The greatest Peugeot hot hatches

Peugeot celebrates its 210-year anniversary in 2020, making it the world’s oldest car company.

Admittedly, it started as a family-run coffee mill in 1810, then began manufacturing bicycles, then salt and pepper grinders, then finally cars in 1882.

When the definitive history of Peugeot is written, however, the hot hatchback will play a major part. From the iconic 205 GTI forwards, Peugeot has often exemplified the best of the breed.

Join us for a journey through Peugeot’s greatest hot hatches.

Peugeot 205 GTI

Launched in 1984, the 205 GTI was Peugeot’s first hot hatchback. And what a start! Many would argue the French carmaker – or indeed anyone else – has never topped it.

Peugeot 505 GTI

The 505 of 1979 was actually the first Peugeot to wear the GTI badge. But it’s a saloon, not a hatchback, so it doesn’t count here.

Peugeot 205 GTI 1.6

Back to the 205, which was initially sold with a 104hp 1.6-litre engine. Red go-faster stripes and 14-inch alloy wheels set it apart from everyday 205s.

Many enthusiasts prefer the revvier 1.6-litre engine to the more muscular 1.9 that came later. Either way, the Deux cent cinq was an absolute joy to drive.

Peugeot 205 GTI 1.9

Launched in December 1986, the 1.9 GTI produced 126hp and a handy dollop of extra torque. It also gained half-leather seats, rear disc brakes and 15-inch alloys. A potent package.

The 205 GTI’s classic status is assured and prices have rocketed, with the best cars fetching well beyond £20,000. However, many have been thrashed in their former lives, so tread carefully if you decide to buy one.

Peugeot 205 Rallye

The oft-overlooked Rallye is the GTI’s lightweight, motorsport-inspired cousin. Its 1.3-litre engine punches out 103hp, although right-hand-drive UK versions made do with just 76hp.

Peugeot 205 CTI

The 205 was never particularly robust, so chopping off its roof was perhaps ill-advised. Despite this, the pretty 1.6 CTI cabriolet – which borrowed the 1.6 GTI engine – was a strong seller.

The 205 was born into an era when modified hot hatches were all the rage. Many fell prey to wide wheels, wild bodykits and turbocharged engine conversions.

The rally-inspired Dimma bodykit seen here is typical of the time. Its blistered wheelarches and Ferrari-style side strakes lend the 205 GTI huge presence. Interestingly, the value of these cars is also on the rise.

Peugeot 205 Mi16

Another popular modification was to transplant the 16-valve engine from a Peugeot 405 Mi16 or Citroen BX GTI 16v. This all-aluminium 1.9-litre motor had a motorsport-spec head, revved to 7,200rpm and produced 160hp. This 205 Mi16 was built by apprentices at the Peugeot Performance Academy.

Peugeot 205 T16

In the 1980s, Peugeot’s Group B rally contender was the mid-engined, four-wheel-drive 205 T16. Two hundred road-legal T16s were also built to meet regulations.

The fire-spitting T16 won the World Rally Championship for Peugeot in 1985 and 1986, before Group B was banned due to safety concerns.

The road-going T16 looked extreme, with stretched wheelarches, a mid-mounted turbocharged engine and four-wheel drive. However, its 200hp output was less than half what the rally version could muster.

Peugeot 309 GTI

Moving on, the ungainly 309 GTI has always lived in the shadow of its little brother. Yet its longer wheelbase arguably resulted in sweeter handling than the twitchy 205.

Inside, the 309 boasted lots of grey plastic and the same half-leather seats as the 205. Also shared was the punchy 126hp 1.9 engine. A 160bhp 16v version was sold in left-hand-drive markets.

The 309 GTI Goodwood special edition had a full-leather interior and wooden steering wheel. Peugeot has been known to display one on its stand at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.

Peugeot 405 Mi16

Again, the 405 isn’t a hatchback – but Peugeot’s 160hp 1.9 16v engine also found a home here. As we mentioned earlier, many were later transplanted into tuned 205s.

Peugeot 106 GTI

With compact dimensions and a zesty 120hp engine, the 106 GTI of 1996 was perhaps the spiritual successor to the 205.

The second-generation 106 seen here shared its platform and engines with the Citroen Saxo. The GTI was twinned with the Citroen Saxo VTS  – both defining hot hatches of the era.

Like many Peugeots of the past, the interior of the 106 was basic and not especially solid. Fortunately, the GTI is so engaging to drive that you probably won’t notice.

Peugeot 106 Rallye

‘Fewer frills, more thrills’ was the advertising tagline for the 106 Rallye. And it was absolutely true. Mk1 Rallyes had a 98hp 1.3 engine. Second-generation cars, as seen here, had a 1.6 producing 103hp.

Peugeot 306 GTI-6

Peugeot followed up the 309 with the pretty and popular 306. The GTI version had a 167hp 2.0 engine and close-ratio six-speed manual gearbox.

Arriving at the same time as the disappointing Mk3 Volkswagen Golf GTI, the 306 had the edge over its German rival in terms of both performance and driving enjoyment.

Peugeot 306 Rallye

Mechanically identical to the GTI-6, the back-to-basics Rallye weighed 65kg less. If you can live without electric windows or air conditioning, it’s a lot of fun.

Peugeot 206 GTI

Here’s where things started to go wrong. The 206 may be the best-selling Peugeot of all time, but the 1999 GTI version was average to drive and understated to the point of invisibility.

Peugeot responded to criticism of the 206 GTI with the firmer, faster GTI 180. It boasted an extra 46hp and plenty more visual muscle – notably 17in alloy wheels, twin tailpipes and a roof spoiler.

Having 180hp gave Peugeot bragging rights over its arch-rival, the Renault Clio 172. However, the Clio still had the edge for B-road fun.

Peugeot 206 GTI HDi 110

No, your eyes do not deceive you – that really is a diesel badge on a Peugeot hot hatch. Although this particular 206 was lukewarm at best.

With a meagre 110hp, the oil-burning 206 GTI wasn’t Peugeot’s finest hour. And more mediocrity was on its way.

Peugeot 307 GT

The sportiest 307 had a respectable 180hp – and a petrol engine – but its softly-sprung chassis was tuned for comfort rather than driving fun.

Peugeot 308 GTI

The 307’s successor was also sold in GT-spec in the UK. However, the same car was badged GTI elsewhere in Europe, as seen here.

Peugeot 207 GTI

Peugeot resurrected the GTI badge in 2007 with the 175hp 207 GTI. Could this be the car that finally lived up to the legendary 205?

Er, no. The 207 offered brisk performance (0-62mph in 7.1 seconds) and nimble handling. But it still felt awfully grown-up compared to hot Peugeots of old.

On the plus side, the Peugeot’s interior no longer felt like it was built from recycled milk cartons. And those leather and Alcantara bucket seats look lovely.

Not every 207 was quite so sensible, as this show car proves. But in general, boy racers shunned the 207 in favour of sportier rivals such as the Ford Fiesta ST.

Peugeot 208 GTI concept

Then, in 2012, this happened. Peugeot unveiled the 208 GTI concept at the Geneva Motor Show. It looked like a 205 GTI, but would it drive like one?

In reality, a back-to-basics hot hatch like the 205 isn’t what today’s car buyers want. We demand airbags, air conditioning, infotainment and much more. So no, the 208 wasn’t as raw as a 205 – but it was a lot of fun.

The 208’s peppy 1.6 petrol engine delivered 200hp – good for 0-62mph in 6.8 seconds and a top speed of 143mph.

Inside, the unusually small steering wheel heightens the impression of agility. As do those red go-faster stripes, of course.

Peugeot 208 GTI 30th

Peugeot celebrated 30 years since the 205 GTI’s debut with this special edition. It had a smidgen more power and a stiffer, sportier chassis. The changes were later incorporated into the Peugeot Sport version of the GTI.

As you’ve probably noticed, the 308 GTI 30th was also available in this two-tone black and red colour scheme. The shy need not apply.

To underline its new-found sportiness, Peugeot entered the 208 into rallies and endurance events, including the Nurburgring 24-hour races.

However, all other 208s pale in comparison to the T16 Pikes Peak edition. This 875hp monster set a new record on the high-altitude hillclimb, piloted by Sebastien Loeb.

Peugeot 308 GTI

Yep, it’s that red and black thing again (Peugeot calls it ‘Coupe Franche’). The current 308 GTI was revealed in 2015. Other colours are available, etc…

The 308’s racy interior shows Peugeot is no longer shying away from its hot hatch roots. Note the small steering wheel again.

Buyers of the 308 GTI could initially choose from 250hp or 270hp versions – the latter with bigger brakes and a limited-slip differential.

Peugeot RCZ-R

Peugeot’s ‘R’ brand sits above ‘GTI’ in the performance hierarchy. The fabulous-looking RCZ-R coupé was the first of the breed.

The 270hp R hits 62mph in 5.9 seconds and won’t stop until 155mph. That makes it the fastest production Peugeot ever made. For now.

Peugeot 308 R Hybrid

Sadly, this outrageous 308 R Hybrid remained a concept. The petrol and electric hot hatch kicks out a supercar-slaying 500hp and sprints to 62mph in just 4.0 seconds.

A hot hatch comeback?

Peugeot’s latest 208 boasts retro 205 styling cues, but will we see a GTI version? Sadly not – company boss Carlos Tavares says the hallowed badge won’t make a comeback. However, a hot 208 is apparently in the works, using either hybrid or fully electric power. 

We end where we began, with the epochal 205 GTI. We won’t see its like again, but let’s hope this story of Peugeot hot hatchbacks isn’t over yet. Watch this space.

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The greatest Peugeot hot hatches

We trace Peugeot’s hot hatchback heritage, from the famous 205 GTI forwards, and look at what might come next