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Peugeot 205 GTI vs Fiat Uno Turbo review (CAR Magazine, December 1985: The Entertainers)

By Gavin Green


19 June 2012 09:50

Dear Signor Agnelli,

We have just compared two machines we now believe to be the first genuine small supercars, and we must say, immediately, that the Fiat Uno Turbo lost decisively to the Peugeot 205 GTi; not because the Uno is a bad car, but because the 205 GTi is so good. In fact, after the Peugeot, we rate the Fiat as easily the most exhilarating machine in its class: sharp in its handling and very responsive. The decision can be blamed, partly, on our prejudice against turbocharged systems. We dislike the two-stage power application, but even discounting this prejudice, the Peugeot would still have won. Its handling is in a different class.
Yours etc.


Dear M Boillot,

Having just completed a comparison test on your 205 GTi and the Fiat Uno Turbo, let us say that the Peugeot is, quite simply, the finest-handling front-drive sports hatchback we have ever driven. It has exceptional manoeuvrability and response, a lovely steering and chassis sharpness, and, now that the dampers have been changed, a competent ride. Although lacking the overall engine flexibility of the 1.8-litre Golf GTi, it is not far behind and compensates for slightly inferior urge by being substantially lighter. Overall, the 205 GTi is probably the Golf’s equal, but the fact that, in this country, the Peugeot sells for more than £1000 less, must make it a better buy.
Yours etc.

It took about 10 laps to get Old Paddock corner right. But once the Peugeot 205 GTi was coaxed through the corner, flat out, in fifth gear, at what must have been about 100mph, the little French machine achieved what we thought it would: lap the Castle Combe circuit faster than most medium-sized hatchbacks and bigger-engined quick hatchbacks (matching the times of the Golf Gti) and comprehensively thrash anything else in its class, bar the Uno Turbo. Earlier laps, as we warmed the tyres, and familiarised ourselves with the twists and turns of the Wiltshire track, had convinced us that the 205’s handling was nothing short of sensational. And now that Old Paddock – a fast and difficult right hander that calls on your throttle pedal foot to ignore every sensible message fed to it from your brain (namely, to back off and slow down) – was mastered, the Peugeot raced nonchalantly and effortlessly around the circuit, executing four-wheel drifts at speeds that would send most front-driven fast hatchbacks understeering off ignominiously.

It was an impressive performance. But, moments later, the Fiat Uno was strapped under us and proceeded to show real flair and speed, too, as it raced over the brows, around the fast corners, and along the straights. What’s more, with turbocharged power, it was recording speeds at the end of the main Castle Combe straight as good as those of any car – including the Toyota MR2,. Capri 2.8i and Alfa GTV6 – we’ve ever had at Castle Combe: 115mph.

Already the suspicion we had had before we left London that morning, was being borne out: the Fiat Uno Turbo and Peugeot 205 GTi are not only the best value-for-money performance cars around (both have top speeds of near-on 120mph, and can race to 60mph from rest in well under 9.0sec) but they give almost nothing away to the bigger Golf GTi-class hatchbacks. Previous experience in both Uno Turbo and 205 GTi has also shown us that, for sheer driving enjoyment, their smaller size is a boon.

Not that, in the case of the Peugeot, there is quite as much straight-line poke as the larger Wolfsburg-made GTi offers. Half a lap of Castle Combe was enough to prove that. The Peugeot is a fraction slower to 60mph from rest, and lacks the top-end punch of the Volkswagen. But where the Peugeot scores, compared with any hatchback, is in its handling balance, its extraordinary roadholding, and its ability to execute the finest and most controlled of drifts. You can enter corners at impossibly high speeds in the Peugeot, throw the car into the bend using its amazingly responsive steering, and then balance the car using the throttle and steering, in the slightest of understeer drifts. The 205 may lack the punch of some larger-engined sports hatchbacks, but it makes up for it by being able to exit corners faster.  There’s a real track car feel about the way the French car can be hustled around bends. And the throttle response is such that, if you have entered a bend to hard, you back off the accelerator and the nose reacts obediently, by tightening its line. The Michelin MXV tyres - 185/60s on 14in diameter alloy wheels – are a wonderful complement to the 205’s well-sorted chassis. They are the right size (there’s absolutely no need for wider rubber) and tend not to squeal and screech very much, even when pushed to their limit. Nor do they tend to get shouldered or dog-eared when punished for any length of time. The lack of roll is clearly a major factor in this handling neatness; so is the wheel-at-each-corner stance.

Although the 205’s steering is delightfully responsive, so that mere wrist flicks are repaid with sharp, obedient weaving, the amount of effort needed to steer the car through bends is not so satisfactory.  The 205 Gti has always suffered –as do more mundane 205s, - from an overly strong steering self-centring. Take your hands off the wheel, when on the move, and the front wheels snap back into in as two slovenly marching soldiers being lacerated by the tongue of their sergeant major. Even at high speed – when most steering systems begin greatly to lighten, the 205 needs shoulder and arms strength to hustle it around the corners – on the road as well as the track. The extra effort necessary to spin the little dinner-plate-sized wheel through its lock means the car has to be man-handled in a way not normally expected of a small performance car. It partly upsets your empathy with the car – so important for quick, fluid driving. Mind you, the steering’s responsiveness and verve go a long way to compensating for this drawback.

The steering wheel itself is a small, go-kart-like device, cited in an unusually low position, almost between your knees. Its small size is fine, although, as a result, the steering is also very heavy at parking speeds. Less satisfactory is the nasty feel of the rim, which is plasticky and firm. The small wheel lies in front of a cockpit fascia, where all the instruments are gathered in the binnacle. All the gauges necessary for communicating the car’s mechanical state to the driver are there, including oil temperature. The dashboard itself is made of a textured plastic which isn’t particularly attractive. A large amount of painted metal is visible in the interior, normally a sign of cheapness. The seats, though, are nicely upholstered and have a rally-style shape that grips the hips well. Access to the back seat is excellent, owing to front seats which pivot forward, and once in the rear, passengers will have little to complain about.

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