Road Tests Sales Legends

Sales Legends: Peugeot 205

Time 9:44 am, June 10, 2009

205gti-01-copyTHE car that saved the company. Le sacre numero. The car of the decade. Yes, there are no shortage of plaudits for the Peugeot 205.

Quite simply, it is the most important car the company has ever made. Remains so. And still, for many, is irreplaceable.

To understand why the 205 was so significant, you need to look at the state of Peugeot before it arrived. In short, it was in a bit of one. Large, slow-selling models were dull in design, and even French buyers were turning away from the famous Lion. Presence in export countries such as the UK was minimal at best.

That all changed in 1983. Along came Peugeot’s long-awaited genuine supermini contender, the 205. It replaced the 104 of sorts, and was pitched straight into a new car battle with the Fiat Uno and Vauxhall Nova. These joined the Ford Fiesta, Austin Metro and Volkswagen Polo to help establish today’s booming supermini sector with UK buyers.

Of all the cars, the 205 was certainly the prettiest. Despite often being credited to Pininfarina, it was actually an in-house Peugeot design which proved so successful, it was NEVER facelifted.

How many cars can boast unchanged panelwork during an epic 15-year production run? Mini, perhaps. Volkswagen Beetle, sure. And the 205 is just as much of a classic as them.

Peugeot conservatism was evident in the running gear. Gearboxes shared the engine’s sump oil, and were elderly in design. But suspension was bang up-to-date, with a fancy torsion beam rear suspension, and MacPherson strut front. Early cars may have been soft, but they were also beautiful to drive, and rode superbly.

This got Peugeot thinking… For, a year after its 1983 debut, the most famed of all 205s arrived. The GTI. Sport tuned, stiffened suspension and a 105bhp 1.6-litre engine, it looked absolutely spot on.

205gtiAnd drove so well, many began to question whether the modern rear-drive sports car had any sort of relevance anymore. The death, soon after, of cars such as the Ford Capri proved they didn’t.

This little handling rocketship had motoring journalists in states of utter joyous apoplexy. Heavens, it still does. Car Dealer Magazine drove one recently, and let us tell you, it’s still fantastic.

Our test car was the 1.9-litre version, which arrived in 1986. This had 130bhp, and could be spotted over the 1.6-litre by its 16-inch alloys, rear disc brakes, half-leather seats and clear plastic cover for the gearlever knob (well, details matter).

The rest of the range wasn’t forgotten either, though. Modern XU and TU engines finally replaced the cranky old 104-sourced ones, while a smart new dash saw the characterful but cruddy old one junked in 1988. Even the 1.6-litre GTI got a power boost, to 115bhp.

50,000 A YEAR

Sales continued to rise for UK Peugeot car dealers throughout the car’s life. By 1991, it was capturing three per cent of all UK registrations – giving it a place in the top 10 best sellers list, and regularly shifting more than 50,000 a year. Quite a turnaround for a maker that, less than a decade earlier, was almost invisible.

And the iconic GTI was taking a huge chunk of these sales. VW today boasts of a five per cent GTI mix. Peugeot, however, could claim that one in five 205 sales was a GTI! That was more than 10,000 sales a year. And all, in our opinion, rightly so.

Don’t forget, either, the 205 van (few things were faster than an XRAD…) also used to snare well over 20 per cent of all Peugeot’s LCV sales.

In all, more than 5.2m 205s were made, between 1983 and 1997. Although Peugeot deemed it irreplaceable, it was eventually revived in spirit by the 206, which went on to do just as well. Today’s 207 is the direct descendent of the car
that saved the company.

And, even today, it’s still massively important. Nowadays, Peugeot sales are dominated by low-CO2 cars – and a huge chunk of its market-leading CO2 position is down to the 207’s economy. There you go: Peugeot just wouldn’t be the company it is today without the 205.

You can see why it’s a legend. You can see why we want one. And you can see why a tidy 205 GTI remains on the Car Dealer Magazine shopping list…



James Baggott's avatar

James is the founder and editor-in-chief of Car Dealer Magazine, and CEO of parent company Baize Group. James has been a motoring journalist for more than 20 years writing about cars and the car industry.

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