It’s hard to think of the last time hot-hatch fans had it so good. Ford produces the Fiesta ST, Renault has the Clio 200 Renaultsport, and Peugeot has made a resoundingly successful return to the sector with the new 208 GTi.
Sporty hatches from the French brand have long lived in the shadow of one car, however. The 205 GTI might not have been the first hot hatch but, in the eyes of many, it remains the benchmark against which every new sporty hatch is compared.
We’ve lined up the most potent version – the 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport – against its great-granddaddy. Has Peugeot once again produced a GTi worthy of the badge?
If you’re sold on its French style and stonking performance, check out the best Peugeot 208 GTi deals in our car configurator.
Peugeot 205 GTI vs 208 GTi styling
We expect our hot hatches to ramp up the aggression factor compared to their basic counterparts, and this pair is no exception. Though the 205 and 208 are from two completely separate eras, the styling changes made to add drama are very similar in principal.
Deeper bumpers, a subtle rear spoiler and larger alloy wheels mark both the 205 and the 208 out above lesser variants. The 205’s bumpers and side strips get red pinstriping and GTI badging on the C-pillar. The 208 features GTi badging in a similar location – a nod to the original – and adds tinted rear windows and bright red brake calipers to further hint at the performance on offer.
Park the two cars side-by-side, and it’s clear to see how much superminis have grown. The 208 is 268mm longer, 150mm wider and 110mm taller than the 205, and the latter’s 15-inch alloy wheels are dwarfed by the new car’s 18-inch ones.
We’re big fans of the paint finish of our 208 test car. It’s called Ice Silver, costs just £150 and has a matte, textured finish. Not only does it look suitably moody, but those with a laissez-faire attitude to cleaning will delight in the fact that it hides the dirt brilliantly.
Peugeot 205 GTI vs 208 GTi interior
Nowhere more obviously shows three decades of progress than these car’s cabins. The 205 is crafted from brittle plastics which often seem to be affixed with little more than hopes and dreams. The doors are comically thin by modern standards, and close with a tinny ‘thwack’. The 208’s cabin, in comparison, feels positively tank-like. Some plastics remain a little scratchy compared to those in a Volkswagen Polo GTI, but everything feels solidly screwed together.
That isn’t to say the older car isn’t special. Red carpets, half leather seats and GTI badging on the steering wheel lend the cabin a sense of occasion. The big, simple dials adjusting the heating and ventilation are a cinch to operate compared to the 208’s fiddly climate control buttons. The 208’s unusual move to locate the dials above the unusually small steering wheel has found fans, but very tall and small drivers alike will find the wheel rim obstructs part of the display – quite an oversight. At 216 versus 285 litres, the 205 has a smaller boot, but compensates by offering a full size spare wheel.
The 208 is equipped with rear parking sensors and an optional reversing camera – the former being a necessity because rear visibility isn’t great. In contrast, the 205’s thin pillars and square bonnet makes judging its extremities easy, giving you confidence when driving enthusiastically and makes parking a doddle. Few 205s featured power steering, however, so that’ll take some getting used to.
Peugeot 205 GTI vs 208 GTi engines
The most potent version of the 205 GTI is powered by a 1.9-litre petrol engine (a less powerful but more ‘revvy’ 1.6 was also available). Headline figures of 130hp and 122lb ft of torque seem pretty tiny by modern standards but the 205 weighs just 880kg – about the same as a Lotus Elise and a massive 280kg less than the 208. The resulting 7.8-second 0-62mph time isn’t quite a match for the latest hot hatches, but made it mighty in period – it was within one second of a BMW M3 of the same age. Throttle response is near-instant, lending it an eagerness hard to find in a modern hot hatch.
In contrast, the 208 hesitates when you floor the 1.6-litre turbocharged unit. Once on the boil it’s significantly faster, however. A 205hp output helps it along to a 0-62mph time of 6.5 seconds. Not only does it comfortably beat the 205, but it outsprints both the Ford Fiesta ST (6.9 seconds) and the Renault Clio 200 (6.6 seconds).
Testifying to how far engine technology has progressed, the 208 is both more refined and frugal, too. We achieved 41.4mpg during our time behind the wheel while, under similar conditions, the classic Peugeot will achieve around 32-35mpg. The newer car is easier to drive in traffic and much quieter but, perhaps, too much so – there were times when we felt a little extra engine noise might have added to the occasion.
Peugeot 205 GTI vs 208 GTi driving
The standard 208 GTi is a fine car to throw along a country road, but Peugeot focused the experience further with the GTi by Peugeot Sport. It sits lower to the ground, the track (that’s the distance between the wheels) has been widened, and those 18-inch alloy wheels are wrapped in ultra-grippy Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres. It all helps to endow the 208 with huge cross-country pace. It feels no less secure in the wet either – a mechanical limited slip differential helps to generate formidable traction out of tight second and third gear corners. The firm suspension jiggles around town somewhat but, at speed, it’s well judged – offering plenty of body roll resistance, but with just enough compliance to stay stable.
The 205 can teach the new car a few tricks when it comes to pure driving thrills, though. All the controls have lots of ‘feel’ – from the firm, short-travel brake pedal to the wonderfully precise steering. The five-speed manual gearbox is one of the finest to grace any hot hatch – the throw between gear is longer than that in the 208’s ‘box, but it’s so slick and mechanical feeling that changing gears feels like an event. The pedals are perfectly placed for heel-and-toe downshifts, too.
The dinky dimensions and low weight mean that the 205 darts into turns with the sort of enthusiasm most modern hot hatches can only dream of. Grip is still high by modern standards, and the chassis is very playful – ease off the throttle mid-corner and the front end dives further into the apex. Get it wrong, however, and there’s no traction or stability control to save you – so you’d better be concentrating.
Peugeot 205 GTI vs 208 GTi value for money
In terms of equipment levels, there is only one winner – the 208 features the latest tech expected from a modern supermini. Standard kit includes automatic headlights, cruise control, an adjustable steering wheel and a seven-inch infotainment screen capable of mirroring the display of a connected mobile device.
Speccing up a 205 back in 1989 was a straightforward process. There were three options – a sliding sunroof, metallic paint and power steering. In fact, there are only two electric parts – central locking and electric windows. The cars are equally mismatched on safety kit. The 208 boasts six airbags, ABS, traction and stability controls, Isofix mounting brackets for child seats and a tyre pressure monitor. The 205 has none of those things.
Of course, prices are worth considering, too. The 208 GTi by Peugeot Sport starts from £21,995, but immaculate, low mileage examples of the 205 cost around £10,000 less. Don’t need a show winner? A well-looked after, high mileage example can be had from £5,000-£6,000. While 205 values go up pretty much by the day, 208 values will only go down. Unless it becomes a classic itself of course…
Peugeot 205 GTI vs 208 GTi verdict
By almost any measurable quality, the newer 208 GTi is the car to have. Compared to the 205, it’s faster, grippier, more refined, more efficient, better equipped and significantly safer. If you want a little fun from a sensible supermini, few on the market do it better.
That doesn’t quite tell the full story, however. Every trip in a 205 GTi feels like an event. Every drive leaves you buzzing and even a vaguely exciting stretch of road gives you the urge you to drop a gear and enjoy yourself. It might be slower, but the 205 is undoubtedly the more thrilling car and, after all, isn’t that the point of a hot hatch?
We’d be silly to recommend the 205 over the 208 as a family vehicle, but the old-timer shows that Peugeot hasn’t quite matched its hot hatch three decades ago. The new car, on the other hand, shows how immeasurably far car design has evolved since those days.