Car reviews - Peugeot - 206 - GTi 180 3-dr hatch
Dynamics, practicality, performance, versatility, image
Room for improvement
Expensive, ageing cabin, that 205 GTi albatross
20 Jan 2005
Success can be a double-edged sword.
AS George Lucas, Alanis Morissette and Henry VIII could tell you, that all-important follow-up to something special like the first two Star Wars films, 1995’s squillion-selling "Jagged Little Pill" LP and Jane Seymour (Henry’s third and allegedly favourite – ie: non-beheaded – wife), often leads to unrealistic expectations and real disappointment.
Peugeot must be feeling pretty peeved about the lukewarm press its current 206 GTI – its hyper-anticipated follow-up to that legendary, niche-creating, era-defining, zeitgeist-ing 1983-1993 pure essence of hot-hatch – has received.
Sure, with pert styling, a wheel at each corner and aggressive snout, it looks the part. Plus the Pug is safer and way more refined than any 20-year-old car can ever be.
But with the weight of three more adults to pull around as well as more planted suspension capped off by super sticky tyres, they all conspire to take much of the ‘go’ out of Peugeot.
And that’s in spite of a 25 per cent gain in power over the original 1987 205 GTI – 75kW versus 102kW.
But rest assured, hot-hatch fans. Peugeot has seen the light – and not to mention the tail-lights of its overtaking Renaultsport Clio 172 rival. Enter the 206 GTi 180.
It has a beefed-up body-kit and spoilers that is supposed to draw upon the 206 WRC rally car, but really actually comes across as a GTi self-parody. Still, those sexy 17-inch five-spoke alloys and twin tailpipes certainly titillate.
Inside it’s a similar deal. Absolutely awesome body-hugging racer-style front seats put your mindset into a fun frame as firmly as your posterior is plonked into place.
They, along with the surprisingly successful application of suede-style fabric, chromed and re-hued instrumentation dials, short-levered aluminium gearknob, scattering of metal-finish trim and stitched leather on the dashboard binnacle, doors and wheel lift an otherwise ageing stock-206 fascia.
Now critics boringly rabbit on about the plainer 206’s bad pedal arrangement. Your size 10 shoe-wearing tester found no quibbles here.
Instead they live in other places throughout the 205’s cabin. Like out back, where it can feel a little claustrophobic.
Those comfy twin rear seats relegate the 180 to four-seater only status, which is pretty unnecessary as all other 206s seat five.
Furthermore, the power window switches are hidden down by the handbrake the sound quality from the audio system isn’t up to scratch. And the usual vision-impairing thick pillar problems remain.
Equipment levels are about right for the mid-$30K ask, and include automatic air-conditioning, wipers and headlights-on and a CD player.
The safety count is four airbags, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, a stability control program and head restraints all round.
Overall, then, the 180’s interior titivation deserves a big tick of approval.
They enhance a spacious (even tall people will find front legroom ample, while a full-sized bicycle will fit with the front wheel removed and the split-fold rear seats folded) and friendly cabin that has played a part in the 206’s widespread appeal.
As have eager powerplants, even in the small but spirited 1.4-litre model.
And it’s the development of the current GTi’s 100kW/190Nm 2.0-litre twin-cam 16-valve four-cylinder engine that is the spirit and soul of the new 180.
Power pushes up to 130kW (or 180bhp – geddit?) at 7000rpm and torque to 202Nm at 4750rpm.
Central to this is a revised cylinder-head. It features variable valve timing, a dual-mode air intake and four-way aluminium manifold. They, along with a freer exhaust, increase engine efficiency and flexibility.
Peugeot claims a 0-100km/h sprint time of 7.4 seconds (down from 8.3) on the way to a top speed of 220km/h (up 10km/h). The former, no doubt, is an upshot of a taller first gear ratio.
But the figures don’t really tell the whole story.
For one thing, when burying the pedal from standstill, disappointment inevitably awaits.
Despite sounding like it might, the jackrabbit-like take-off 205 GTi owners tantalise in just isn’t there. In fact, a Clio 172 (let alone the new 182) has the pace on the Peugeot here.
Instead, power comes on strongly but also smoothly and steadily once the revs rise, revealing a new maturity that soon manifests itself into a meaningfully quick mini.
So it’s the mid-range acceleration that really registers an improvement.
And then the penny drops: the centurion carmaker is pushing its pocket-rocket boundaries in the areas of driveability and overall control.
Because the 180 remains poised, controlled and committed. And once you build a bridge and get over the fact that the 205 GTi is history, some real driving pleasure awaits.
For instance, the subtle modifications Peugeot performed on the suspension (namely nailing in stiffer springs, a bigger anti-roll bar and fiddling with its camber and geometry) means that this 206 grips as gamely as it turns with terrific poise.
Add weighty but willing and satisfying steering (with an agreeably eager pull that some might mistake for torque steer) and the fluid 180 GTi starts to gel nicely, rising above the brashness of the boisterous (but more fun overall) Clio.
But sadly it isn’t as sharp (a Ford Focus ST170 more than matches it for fluency and feel), never approaching the insane frenetic-ness of its 205 predecessor. The payoff is a more relaxed demeanour, however.
Plus it won’t spin backwards unasked into the scenery at the first whiff of mid-cornering throttle lift-off like so many 205s do, because that’s not what stable, secure and responsible hot-hatches are about in these accountable days.
On the other hand, if snap-oversteer is what you’re here for, the 180 happily obliges, and with encouragingly little provocation. Switch off the stability program and it’s even easier, particularly in wet conditions.
Ride quality is also right-on for a boy-racer GTi (especially one shod with low-profile 205/40R17W rubber) with a happy amount of damping over a wide variety of surfaces. Unlike most manufacturers, Peugeot makes its own dampers, and so can fine tune them to suit the desired application.
It isn’t picture-perfect in the punting around department though.
The shorter (though still long-throw) gear lever can be a stretch now that it’s 20mm smaller, although its shift is slick and seamless.
Stretching the engine beyond 6000rpm doesn’t do much for its aural refinement (or fuel economy – 11.0L/100km was about average Peugeot says to expect around 8.6 based on a European cycle).
But frugality in this fun French runabout isn’t what it’s all about.
And there’s plenty of tyre roar intruding on certain (but common) Aussie road surfaces.
In many ways the Peugeot 206 GTi 180 is more akin to the likes of the bigger, more mature Ford Focus ST170 than the Renaultsport Clio 172, let alone its iconic 205 predecessor.
That’s quite an achievement in itself, and so definitely worth the extra $5000 Peugeot asks for the continuing $29,990 100kW GTi, no question.
Whether it’s worth a place in the annals of great hot-hatches is another matter.
With all due respect to George, Alanis and Henry, at least the 180 is no Phantom Menace, any post-Jagged Little Pill LP or Anne I, Anne II, Catherine, Katherine and Kathryn though.
In the latest Peugeot GTi, you can still have fun without losing your head.
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