The Peugeot 205 was launched in Europe in 1983, and quickly became Europe's best selling car – However it wasn't until 1988 that the model reached Australian shores. Sales of French cars in Australia had been strong throughout the 70's – much of it a response to the fuel crisis, however by the late 80's, public perception of French built items were waning, numbers showing they were at an all time low.
In Europe, the 205 had exploded onto the scene and created quite a splash, winning several awards – However closer to home, it was the Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior which had exploded and created a splash, the media outrage that followed painted such a negative image of French intelligence and France itself that it had the public questioning French ethics and morals - At a time in which people started considering such things when purchasing a new car. Could the 205 bring in sales for Peugeot and firm up their reputation, something that it had done so well in Europe?
The 205 has all the hallmarks of a car built with the French public in mind – Sure it has 3 ashtrays and 2 cigarette lighters, but it's more in the way that its compact dimensions are perfect for snaking through Parisian back streets, yet inside it is surprisingly spacious and the use of interior space is very well thought out. It's also very configurable – it's a 5 seat hatchback, but with one button press you can pull the rear seats forward, which fold flat to reveal a van with a surprising payload. I've moved houses several times using this car, which includes carrying a 170 Litre fridge - with the rear seats down, it has more cargo space than most modern wagons and crossovers.
Although the 205 graced Australian shores with the GTi model in 1988, It wasn't until 1992 (with the Japanese Yen rising and memories of the Rainbow Warrior fading) that it made fiscal sense for Peugeot to start selling a version that could compete on price with the Toyota Corolla, which at the time was Australia's biggest selling small car. The SI model, with it's 1.6 litre motor, was introduced to do this. Although the 1.6 in the SI was larger than most of the motors in its European siblings, it was regarded as a bit of an escargot in Australia.
It's definitely no GTi, but not to the point where merging traffic is an issue. It does respond to the road very well and can be driven flat foot – Just point the front wheels where you want to go, jab the accelerator and hold on – No understeer at all. It's this nimble nature that I love most, and this translates into gobs of primary safety – The large glasshouse, responsive handling and excellent brakes all contribute to this. I compared it back to back to Australia's current best selling small car – the Hyundai i20 – although the i20 is where you'd want to be if you were to crash, the 205 would be the one I'd want to be in if I wanted to avoid the crash altogether.
This car is well appointed if you take into consideration that is a car from 1992, not a car from 2012 - it has central locking and power windows from standard, which was not common at the time. It has no airbags, parking assist or climate control - just a heater, air conditioner and a cassette player, as expected from a car of its class and age. This does keep the weight down, and the economy up – 40L will net you up to 600km's. Although thrifty, there has been talk of European cars being expensive to maintain, I haven't found this to be the case. The main costs of maintenance would be the clutch and timing belt, which I have done together every 60,000km's, costing around $1500. If you ignore the peeling paint and the cracked interior plastic, it has been utterly reliable.
It's an economy car that excels at being a car, rather than the modern economy car that uses loads of useless features to try to distract from the fact you're driving an economy car – This translates into an eccentric small car, although easy to live with day to day, it does have a reputation of being fussy and requires a bit of upkeep – Just like anything good to come from France.