Your guide to the first of the truly thrilling hot hatches
When it comes to twisty B-roads, the 205 GTI is an absolute belter, and it’s a car capable of putting a huge smile on your face. Whichever engine you choose, you’ll be getting a smooth and punchy power plant, and while the extra torque of the 1.9 is nice, the smaller unit is a real firecracker. You certainly won’t feel short-changed by opting for the 1.6. What sets the 205 apart from other hot hatchbacks though is the terrific handling, the light weight and grippy front end.
Power (bhp@rpm) 105bhp@6250rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 99lb ft@4000rpm
Top speed 116mph
Gearbox 5-spd manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
A reputation for tricky on-limit handling means you’ll need to watch for accident damage. Get a history check done, and keep an eye out for distortion of the front chassis legs, inner wings, and boot floor. Misaligned panels and evidence of recent paintwork should ring alarm bells too.
Bodyshells were galvanized from 1987 but corrosion is always a possibility. A good look underneath is advisable, focusing on the floorpan, the suspension mounting points, the box section around the fuel tank, and where the floor meets the bulkhead. The inner wing around the front strut turrets is another potential rot-spot, as are the windscreen surround and the rear quarter panel. Rust can develop in the latter when a spot weld at the rear of the door aperture breaks, allowing muck and moisture in – replacement panels are very hard to find too (as are GTI-specific bits).
Apart from the potential for leaky head gaskets, and the need for regular cambelt and fluid changes, both the 1.6 and 1.9-litre engines are fundamentally strong. A smoky exhaust is often due to brittle valve stem oil seals, while most problems relate to poor running caused by faults with the air-flow meter or cold-start valve. The problems can be exacerbated by inexpert fiddling with settings, so a specialist diagnostic check is worthwhile before you replace any parts. An obvious ticking sound may be down to a cracked exhaust manifold – generally between cylinders one and two – but it’s not a difficult fix.
The convertible CTI was a popular model, and got an electric hood from 1990. Check the operation and condition carefully though. Popular on hatches was the sunroof option which was sealed by a vacuum system with the engine running – operating the handle released pressure in the seal so make sure it’s working okay, and check for signs of water leaks in the cabin and rust around the drain holes.
Gearbox issues are quite common so watch for crunchy gearchanges or a particularly slack-feeling gear lever. The latter can normally sorted by refurbishment of the linkage, including the balljoint bolted to the front subframe, which is a particular weak point. Clutches aren’t a particular problem unless abused, but stiff operation points to a cable in need of replacement, which can be a fiddly job. 1.6 cars can suffer from failure of the outer driveshaft joint, which is made worse by lowered suspension putting extra strain on them.
There are a few suspension issues to watch for, the most serious being failed rear radius arm bearings which, left unchecked, will damage the axle. Most have been rebuilt by now – or are due to be – so check the history and look for wonky rear wheel alignment – it’s a £700+ fix if damage has occurred. Front wishbone bushes can wear quickly but are easy to sort with a new replacement arm, and it is worth checking for wear in the steering rack and bushes on cars without power steering as the steering effort puts a strain on components. Corroded brake pipes and failed ABS on post- 1990 cars are other points worth watching for as is the tell-tale rumbling of failed wheel bearings.
Interiors aren’t known for their toughness, so check carefully for wear and tear and ensure everything is working. Worn seat bolsters are a particular problem and the striped cloth is almost impossible to source now – it is easier to sort on leather-trimmed cars. Clocking isn’t unheard of and speedometer heads can fail with regularity.
No doubt about it, the 205GTI is a cracking hot hatchback. It does have a few foibles though, and abused and modified cars are still out there so you need to buy carefully. For maximum smiles-per-mile, buying one that has been cherished by an enthusiast is our advice then.