Let me make something thing clear right from the outset. This car, the first 205GTI I have spent any appreciable time driving, has shot well and truly onto my "all time favorite cars" list.
Why? It's not the fastest thing I have ever driven. Not by a long shot. It isn't the most refined, either. Or the most luxurious. It isn't the fastest around the Nordshleife, and doesn't put up the biggest lateral-g number. No, it's just a 30 year old hot hatch of diminutive stature, from an automaker that has fallen out of favor with enthusiasts over the last decade or so. But what it does do, in spades, maybe more than any other car I have driven over the last five or six years, is make me love driving again. The simple, pure art of driving. This little Peugeot makes me laugh out loud whenever I'm behind the wheel; it makes me slap my thigh and grin like a teenager and charge into corners too fast and boot the throttle on every straightaway. It makes me 16 years old again. It's just... pure fun. Pure fun. And cars don't get much better than that.
It's not a big car. 30cm shorter in length than Volkswagen Golf GTI of the same period, 10cm narrower, and with a roofline 5cm lower, it seems almost impossibly small when you walk up to it. Standing next to the driver's door the roof hits about at my sternum. Oh, and see those chunky Speedline wheels? Don't they look positively huge on the car? They aren't. They're fifteen inchers, and yet they seem to make up nearly a third of the 205's total height. Inside, somewhat shockingly, there's plenty of room, even for a big guy like me, but the car feels wrapped around your torso somehow - almost like it has been vacuum formed around you and only you. With a comparatively large greenhouse and virtually zero overhang at the corners, you can see everything and that makes it possible to point the little Pug precisely where you want it to be.
It's not a heavy car either. At 875kg it's nearly 100kg lighter than that Golf I mentioned earlier, and you feel it in every single dynamic element of the car. Acceleration from the 1.9L is frenetic and rorty, with the exhaust barking away and the tires constantly scrabbling for grip. The unassisted steering is perfectly weighted and incredibly direct, and the throws of the gear lever are short, with ratios closely spaced. The result is a car that just feels alive in your hands. It's dancing and darting around and snarling and leaping from corner to corner. In an age where even family sedans are as fast as supercars of just a couple decades ago, the 205GTI does something too few cars are capable of anymore - it FEELS fast. It feels like you're holding a live electric cable in your hands, spitting and sizzling and whipping around. It's light and tossable and entirely "analog" in its dynamics, with nothing to filter the experience.
I didn't realize until today how much I miss that feeling in a motorcar.
All that said, I don't mean to give the impression that the car is untamed, or somehow uncontrollable. Quite the opposite. I can see very clearly why it was one of the most potent rally cars of its period, because it is eminently pointable and does precisely what it's told on all types of road surfaces, and it never feels like it will bite you. I have long held held a strange criterion for judging sports cars - a rather bizarre and childish way of determining which are my all-time favorite sporting machines. I ask myself: "If I were being chased by assassins, on a serpentine road I had never been on before, would I want to be driving this?" The answer, with the 205GTI, is a resounding yes. It is a car you can almost immediately go 10/10ths in, without feeling like you'll end up flying ass-first into the bushes. A slot car in the corners with great brakes and excellent grip, and the engine and short gears to zing from bend to bend with alacrity, it gives you instant confidence to charge as hard as you please. Baddies be damned.
It's the Tasmanian Devil, this car. Crazed and wild and thumping with energy, but always impossibly lovable. After just a few days whipping through the twisting Spanish secondary roads that wind through the mountains along the glittering Costa Blanca, I want one of these.
I really want one of these.