What is the ultimate GTI hot hatch: the Suzuki Swift or the Peugeot 205?
THIS WEEK'S Mighty Car Mods EPISODE (Click Here) sees the mods commence for MOOG's Suzuki and Marty's Poo-Goat, but one overriding debate has been burning in the comments on social media and YouTube. "Who Makes The Best GTI?"
Is it the Japanese with the Suzuki or the French with the Peugeot 205? Both are front-drive three-door sports icons which have rich motorsport and tuner heritage. So which is more legendary?
Note: Before all the Volkswagen Golf fiends start sending nasty messages written purely in sauerkraut, it is widely recognised that while the Golf GTi started the hot hatch trend and the Mk2 Golf furthered that, the Peugeot 205 GTI is the best European hot hatch from that era. So there.
The first-generation Swift GTI arrived in Australia in 1986 equipped with a twin-cam EFI 1.3-litre four-cylinder. It was incredibly flimsy, stodgy looking and had less interior features than an outback apartment. But, it was a heck of a lot of fun.
Better things came in 1989 with the launch of the second-generation model and this one really stepped everything up a notch. It was far better built, more fun to drive and looked a good sight better.
Tuners grabbed hold of the second-gen model and really kick-started the "late-model tuning scene" Down Under with these pocket rockets. Events like Auto Salon and Small Car Sunday proved massively popular.
It only had 74kW but because it weighed as much as a wet dishcloth it was fast enough to smoke the overweight local V8 muscle cars and big, outdated European sedans.
It was not quite fast enough to catch the 90kW 1.6-litre single-cam 205 GTI Peugeot, though. And then the French went and put a 1.9-litre engine in the 205 to make it even faster!
Where the Swift really shone was the price - the Peugeot was so much more expensive than the Swift GTI you could almost buy a base model Swift with the difference.
Though it was far more expensive, the Peugeot (somehow, for a French car) also had much better fit and finish, and the quality of the interior seemed much nicer.
The driving experience is widely judged as being much better in the Peugeot, too. Having driven both back to back, I have to agree with the 205 GTI providing one of the greatest driving experiences of any 1980s car... or even any production hatchback today.
When it comes to motorsport heritage, the 205's Group B legacy is well-known. But Suzuki didn't do too badly with the Swift (or Cultus overseas). Its light weight, cheap price and excellent response to modifications made it a hero of production rallying classes.
Many would know of Monster Tajima's twin-engined Cultus, made famous at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb... and then the international stardom brought about as a hero car of Gran Turismo.
So the Swift GTI's greater supply numbers and much cheaper buy price made it a more popular car on the streets. The Peugeot is a better car to drive with a more impressive motorsport heritage....
But nobody built RBABY (the King of Australian show cars) out of a Peugeot, did they?