The slowest in class

Have you ever woken up in the morning to find a child’s toy buried deep in your inner ear, an unexplainable ache in your back that the expensive ‘Memory Foam’ mattress just doesn’t seem to be helping with, are losing hair from the important places and growing it in unimportant places and find yourself fighting a losing battle in the grey/natural hair ratio? Congratulations – you are my age! If you are anything like me this means you have a crippling mortgage on a three bed semi in the negative equity belt hanging over your head, have two point four kids screaming at you for about twenty hours out of every day, have bills coming out of your ying yang and have a bucket load of dreams that are forever compromised by all the things mentioned. The upside of being the wrong side of thirty though is that we grew up during the ‘hot hatch’ age.

Gather any amount of like minded people together, preferably over some tall frosted glasses filled with your choice of poison and talk will invariably turn to the cars we grew up admiring. Depending on which camp you belong to you may plumb for something like the Renault 5 GTT, Opel Astra GTE or Ford RS Turbo and its siblings from Cosworth. These are all highly regarded cars and many have fond memories of them but there will always be too cars that come top of the list. They are the Subaru Impreza and Mitsubishi Evo of our time. Two cars that are inexplicably linked, divide opinions and seemingly can never be separated – those two cars are of course the VW Golf GTi and the Peugeot 205 GTI.

Years ago, while researching a different article I stumbled along an interesting quote “VW invented the hot hatch, Peugeot perfected it!” and if you asked many auto enthusiasts who drove these cars during their heyday they would probably agree. The 205 handled better, offered more seat of the pants thrills and in 1900cc trim was almost untouchable by its peers. Unfortunately for me I never liked it and that’s not just because I am a hardcore VW nut. The 205 is more fun than the Golf but fun is not everything – there are only certain times when the sublime chassis can be exploited, the build quality was questionable at best and it was just too hardcore for everyday use, even earning a name as a widow maker for its inclination to swap ends at a moments notice.

When it came time to replace the 205 Peugeot choose to do so with two cars, in stark contrast to today when they are replacing two cars (the 407 and 607) with one (the 508). Those two cars were of course the 106, whose proportions made it the natural successor, and the more mature 306. With the 306 Peugeot effectively invented a genre that is at the height of popularity at the moment due to rising fuel costs, the hot diesel. But more importantly they also gave us one of the best, and strangely least talked about, hot hatches – the 306 GTI-6.

By the time of its launch in 1996 the hot hatch market had changed with new regulations ending production of the big power Escort Cosworth, the Mk3 Golf Gti developing a middle aged spread and the burgeoning Far East movement was offering up the power but not the looks as signified by the likes of the Nissan Almera Gti. The GTI-6’s rarity, brought about by being ‘born’ at the wrong time, should not detract from its appeal though. Powered by a 2.0 16v engine that was an evolution of the Mi16, as found in hot versions of the 405, the precocious Pug boasted 167 horsepower and an, at the time unique in class, six speed gearbox. The lower gears in this ‘box were spaced close enough together that you were enticed to work it hard to make the most of the available 145 lb ft torque with the final cog being set up for motorway cruising. The zero to sixty sprint could be completed in 7.8 seconds while top speed was as close as makes no difference 130mph. It was not the speed that was the major attraction of this car though – it was the chassis. It offered all the thrills that the 205 offered without the backwards through a hedge ending. It was utterly exploitable and more drivable on the edge as you did not have the overriding though that ‘any second now the back end is going to overtake me’. Lift off oversteer could still be achieved, if you were so inclined, but it was much more controllable and strangely this made it more exciting.

It was also easier to live with day to day. Sound insulation was light years ahead of its predecessor as too was build quality. It still was not perfect but a vast improvement over the 205 with the best bits being the split leather and alacantara seats that cosset you as you attack yet another B road. Now I am not averse to hardcore cars such as the 205, one of my favourite motoring moments was giving a Caterham a good thrashing but I also like my creature comforts when sitting on the motorway on a dull Monday morning and that is what the 306 GTI-6 offered – the thrill of an old school hot hatch with the accruements of an everyday car. Is that too much to ask??