Peugeot 206 GTI

Russell's Oz 206GTI Review

I’ve had my 206Gti for 4 months now, with 5000km just ticked over. So here are some experiences, opinions and other ravings…

The Dealer:

Asquith & Johnstone, Parramatta.

I haven’t bought a lot of new cars, but these guys were the best. Maybe because they also sell Jags and other upmarket models, but the atmosphere here was just so relaxed. I walked in cold one weekday afternoon (I’d already received a brochure via the Pug website). There was no-one around so I went next door to check out the Honda Civic VTiR coupe which was also on my list (great motor, but a bit pricey, $36k+ with air. And they didn’t have any colour brochures left.) Back at A&J the salesman finally turned up and was really helpful. They didn’t have any demo cars yet but he took me down to the service centre and I got a ride (not allowed to drive) in a cherry-red media 206GTi. Already I was hooked. Placed an order on 1st October, 5-6 weeks delivery time. Well as we all now know that was laughably optimistic but I still did much better than most. A few weeks later I got to test drive a green GTi for a full day. My Platinum Grey (silver to you; my second choice colour) GTi was ready on 24 December, from an October build. They invited me for a drink at the dealer Christmas party but I had other things on my mind…

First impressions

Coming off a Cordia Turbo, the effortless torque and smooth power delivery impressed me the most. I’ll always miss the turbo rush, but I won’t miss the white-knuckle torque steer. The GTi responds more like a V8 than a twincam 4, just plant the foot and don’t worry too much about what gear you’re in. OK, another 20kW would be nice, and it could handle a 6-speed box, but it pulls long and strong.

The handling is just great. I’m sure you’ve read all about it. My first serious drive (after some running-in cruises) was a blast up the old Pacific Highway towards Gosford. It had been raining but the sun was out, the wet twisting road glistening ahead, the spray from the tyres misting the view in the mirrors, a magic morning. It was dry on the way back and I pushed the little beast harder. It really inspires confidence.

I still take the occasional morning off, or long lunch, just to go for a drive. It’s that sort of car.

What went wrong.

The radio control stalk didn’t work. I traced the wiring (behind a removable panel below the steering wheel) and found a snap connector crudely wrapped with insulation tape – this is where the locally-fitted radio/CD is connected – and under that a wire was off. Easily fixed. There was a squeak – it was the locally fitted radio jiggling in its mounting. Somehow I silenced this with a bit of body language. And that’s about it. 5000km of trouble-free motoring (apart from the inherent quirks).

The right car for you?

I have to agree with all the reviews regarding the driving position. I don’t think there is a “right” seating position for me, just a compromise I’ve gotten used to. A reach-adjustable steering wheel would help. Despite the extra bolstering, you still sit on the seats more than in them and getting the right ratio between wheel, seat & pedals is difficult. Take a good long test drive and make sure you can live with this.

The pedals are small and close together. I still sometimes have trouble if wearing shoes with wide soles. I seriously contemplated getting the accelerator moved about 15mm to the right (the arm is just a bent metal rod which could be reshaped quite easily), and I still might. I notice the LHD models have wider pedals; I think they benefit by combining the left wheel arch and footrest. By the way, the drilled pedals actually have raised rubber studs through the holes; can still be a bit slippery when wet.

The gear lever throw is probably longer than you might expect, and a bit clunky around town. Also I find the first & second ratios are too far apart. But I find the harder you go, the better the box gets: double-shuffling from 4th to 3rd with 4000RPM on the clock is precise and very satisfying.

On more than one occasion I’ve gone for a non-existent 6th gear… maybe I want the Gti-6 powertrain in the 206.

Things I like

The looks. Handling. Torque. Creature comforts. I just love driving at night - the instrument cluster illumination is beautiful. (I can’t see how putting in white-faced dials is ever going to be an improvement.) The size – so much packed into a compact body. The air conditioning seems very effective.

This is not an overt hottie like say the Proton Satria GTi – apart from the discretely bulged front guards, deeper front air intake and chromed oval exhaust tip, you get just a small GTi badge, below the side indicator lenses. (I think some markets may get one on the rear hatch – not in Aus.) And the 5-spoke alloy wheels.

The interior light has a fade on/fade off feature linked to the door switches, ignition & remote. I just find this so cool. (Others may find it wanky)

Things I don’t like.

Seating position. Cramped pedals. Bonnet release way over on the very left of the passenger compartment. The way the left-hand wiper flicks water onto the area the right-hand wiper has just cleaned.

The internal rear-vision mirror is mounted high and the top of the rear window cuts off a lot of you view behind.

I find the electronic flywheel effect, which hold the revs up after you lift off the throttle, to be annoying, although I’ve gotten more used to it (or it doesn’t happen so much now?).

The seams below the sills are body colour and have roughly-applied sealant, leaving an irregular edge. OK, buy a black one.

Instrumentation & controls

You get a tacho with the red starting at 6300 and seriously marked from 6500. The speedo has odd markings for NSW (50-70-90 with red marks on 50 & 90). There is a combined tripmeter/odometer which also shows distance to next service when you switch on; the digits are orange matching the multifunction display in the centre pod. (The handbook goes into great detail on how to change the service interval, but omits to explain how to use the tripmeter/odometer. Never mind, it’s not rocket science.) To the left is the fuel gauge; the warning light tends to come on and stay on (not fade in and out like some). I think the first red “empty” mark is at 50litres used, cause I’ve had it down to nearly the second red mark where it took 53 litres. To the right is the oil temperature gauge. When you first switch on, a hidden scale is illuminated and this gauge functions as an electronic dipstick. And in the bottom of the tacho is the water temperature gauge.

Of course as a European car the indicator stalk is on the left, wipers on the right.

The handbrake is offset to the left of the narrow console, the mirror and power window switches to the right side. I have not had any problem with this.

Quirks and tricks

On the RHD cars, the right-hand wiper has extra articulation to sweep out a wider arc. You will notice the bulged black cover for this at the base of the wiper, in the asymmetric cutout in the bonnet – this seems to be one way to pick a RHD car from a picture where you can’t see the steering wheel inside.

The rear seats have a 60/40 split. You can lift the cushions (they pivot forward), remove the rear headrests and fold the backs forward – but even if you slide the front seats forward to facilitate this, I don’t think they fold flat.

I got my GTi cleaned at one of those café carwashes. They were a bit heavy with the tyre-black and because there are no front mudflaps, after driving home I found hundreds of tiny black spots all along the sides of the car. Hmmm.

The windscreen washer jets are adjustable. The rear washer is fed off the front reservoir, and it takes a while for the fluid to reach the rear nozzle, meanwhile the wiper is scraping the dust off. Ugh!

You get 5 alloy wheels and 5 Pirelli P6000’s. So far I have no performance reason to consider changing these. Bigger wheels might fill the arches a bit more; or you could drop the car 25mm or so. (The Danish guy who dropped it 40mm at the back should get a ute and 800kg of sandbags.) You have the trademark Peugeot headlight adjuster switch to compensate for load/height changes.

The stereo supplied with my GTi is a Eurovox 4880, reprogrammed to eliminate the clock function. It’s OK. My CD skips on the odd heavy bump but I don’t have the major hassles some people seem to have had. FM reception is not brilliant; I think the GTi has a shorter antenna than the other 206s? The face of the stereo doesn’t look as integrated as the Euro models do. In fact the unit seems to have exactly the same functions as the one fitted to the Nissan Pulsar, but doesn’t look as good. The remote stalk has a mode change (by twisting) which lets you cycle through AM/FM1/FM2/CD, but the order seems to vary and once you get to the last mode you have to twist the other way. Dumb.

The central display pod on the dash shows date, day, time & external temperature. You don’t get any radio/CD info in this display, but you can change the time & date format. (And language.) It’s Y2K compliant! For “what does this button do” passengers, the toilet-lid-sized hazard flasher switch will be irresistable.

Under the bonnet it’s a plastic fantastic. I suppose most modern cars are, but I was amazed by how much is plastic. Radiator header tank, injector rails & mountings, intake manifold, etc, plus all the usual covers for fuses, drive belts, air filter, strut tops, even the battery is covered. The silver engine cover (with the Pug lion) is plastic – careful, it scratches and is black underneath – and under that is a black plastic moulding holding the ignition gear. Plus all the grille & spoiler assembly. And the fuel tank and filler.

I found a couple of pipes and/or cables weren’t properly clipped down. And have a look under the seats, the wiring looms for the side airbags are supposed to clip into the underside of the cushions, mine were not.

The rain-sensing wipers are OK. They mostly get it right, about 80-90% I suppose – which still leave a lot of times when you want an extra swipe (and some occasions when they switch to high speed for no real reason). It works but it’s a bit of a gimmick. The sensor emits a faint glow at night (only visible from outside).

Yes, you only get two keys, and only one is remote. Good range though. You can’t lock the doors unless they are both closed.

So far the chrome exhaust tip (might be stainless steel) is holding its shine – I clean it up every so often. The exhaust note is rorty enough without being excessive. With 5000km on the clock I have no compunction in revving it out, and it pulls hard to 6000 but by then it feels like you are better off giving it a gear; I haven’t taken it to 6500.

There seem to be so many silver hatches around these days, sometimes I wish I’d gone for another colour. But park the 206 next to just about any other car and its styling just looks so right; especially compared to try-hards like the lardy Hyundai coupe or the fugly new Celica. And then you get to drive it.

A puzzle.

How much does a 206 GTi weigh? The Peugeot Australia specs claim XR 1.6 (3 & 5 door) kerb weight is 1100kg (1130 auto), XT 1119kg (1149 auto) but the better equipped GTi is quoted at 1050kg. (Is the alloy 2.0 significantly lighter?)

The handbook claims the 1.6 manual is 1100kg but the GTi’s kerb weight is given as 1125kg. (They complicate things by making an obvious error on the 1.6 auto, at 1055kg – the same as the 1.4 auto. But the gross vehicle weights seem more correct, 1525 for the 1.6 manual, 30kg more for the 1.6 auto at 1555kg and 1560 for the GTi)

Did you know?

RHD 206’s are built in England, at the Ryton plant outside Coventry. This plant was built in 1940 as a “shadow” factory for the Rootes group, using government funds. During WWII it was used for arms manufacture including bombers and armoured cars. Postwar it was one of the main Rootes factories, producing Hillman, Humber, Sunbeam and other marques. Rootes was bought out by Chrysler in the late 60’s; later the plant went to the Peugeot group and was massively upgraded for the 206 project.

Russell Ayling


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