GTi, of course, as well as the convertible CTi version thereof.

The 205 Rallye is an astonishingly good time, in the ‘this even rivals a GTi’ sense, with a punchy 1.3-litre engine, 793kg kerb weight and full complement of GTi suspension and brakes. If there were ever a car to reward you for keeping the rev counter above 4,500rpm...

The Turbo 16, better known as the T16, is legendary in its own right. As it should be, given it’s a turbocharged, mid-engined, four-wheel-drive homologation special that’s pretty much the road-civilised version of a championship-winning Group B maniac.

What’s the best Peugeot 205 I can buy?

You likely have a fair idea of what we’re going to say, right?

Yes, it’s the 205 GTi, a paragon of hot hatchery in its own right, and also a handy yardstick for the central tenet of what makes a hot hatchback great: that it must be fun to drive. Sounds simple enough, but you’d be amazed how many stray towards speed or ruthless capability, forgetting the essential ingredient in the mix.

Now for the obvious dilemma facing 205 GTi buyers: 1.6-litre or 1.9?

Well, handwaves like ‘drive both and see which you like better’ and ‘it’s a matter of personal preference’ can both go hang, utter non-answers that they are. We’ll plant our flag for the 1.9 – better torque suits modern roads and modern driving styles, while the better spec level suits modern tastes. The fact that it’s the faster, more intense experience can’t hurt, either.

So that’s it? Forty years of the 205 and not even one moment to appreciate it?

Oh come on. You know us better than that by now, right?

But we’re not going to cloud the issue with words. Instead, let’s take that moment to appreciate the 205 with a few old press shots we found in Peugeot’s vault. Yep, our nostalgia nerve was twinged, too...

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