Tested : MG Metro Turbo vs 205GTI vs XR2

Warm hatch wonders

With fewer than 50 MG Metro Turbos left on the road in the UK, it’s time to celebrate one of the most fun sporting hatchbacks from the 1980s – by comparing it with the big-selling Ford Fiesta XR2 and cultish Peugeot 205GTI.

And, as Keith Adams reckons, what was best then, might not be necessarily be best now…


It’s impossible to talk about hot hatches without referencing the 1980s. They might have been an invention of the 1970s (or ’60s depending on your point of view), but it was the onset of Thatcher’s decade that truly saw them popularised in the UK and Europe. Many would say that it was down to the brilliance of the Volkswagen Golf GTI, but the car that truly saw them sell on a mass scale in the UK was the Ford Escort XR3, launched in November 1980.

However, Austin Rover wasn’t far behind. In May 1982, the rather smaller MG Metro was rolled-out. Its station in life was to keep the MG flame alight, and also make the Metro a more profitable proposition for its maker. With 71bhp on tap and with a 0-60mph time of 12.2 seconds, it was no XR3 rival, but it certainly opened up the ‘warm’ hatch market. MG didn’t leave it at that, though, and in December 1982, it unveiled the MG Metro Turbo – a 94bhp flyer which, thanks to a little help from Austin Rover’s friends in Hethel, delivered reliable forced-induction performance to the company’s popular supermini. There could have been more power, but that would have needed an upgraded gearbox.

It still wasn’t grown-up enough to go toe-to-toe with the Golf/Escort (the Maestro would do this very ably in another year or so), but it was more than quick enough to give them a headache on the road. It also had found itself in an increasingly crowded market, as more and more manufacturers rushed to offer their own hot hatches. In 1984, the Metro Turbo was joined by two hugely influential players – the revitalised Ford Fiesta XR2, which since the ’83 facelift, was a full-time member of the family, powered by the old XR3’s (non-injection) 96bhp 1.6-litre.

But it was the arrival of the Peugeot 205GTI in the UK in 1984 that really put the cat among the pigeons – here was a sporting hatchback that blurred the edges between ‘warm’ and ‘hot’, and had the potential to offer the very best driving experience, thanks to the mastery of the Peugeot Chassis Engineers. With 105bhp (later upgraded to 115bhp) from its 1.6-litre XU5J engine, it was a league ahead of the XR and MG, and should have been able to wipe the floor with them.

Indeed, looking back today, you’d be forgiven for thinking this. There’s still rather a lot of 205GTIs on the road – compared with the MG and XR, which are near-extinct. The question is, does that popularity mean that it’s a significantly better classic than Ford and Austin Rover’s offerings?


The Ford Fiesta was such a pretty thing when launched in 1976. But, such was the pace of evolution in the supermini sector during the late-1970s and into the ’80s, it was comprehensively outdated by the time its facelift (to become the Mk2) came along in 1983.

That’s probably why the Mk2 really hasn’t stood the test of time too well – it combined the pleasing origami style of the original with an organic-looking nose, and ended up looking a little bit out of sorts. But that didn’t stop the Fiesta selling – following the facelift, which added such niceties as a five-speed gearbox and soft-feel interior, it pulled away from the Metro to become the UK’s best-selling supermini.

Much of that appeal must have come from the halo cast by the XR2 – Ford clearly understood (and still does) what it takes to add sporting flair to relatively mundane offerings. With the XR2, that meant pin-striping, wheelarch extensions, spoilers and (for those who paid a little extra), spotlights. And in the office carpark, it really stood out. Today, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s all a little contrived – but you’d be wrong, because the XR2 really did look rather special. And today, if you see one on the road (which is highly unlikely), it will turn heads.

Mind you, the same can also be said for the MG Metro. The ‘cooking’ version was always a chunkily appealing thing – stubbier and more characterful than the opposition to look at. But the transformation into MG was really rather effective. The Metro received those oh-so charismatic red seatbelts, jazzier instrument graphics and updated seat trim inside  – to which were added wheelarch extensions, skirts and  two-tone paint. As Metros go, the Turbo looked a million dollars.

Today, to see an MG Metro Turbo in the wild is like spotting a unicorn – wearing a tutu. Dancing to Brotherhood of Man – which is a shame because 20-odd years ago, you couldn’t move from one end of town to the other without tripping over the damned things. They were popular then, but because their survival rate is absolutely abysmal, you’re guaranteed to turn heads driving one. Okay, so many of those admirers might well be avaricious Mini owners, but given the exclusivity of these fine cars, we’re hoping fervently that survival is now guaranteed. It deserves to be.

Now to the Peugeot. By any conventional marker, it’s the best-looking of the three, and when launched, the 205GTI literally tore its rivals to shreds. The basic 205 styling was beautifully resolved – in-house under the leadership of Gerard Welter – and with Pininfarina acting as one of the consultants on the project. And today, it’s considered to be one of the most iconic small car shapes ever devised. When Peugeot added a subtle bodykit and bedecked the interior with red carpets, it created a car so achingly desirable that the sharpest of its rivals just looked old hat.

Today, though, its timelessness probably counts against the 205. Why? Well, it remained in production until 1994, and because of its huge following (and relative resistance to rust), the survival rate is high. Because visually it’s a couple of generations younger than the Metro and Fiesta (despite being launched less than three years after the Metro), it’s yet to gain enough distance from modern cars to easily wear its classic clothes. The Metro and Fiesta are rooted in the 1970s, while the 205 may as well be a 1990s car…

So the Pug should win out in character terms, but to lovers of the underdog, the MG Metro takes the prize here.


An easy win to the Peugeot. Its 1.6-litre XU might give its best above 4000rpm, and need plenty of throttle to get the most out of it, but compared with the other two, it’s a paragon of smooth tractability (aside from round town, when it can get pretty snatchy on and off the throttle). It sounds pretty good too, with no obvious signs of harshness or unpleasantness. There’s a fizzy effusiveness about the 205GTI that enthusiastic drivers will find impossible to resist – you’ll literally end up thrashing yours at every opportunity. And even today, its 0-60mph time of 8.6 seconds and top speed of 115mph are more than enough to keep up with the flow.

The MG Metro Turbo is almost as fast, but not quite. In real terms, it could be said that the with a 0-60mph time of 9.3 seconds and top speed of 110mph, the difference is so small on the road as to not be significant. But it is… The main problem with the MG Metro is that its gearing is widely spaced – through necessity, being a four-speeder – and that means you’re more aware of the difference between on-and off-boost. The less-than-sharp driver will find him or herself outside the turbo’s influence, floundering for power, waiting for boost to build.

But when it’s on-song and flowing, you can’t help but love the MG Metro Turbo. It has that Mini-like engine note, and plenty of turbo whistle, which is a soundtrack shared with no other car. And we love it. And that makes up for a lot of those deficiencies.

As for the XR2, it makes the numbers alright. 0-60mph in 9.4 seconds and 109mph at the top-end, but somehow it’s just less satisfying than the other two here. Actually, it’s not even as nice to drive quickly as the old Kent-engined XR2 (Mk1), which made do with 12bhp less. You can’t even blame the gearing and overall refinement of the Fiesta – its five-speed ‘box is nice to use, with well-spaced ratios, and overall noise levels beat the 205 and Metro. But its CVH is harsh and objects to high revs – and that, frankly, goes against the grain in a sporting car.

Handling and ride

All three are fun, really fun. And that’s because they have manual steering with oodles of feel, quick gearing and low-roll cornering. We’ll not resort to the old go-kart clichés, but if you like a car that steers responsively and goes where you point it, and don’t care too much about ride quality, all will deliver your kicks. But there are important differences between the three that mark out one as great; the other flawed fun; and the other good in places…

Needless to say, the Peugeot has greatness running through its coolant. You flow it round corners almost on instinct and, on an early 1.6GTI like this, you’ll never ever tire of pushing it hard to experience that last nuance of grip just before it starts to slide. Before you start to wonder when the old lift-off oversteer complaint’s coming – don’t. On modern tyres, a 205GTI is faithful and fun – and extremely neutral. The only criticism you may level at it is that it rides a little stiffly – but, on decent dampers, it’s not painfully so.

The MG Metro is fun, but fun for its idiosyncrasy. It steers, feels and sounds like a Mini, and feels even more responsive through the wheel than the Peugeot. And on most roads, it rides well, if not better than the French car, too. The problem with the Metro is rooted in its weird upright driving position and badly-positioned pedals, which just doesn’t feel sporting, and the way the Hydragas suspension set-up works on less-than-perfect roads.

In bumpy corners, it hops and skips and never feels planted, and you’ll be bouncing in your seat on your average British B-road. But – and this is the important bit – you’ll be laughing as you buck and bounce around. The MG Metro Turbo is far more settled than an early miniMetro, and it’s clear that plenty of work had been done on it between 1980 and ’82… but, sadly, it was always going to be limited by not being interconnected.

And the Ford? In terms of handling and ride, it’s a little firmer than the Metro, and in most situations it actually feels more fun. It doesn’t challenge the Peugeot’s all-round competence, because it lacks that car’s fluidity of movement. What it does do well, is feel darty through its fat-rimmed wheel, and turn-in is like a proper GTI. What lets the XR2 down ultimately, though, is its utter lack of ride compliance. On a short drive, it’ll leave you smiling and admiring its responsiveness, but dial-in a longer journey and it just doesn’t let-up, crashing and banging its merry dance.

Cabin and controls

We love the sporting flair of all three – and just how their respective makers have really made an effort to sex-up the interiors of their superminis to appeal to a more thrusting, young, audience. We’ve already said that the Metro’s transformation to MG is pretty effective thanks to clever use of colour and trim, so we’ll not dwell too much on that. What you’re left with is a marginal four-seater that certainly accommodates far better than its modest length would lead you to expect – but that space efficiency comes from – in part – an odd seating position, which takes some getting used to.

Early Metros have a lovely minimalist interior, though. The dash pod looks good, and houses big, bold, well-styled instruments and switchgear. The minor switches – for instance the HRW and rear wash/wipe – are down by the driver’s right knee, and take some getting used to, and the stereo is by his left knee. A flawed effort with bags of character.

The Fiesta is a bit more conventional, and feels very grown-up after the Metro, with some very well-designed switchgear around the main instrument cluster. The instrument graphics aren’t as nice, of course, but that’s more than made up for a stereo that’s actually mounted nice and high in the driver’s line of sight. It’s not quite as roomy as the Metro (which shows just how good a job Longbridge did with its design), but the driving position is far better – and most people will immediately feel at ease. And let’s face it, that’s why so many people bought XR2s back then.

As for the Peugeot – we love its red carpets and overall spaciousness and airiness. Start looking too closely, though, and you’ll find it’s a well-planned nice looking interior that’s made from shockingly brittle plastics. However, they are actually a little more hard-wearing than you’d think (not much, but a little), and finding one now with unmarked or undamaged plastics is very difficult indeed. But get beyond that, and you’ll appreciate the interior room, which shades both older cars, and the surprisingly ample boot.

Another victory, then, for the French car.

Running costs

In terms of fuel consumption, they’re much of a muchness. Around town, expect around 30mpg, and in gentler driving (as if), you can often get to 35mpg without trouble. Yes, that’s hardly groundbreaking stuff, but at least it’s not thirsty enough to be offensive, and you do get plenty in return thanks to their feistiness on the roads.

In terms of parts supply, the Peugeot is the easiest to get bits for, followed by the Metro and the Fiesta after that. However, in terms of price, what parts you do get for the Ford will inevitably be the cheapest. As for insurance – all three qualify for classic cover (as long as you do), and that means a nice cheap policy in exchange for limited use and a cherished ownership experience.


All three are fun. All three will put a smile on your face. But there can be only one winner.

No beating around the bush here. The Peugeot annihilates the other two cars by such a margin it’s almost laughable. It’s fun, capable and, in today’s money, an absolute steal for all but the most immaculate examples. When new back in 1984, they were priced within £500 (list) of each other, and it’s hard to imagine why anyone would buy an XR2 if the 205GTI was within budget. Actually, that’s a little unfair on the plucky, fun Ford. The XR2 remains your ultimate 1980s rollerskate – possibly not as iconic as the original XR3 (which now commands big money when mint), but a damn sight more fun. You might struggle finding a good one but, if you do, you’ll have lots of fun in small doses in an XR2.

The MG Metro Turbo is probably a patchier all-rounder than the XR2, but we don’t care – it’s faster, more fun, quirkier, more boisterous and comes with a free whistle and chirp. Now it’s a hugely rare car, you’re going to have to pay good, strong money for one that works, is in good condition and has an MoT worth the paper it’s written on. But then, the classic car world doesn’t play by any logical rules.

So – victory by a knock-out to the Peugeot, with the Metro just beating the Fiesta thanks to its sheer Metro-ness…

[Original photo, thanks to What Car? magazine, scanning by Trigger]

Keith Adams


  1. I suspect the photograph came from a What Car group test. Back in the 80s Peugeot occupied the motoring press sweet spot in the same way BMW does today. It could do nothing wrong, even when it tried very hard – 309. I suspect therefore that the Peugeot trampled over the other two in this test, with the Ford well at the back. What Car absolutely hated Fords in the 80s.

  2. There’s a credit to What Car? at the end of the piece, so yes – that’s where the image comes from. And yes the Pug won that test. But the words are mine – as I’ve good experience of all three cars.

  3. The only new car that I have ever bought was a 1985 XR2 Fiesta in Diamond White, with alloys, sunroof etc. I got it for the very good price of £5800 on the road as a friend was a sales manager at a Ford garage! I thought it was a great car, I wouldn’t mind another one thinking about it! I still have a soft spot for mk 1 Fiestas, I’ve had a few of those! I sold the XR2 for £5,000 after about 18 months and bought a very early Range Rover, quite a contrast!

  4. Mint Escort 3’s are like hen’s teeth. Like the ADO16, they suffered terminal lower bulkhead rot. A friend of mine spent ages fitting an XR3 interior to a 1.1 – then had to scrap it! He then went all sensible and bought a Maestro – followed by a Rover 820.

    • There was a 1.9 litre 205 GTI which might be the one you’re thinking of – if memory serves, it was around 1s quicker in the 0-60 sprint and on a par with the legendary Renault 5 GT Turbo, which was oh-so-important back then, even if today those figures look tame in comparison to the current offerings.

  5. It is interesting how different the market in the UK worked compared to Germany. Ford is considered British or German by most buyers on either side of the channel, so you’d think they would be in a similar position. But the XR3 and XR2 always were just the ‘also-rans’ on the German market with the sales of hot hatches being shared between VW, Opel and Peugeot. That said the 205 was the only car of the above selling in decent numbers here in Germany. I still remember when travelling France in the late 80s – I could keep away from the 205 GTi 1.6 with our excellent MG Maestro EFi – but then the 1.9 came along, usually leaving the MG for dead…

  6. Nice article, yet again by the knowledgable Keith.

    How different the press of the 80s and today is, as noted by Paul.

    Today French cars are scoffed at. bmw/audi can do no wrong.
    Back then road tests were about practicality, today they’re about ‘can it drift?’.

    I suspect that this feedback loop is what has led to modern cars being too harshly sprung. Even big Citroens – as in the DS5 – are too uncomfortable. Sure this may help when cornering the Caracciola Karussell at the Nurburgring, but for day to day commuting it can get jarring.

  7. The Peugeot followed distantly by the Ford would be my picks from this test. I’ll probably be booted from this site for saying it, but despite being well packaged (about the only good thing going for it) I’d never pick a Metro for my dream garage, whatever the condition or trim level, and however rare. I learned to drive in one (a Metro City not a Turbo) and I’ve never forgotten how cheap, unpleasant, and downright agricultural the Metro was, especially after my instructor changed companies and was given a Mk2 Fiesta instead (a Popular I think).

    I think that the Mk2 Fiesta restyle was a complete success- although Ford lost its touch when it went over to the Mk3, which had little going for it style-wise (although I have a soft spot for the diesel).

    The 205, which was styled in-house, not by Pininfarini, was a lovely car in any form, pretty to look at and sweet to drive. I’d like any version from 1.4 upwards, 3 doors or 5, but especially a GTi.

    @5, Adrian,

    There wasn’t a 2 litre but the GTi did later come in 1.9 form as well as the 1.6, which could be quite a handful according to contemporary road tests, especially in the wet…

    • The Peugeot 205 GTi 1.6/1.9 was available in the Uk but the 309 Gti was LHD only. a friend who was pretty handy behind the wheel, (saloon car racer), owned many 205s, but he said the 309 was the better car for competition use, he imported a 309 shell and built his own RHD 309 Gti for race use. He let me drive the car, it was a revelation, you did not consciously steer the car, holding the steering wheel rim by my fingertips I simply “willed” the car through turns in the road

  8. @ No9 Chris baglin
    Your first paragraph sums it up for me too. I can remember Car magazine at the time saying the Metro Turbo “Should have been strangeled at biorth”

  9. The verdict is the correct one, although the Pug’s win should be by a vast margin. I’ve owned 2 of these cars (Metro and Fiesta) and spent a fair time driving the third and owned its spiritual successor (Peugeot, and Saxo VTS which shares the engine and most of the underpinnings of the reviewed car thanks to it being derived from the 106).

    The XR2 was a vastly overrated car – the rear suspension set up had all the disadvantages of a solid axle rear wheel drive system with none of the benefits (basically a big dead-beam). The MkII chassis used in its successor the XR2i was vastly superior and had the steering not been so slow that car would have eclipsed the 206 easily. When power steering finally got fitted and the car developed into the RS1800i it really was a world beater but the hot hatch market was in decline at that point.

    As for the Metro – it was a bouncy, horrible wee thing with a sloppy gearchange, but retro-fit it with proper dampers (which for some reason were deleted in later models but thankfully the fitting points remained) and it was transformed (ride-wise anyway).

    The Pug was just sublime, thanks to its low centre of gravity and light weight. The torsion bar rear suspension might have been an older design but was engineering brilliance. Pug hot hatches lost their lead when this was ditched in favour of coil springs and upright struts for cost reasons.

  10. @Will M
    As Enrico said, small Peugeots (and Citroens) have never been the same since adopted cheaper non independent torsion beam suspension, the 205 had a lovely fluidity even in its base models, matched by the larger 309, 306 and ZX, sporty and comfortable whereas something like the DS5 looks great but has a horrible ride, which in a Citroen is very sad.

    “Because it’s literally a couple of generations newer aesthetically than the Metro and Fiesta”. One generation at most surely, seeing that the 205 is only 2.5 years younger than the Metro, even if it looks a lot better!

  11. Going to tweak that – the 205 still looked pretty modern going into the 1990s, while the Fiesta and Metro both struggled on the styling front as the ’80s rolled on.

    Didn’t stop them selling, though.

  12. The Fiesta hit the market in 1976, and the XR2 body was essentially the 1976 car car with an updated interior, a front end facelift, a different tailgate and a section of inner wing cut away to accommodate a 5 speed gearbox. It was well pensionable by the time it was replaced in 1989.

  13. The 205 was the hot hatch to have. Excellent styling, crackerjack handling, and in 1.9 form, an absolute flyer. The Metro even in Turbo guise could only be described as ‘warm’ to be honest, and really needed a 5th cog in the box to help performance. The Fiesta had Ford’s slick marketing department behind it, and the Mk2 XR2 wasn’t a bad machine, with reasonable handling and a sporty exhaust note, plus umpteen dozen performance add ons were available from almost everywhere, for not much money. The Fiesta was easy to ‘half inch’ though, thanks to pathetic locks, and became a joyriders fave, along with it’s bigger brother the XR3i, and the XR badge ended up with the ‘Essex wide boy’ image, which was a shame. I’ve driven one of the last of the line XR2i’s, with the 105 Zetec, and it was quite a civilised machine, and the seats were really body hugging. The handling sadly still was only average

  14. @3 Andy Jones
    Snap, the only brand new car I ever bought with my own money was an ’85 XR2 but mine was Stratos Silver. I paid £5995 with alloys and sunroof (£6995 list). The spotlights were standard at that time by the way. Although the test cars shown are A reg I don’t remember anyhing older than a B on the road and that goes for the 205 as well. I did 30k miles in it over the next two years and sold it for £4750 when I got my first company car.
    Regarding the price of the 205, although the list price may only have been £500 more than the XR2, lower discounts meant it was more in XR3i teritory and beyond my budget.
    Before the XR2 I had a Metro 1.3S and I did look at the MG, in non-turbo form, which I could have bought for just over £5k but the lack of a fifth gear put me off.

  15. 24 years and 217k miles later, my “poor man’s GTi” (the 205XS) is still going beautifully, still looks beautiful (in white, no rust) and is still an absolute hoot to drive.

    I love her to bits – and I’m not alone, given the offers to buy that I occasionally find tucked under her windscreen wiper.

  16. I drove a fully reconditioned 205GTi a few years back and it was a hoot, and modern tires or not it loved to lift off oversteer. My Mk2 Golf GTi was a paragon of forgiveness by comparison.
    In no way did it compare to the Metro I drove in the late 90s, I’m glad to see the BL car doesn’t always win in your group tests.

    On another note any chance of a 90s muscle car test involving the Jag XJR. I’m thinking of getting one now they’re really cheap and a resounding victory against some German’s would definitely help me fly the flag.

  17. Fiestas: I remember driving an XR2 just like the one above. It had very adjustable handling, but you had to break the speed limit in town to play. Out of town it was a different matter. An early 1.1S was found to be so short that I could get it totally sideways in a lane, and barely notice ;o))
    (a bit like a tuned Viva GT I drove earlier – that’s a story for another day) Early Fiestas had dreadful Golf-like brakes, as the servo and master cylinder were on the left, even if the steering wheel was on the right. (when did they change?)
    Metros get a bad press in retrospect, I have driven a 1.0, a 1.3, a 1.4GTa, and a 1.4 diesel; they all had a joie de vivre, like a puppy dog out for a walk and wagging its tail. Not sure how you engineer that into a car, but it was good while it lasted. They might have been crude, but they were FUN.

  18. 205 has aged well due to the good rustproofing Peugeot put on. Paninfarina design looks fresh, the pre-facelift 106 which was the effective replacement with the 206 having grown in size, looked very similar.

  19. I have to disagree with Keith’s statement that the parts for the Peugeot are more common that the Fiesta. I don’t think so, having been to many a auto jumble the Ford is far the more available parts – from mechanical to interior you can easily find XR2 parts. Metro and Peugeot stuff is a lot harder to find – my friend had to go many a mile to get parts for his 309 (i know not a 205) and my girlfriend has a nighmare getting parts for her late Metro.

  20. Maybe – but I have a 205GTI on the family’s fleet and have had no problem finding parts for it from motor factors. Whereas early Metro parts are getting quite scare – as as XR2 bits and pieces. I don’t really do Autojumbles for parts – so I guess I must qualify that statement.

  21. One of the main problems with these cars is getting trim-related items. I can vouch over how difficult some of the trim related items are for the MG Metro, particularly those built after 1987 sporting the new velour seat facings. A friend of mine has to resort to using eBay to find second-hand trim for his XR2, and even a tailgate for his Mark 1 version as these have been no longer available for many years. Indeed, look at the tailgate on many of the Mark 1 Fiestas and you will find a Mark 2 tailgate sitting there instead because they are more readily available.

    I have just broken a rotten MG Maestro 2.0i for trim-related items to help the restoration of my own example. I hated doing it, but then, what else am I to do in my quest to keep something I genuinely cherish on the road and looking complete?

    Then again, none of these can be quite as scarce (or as expensive) as a replacement grille for a Mark 1 Golf GTi.

  22. I know that the 205 GTi is a cult thing, but I remember taking one for a spin when my daily drivers were a 1.6 Montego estate and a MG Maestro 2.0 EFi (this would have been around 1989). In comparison to the MG Maestro my over riding memory of the 205 was not its performance, it’s handling or its general niceness but just how tinny it was!

    I also remember a friend, who worked for a Ford dealer at the time, calling by on the way to the pub in a new XR2 (it must have been around 1985) and when he accelerated away I had never felt a car move so fast! Yet, it had only 96bhp… I guess it must have weighed around the same as an empty crisp packet.

  23. Having had both an original XR2 and a brand new MkII in 1989……the Ford wins hands down for me.
    The 1.9 205 GTI was a great car…but I`d take a mint XR2 any day.
    Matter of fact…I`d like another.

  24. @25, Tigger,

    The 205 wasn’t the last word in Audi-esque solidity (actually, having owned an Audi I think a lot of that ‘solidity’ was largely illusory, with much effort going into engineering the doors with much less effort made elsewhere), but it was not as poor as the Citroen Saxo for apparent flimsiness.

    I once went to test drive a Saxo VTR or VTS (can’t remember which, but it was the faster of the two, and the car was parked in by other vehicles, so whilst the salesman got the keys to move the other cars I gave the Saxo a ‘haptics test’- giving all the fixtures and fittings a good poke and opening and shuttings doors, glovebox, sunroof, switches, etc. To say that I was not impressed was an understatement- the dashboard could have been vinyl-covered cardboard and its switchgear made out of pipecleaners, and the rest of the car might have been a Blue Peter inspired primary school project for all the sense of solidity it conveyed.

    Needless to say, I handed back the keys without driving it. And went to buy that bloody Audi…

  25. I never owned any of these cars , but we did have a 1986 MG Metro as a spare car for about 7 years, and I did drive the others from time to time . The Ford to me felt just plain ordinary with nothing distinctive about it at all . The Peugeot felt as though it could be fun, although the gearbox for me was an acquired taste , but….. it was one of the cheapest and nastiest feeling cars I have ever driven , with lamentable build quality verging on that of a Yugo or Lada . The Metro in contrast felt well built and was quite refined for long distances . It’s all so easy to sneer at BLMC, but some of the products really were quite good and certainly represented good value , the Ambassador being another example of this

  26. Having owned a turbo i can say it was the most fun car ive ever had,somehow bl made something far better than it should have been on paper.Once you got it off the line[high first gear]with double valve springs they rev beyond 7000rpm ,max boost doesnt arrive untill 6000rpm to save the box.The handling is cartlike when the trim height is set at 12 5/8 inches.On a hot day the hydragas fluid expands and the handling goes.You have to be a good driver and be able to toe and heel and double declutch to get the best of the huge garret t 3 turbo.On overrun you get popping from the rear exhaust once the baffles rot,FAB.

  27. Back in 1990, I replaced my Fiesta 1.0 with a Mighty MG Metro!
    Jet black with the red trim, it looked the business.
    It was great fun too..
    I was soon whizzing it around rounabouts etc – Happy Days 🙂

  28. @27 I remember a mate of mine buying a Saxo VTS. He took me for a spin in it. The 2nd and 3rd gear acceleration was spine-tingling, but the build quality was dismal. Such a cheaply put together interior, and a dreadful dash and instrument cluster. The Renault Clio RN he had before was a much better put together, and designed car. The Alfa 145 I had at the time felt positively Germanic in comparison (and it was even better in 2nd and 3rd gear….:D)

  29. QUIZZ TIME: There so few Metro turbos left because
    A) the cars were no good and they all failed or rusted quickly
    B) were spectularly crashed because they were too quick, C) people took the engines out of a perfectly good metro turbo to stick in their otherwise Rusty and Bog filled Fake Mini ERA Turbos?

    or D) B&C above.
    🙂 alex

  30. My Step Father came into my life in 1992 when I was 9, and with him came his 1987 Fiesta XR2 in Rosso red.
    To me this car was the dog’s! I loved it! What made it is so much fun to me as a small boy was that Mal (my stepdad) drove it like his hair was on fire! He still drives with enthusiasm now in his 2006 fiesta ST-150.
    The XR2 though, what a machine that was. He used to bomb it round the Dales like a lunatic! I remember I used to pull the seat forward so I could reach the bulkhead with my feet to steady myself against the cornering forces. I remember the excitement as he would see a clear patch on the straights, boot it down to third and the thing would pull me back as we accelerated down the wrong side of the road overtaking.
    It was a bumpy ride yes, loud! and the CVH was harsh. but I didn’t know then. I was a little boy enjoying the thrill of driving fast in what was a racing car to me!
    With its spoilers, pepper pot wheels, spotlights and wheel arch extensions it just looked so cool aswell.
    I remember we once got pulled over on the A65 for overtaking 5 cars at once. The cop wasnt happy because it had taken him 20 miles to catch up with us and even then it was only cos we had stopped for some petrol in Ilkley. We hadn’t even seen him till then!
    The cop let Mal off once hed realised the car wasnt stolen (my god XR2’s got nicked A LOT). He asked Mal if he realised what speed he was doing when he overtook the fifth car. Mal said he didn’t cos it was dangerous to look at the speedo when performing such a maneuver, but likely a little over 65mph. Cop had clocked 104 but let him off with a warning. Those where the days.

  31. Takes me back this test! Learned to drive in a 1.1 Fiesta and always thought they were ok but harsh. My mate had a 1.3 Metro which was nippy if you wrung its neck – but why no 5 speed? I hated that whining gearbox and buzzy engine note – and his car suffered terrible rust, then he bought a 5 Gordini for some reason.
    In the late 80s I had a Strada 130TC, my mate had moved on to a Pug 205Gti 1.9 – the Pug was quick off the line, but the Abarth was quicker once into 3 rd gear and beyond – I still recall thrashing that Strada hard and getting 12mpg for my efforts. My mate STILL has his 205Gti – that Strada 130TC has long since dissolved……..

  32. @6 Alexander. This still seems to be the situation today. In the UK Ford still hold on to the No1 spot in the market and cars like the Focus are generally considered to be class best – by the press at least. Germany seems to still regard Fords as inferior products well behind the likes of VW. Ironic then that in the 30 years since this group test was published Ford has effectively turned its back on the UK – the last Ford cars rolled out of Dagenham and Halewood in the early 2000s – yet continue to invest heavily in Germany.

  33. Not this is a REAL motor test!

    Having driven many of all of them, my money was on the Peugeot or the Metro Turbo, the XR2 was more style over substance and it was a dreadful car to drive with a serious weight bias that affected handling in the wet, unless carrying a full tank of fuel.

    The 205 GTi? well goes without saying really, smart looks, talented road manners, awesome performance in 16v format and a few extra inches giving a nice spacious interior.

    Metro Turbo? well, considering it was developed with the same budget as last nights Chinese Take away, the cornering (simply electric) the performance (no real lag to worry about) and quite honestly superb brakes, made the Metro a right laugh to drive.

    Shame the transmission wasn’t manly enough to take some real power without ripping the idler gear to smitherines – they were good for 110bhp, and even in preservation tune of 92BHP, gearboxes rarely lasted much beyond 50.000 miles.

    Excellent stuff Keith… lets keep `em coming!

  34. The hot hatches also killed off the Capri. Why buy a 1.6 litre car with a heavy body when an MG Metro offered the same performance for a lot less money and with the added attraction of 40 mpg.

  35. Would the Fiesta XR2 have been any better if it received the fuel-injected 1.6 with 105-108 bhp from the Escort XR3/XR3i (while the latter received the 115 bhp version from the Escort RS1600i) or even the aftermarket 125 bhp turbo by Turbo Technics?

    Much has been said of the MG Metro Turbo being limited by its gearbox from its 120-130 bhp potential though I would have concede that the 205 GTi would still win this test as it already is (though the Metro could run it close) and might have even blown away the its rivals had it received the 148-160 bhp 1.9 16v from the Peugeot 309 GTi16 that was very well-regarded on the continent.

    Glenn Aylett

    If there is anything I have against the Hot Hatches was that it caused the Capri and Manta along with others to be replaced by rather mediocre fwd Coupes (with exception of the VW Corrado, Honda Integra and smaller Ford Puma), in my own subjective opinion they should have put some distance between the Hot Hatches and Coupes performance-wise by having lower-end Coupes on Warm/Hot-Hatch territory with the range-topping Coupes being on near-Delta Integrale territory.

  36. The MK2 fiesta was a brilliant car even with the CVH,the later 2i was a pile of piss in comparison,while i have huge regard for the 205 they used to suffer terrifying lift off oversteer and you had to be lightening quick to correct it,once crashed they cracked like an egg.The old Metro was no good in this company in my view with a 4 speed box and whining gears made more apparent when the completely brilliant Roverised Metro GTi arrived.

  37. Ford should have dropped the pretty useless 1.6 litre Capri, and gone for V6 power, with the 2.3 and 2.8. The car looks wise had a lot going for it, it had the advantage of cheap Ford servicing and parts, and with some proper engines it could shift.

  38. Francis, I can remember the Capri 1.3 L, people were conned into buying it, thinking it would perform like a 3000S, but had the same performance as a basic Ford Fiesta. Ford finally saw the light around 1982 and stopped putting small engines in large cars.

  39. @43 Who was conned into buying it- no one would have thought a 1.3 would perform like a 3 litre.
    And Ford carried on putting small engines into the Granada – remember the 2 litre?

  40. @ 45 Even 1.7 Grenades in Germany (a taxmeasure i think) seen one here once when i was a kid.
    @44 The torpid 1.3 sierra OHC that only just had door mirrors!

  41. I see to remember a short lived MK3 Granada 1.8 – now that must have been a real slug! I think the 1.3 Sierras may have been sold on Motability mainly. I feel sorry for the drivers though!

  42. Apparently in Finland due to tax reasons, some Ford dealers turbocharged a number of 1.3 Sierra’s in order to gain 2.0 power with 1.3 tax fees (with the 1.6 and 2.0 Sierra’s also being turbocharged).

  43. How did the 1.3 Montegeos & Mk2 Cavaliers perform?

    My Dad had a 1.3 Avenger estate which needed some effort to get up hills with any kind of load.

  44. Based on survival rates the Pug would have to be favourite. I never really liked any of them TBH! The Metro Turbo was a hooligan with a nasty tyre eating habit as I recall from my friend’s one. It was badly limited by the 4 speed box too although it was ok inside.
    The Ford was like a biscuit tin in comparison and the CVH was seriously bad, especially once it had a few miles on it. I never liked the 3 door Pug, always thought the 5 door looked better balanced. I recall that many 205s committed suicide by meeting with hard lumps of scenery backwards in the wet.
    Given the choice, it would just about have to be the Pug by a narrow margin from the Metro and another narrow margin to the Ford. Given a real choice it would have been a Dolomite 1850HL.

  45. @ Richard (49)

    The Monty 1.3 was ok but no ball of fire, tiresome at speed in 4 speed tune.

    The cav 1.3 went quite well with 75bhp and an OHC engine, but there again, the mk2 always did feel faster than it really did. The 1.6 version actually felt quite rapid even though It’s actually just slower than the equivalent Montego

  46. Circa 1979 my piano teacher drove me to a church organ concert in Liverpool in her then-brand-new Capri 1.3L finished in a rather lovely shade of cornflower blue. I remember it as being an excellent and very comfortable car with a glamorous look and a relaxing ride. Probably being a 1.3 it was not too expensive to run either. So I don’t think people were ‘conned’ into buying cars like this; on the contrary, I think they purposely bought cars that fit their lifestyle perfectly. The Capri did that… and in latter years the Toyota Celica did too (full disclosure, I owned a basic 1.8 1995 Celica ST for many years and still consider it the best car I ever had).

  47. Back in Jan ’84 I purchased a brand new Zircon Blue MG Metro Turbo to replace a 12 month old MG Metro. Having seen the Turbo on the Cutlers of Streetly showroom turntable (remember those?) I just had to have it. Even 30 years later the thought of it brings on a smile. It just had so much character and it went far too well for a car with an A Series engine. The chirrup from the waste gate and the green lights from the boost gauge adding to the fun. In the Turbo, out running Roger rep in his Cavalier GLi and taking and passing my IAM driving test (not at the same time, but in that order) spring to mind. The ex Police driving test examiner was bemused at my choice of vehicle for the test….”never been in one of these before, not very subtle is it”. I bet he never went in another one!
    I ran it for 18 months, 8000 miles, no faults/problems. Had to move on, too many cars too little time.

  48. I had a Fiat Uno Turbo ie at the time. Performance wise it left the three cars in this test standing. I just loved the central turbo boost gauge, of course in 1986 there were no speed cameras and less traffic.
    Only downside was that it wore through 4 clutch cables in a year until the ‘fix’ was made, a pulley wheel riveted on the engine bulk head to stop the rub.
    Happy days.

  49. Of the competitors to the three cars in the test, I wonder how many Renault 5 Gordinis are still running?

  50. The mark2 xr2 did come out on a A reg but they had slight differences to the B Reg and all future xr2s, if I remember rightly the A reg cars were usually in sunburst red and not the Rossi red colour, the headrests werev pointed at each corner and not round, the console in front of the gear stick had a slide opening tray like the ghia model and finally and more oddly they had a different number of vent slats in front on the windscreen.
    I loved the xr2 at the time but I chose to restore a 1.9 gti instead as they are not full of rot. Just finished the gti and looks stunning but with no Pas they are dreadful to park

  51. I bought a brand new MG Metro Turbo in December 1983. I insisted on the only colour that was realistic (Black). I loved the car but as has been stated, it was let down by the gearbox. I had third gear replaced under warrenty and had to have a new (reconditioned) gearbox at just over 3 years old. Within a month I had p/x the car for a Rover SD1 (now married with a child). Within 2 months I spotted my old MG Turbo and upon talking to the new owner was shocked to find that he had to have a new gearbox after only one month. The replacement had lasted only 3 months. The MG Metro Turbo has so much potential but was devoloped on the cheap (as was the usual practice with MG/Rover) and it suffered because of it. But I smile every time I think of the car, it was just so cool!!

  52. If you wanted a really powerful hot hatch, the Fiat Uno Turbo arrived on the market in 1985, which could reach over 120 mph due to the light body and could probably keep up with a Capri Injection. By then, Fiat had mostly beaten their rust demons and quality was better, although the car was quite flimsy, and the Turbo was developing a following. I do remember Vinnie Jones owning one.

  53. A friend had the Uno Turbo, it was indeed fast but the most impressive feature for me ,the ride quality, the suspension coped with bumps in the roads with the ride comfort of a limousine, Fiat engineers must have worked magic on the spring rates and dampers to achieve those levels of ride comfort in a lightweight car

    • It was an excellent car in many respects, I don’t think any 1.3 litre car could reach over 120 mph in 1985 and it handled and rode very well. I know the turbo could blow at 70,000 miles and there were still some issues with build quality and rust, although Fiat was beating this problem by the mid eighties but the Uno Turbo was an awesome hot hatch and could show up a Golf Gti.

  54. Notwithstanding the other changes needed for the MG Metro that limited its potential in existing form, yet would an MG Metro with R6 like improvements to the driving position/pedals and front / rear-interconnected Hydragas suspension have been enough to close the gap a bit more between it and the dominant Peugeot 205 GTi as well as put some distance between it and the Ford Fiesta XR2?

  55. I saw an XR2 in Hinckley on Friday, near the Triumph bike factory. I can’t remember when I last saw a Metro Turbo. Not many 205s round here, though there are a couple of lowered 309s which look surprisingly cool – plug ugly when they came out.

    • I agree the bog-standard 309 looked ugly, but I always liked the 309 GTi; not all that different but enough to make it look good.

  56. Now I’d choose the MG because it’s the eccentric choice, while acknowledging that the Peugeot is objectively the best car. Hobbling the MG with a 4 speed gearbox was fundamentally rubbish, though.

  57. “All three are fun, really fun. And that’s because they have manual steering with oodles of feel, quick gearing and low-roll cornering”

    I would like to play devil advocate here because I have suspicion that when older drivers talk about older cars having better feel. What they really mean is those are the cars they got use to in their youth and modern cars don’t feel the same.

    Sharing driving duties with an older driver, it was noticeable that he wasn’t driving the car smoothly. He was braking too aggressively and it wasn’t because he was driving quickly. He complained about the power assistance, that there was no feel in the controls and it was difficult to drive smoothly.

    Yet when it was my turn to drive, I had no such issues. The different was I was much lighter with the controls, having been brought up with cars with a lot of power assistance. Whereas the other driver had learnt to drive on older cars with no assistant. If he didn’t muscle the controls, nothing happened.

    It did make me wonder if complaints about lack of feel in modern cars is more to do with them feeling different to older vehicles, not actually them being worse.

    • I dislike power steering in the small to medium sized cars I drive, when cornering with non-assisted steering there is the accurate feel of the grip available at the front tyres being directly passed to the drivers hands, and in a straight line the low gearing means the car less sensitive to minor movements of the steering wheel, the car travels easily in the lane. Power steering is to compensate for those excessively wide tyres which we have been brainwashed into accepting, please give me double wishbone over McPherson strut suspension and narrow tyres and my arms are strong and manly, not weak and womanly

  58. Great article! Having never driven a 205, let alone a 205 GTi, I was finally able to understand *why* the 205 is so highly rated in comparison.

    I wonder how the Roverised Metro GTI 1.4 would have come compared with the 205 GTi (at least in 1.6 format)?

  59. Frankly, after driving one, I never understood what the fuss was about the Peugeot 205GTi – it just felt like any other tinny French car to me and the one I drove was so skittish I’d have been scared to thrash it down anything other than a perfectly straight road.

    I’ve always had a soft spot for the MG Metro Turbo but, to be honest, I’d take a Nova GSi over all three of them.

    • When loaning his car to me a knowledgable 205 GTi drivers cautioned me of the 205 GTi lift-off oversteer sting in the tail. Possibly the skittishness you describe

    • My first ever new car was a Nova GTE. I’m prepared to accept the received wisdom re. the 205 GTi though I’ve never driven one. I’m reasonably confident the Nova was better than the XR2 and the Metro though.

  60. I have to agree with AdamS.
    The 1.9 GTi was the monster, especially the TurboTechnics version, ridiculously quick.
    But the trouble is with French cars is they were always poor build quality. Quick but, as Adam said, tinny in order to achieve that.
    Our apprentice at work was out with his mate one evening who was driving his 205 (1.6), and they had an accident; sadly both killed outright.
    I don’t know how many people realise the inherent weakness of 205’s build, but it doesn’t have a coventional front panel, just a strip of steel to close the bonnet on to and a very flimsy strip of metal in front of the radiator.

    If you have a front-ender in a 205, get ready to wear the engine on your lap!
    Also, the front wings aren’t bolted on, they aren’t riveted on, they aren’t welded on, nope, they are glued on with seam sealer.

    I don’t know whether Peugeot, in its determination to win the Group B category in the WRC decided to build a car for the rally stages that was so light that it was defacto dangerous on the road or somebody thought they were being clever, but the shocking lack of strength/protection in the 205 should have been flagged up and the car redesigned before the public were let loose on it.

    • According to one of my friends in the 1990s someone he knew someone crashed a Mk2 Vauxhall Astra & the engine came through the bulkhead, Fortunately he wasn’t badly hurt, but the car was obviously a write-off.

    • Yet Rover dropped the 100 due to collapsed sales poor Ncap crash results, yet the 205 carried on as before, more anti UK bias? From around 1990 to 2000 Peugeot sold their 106 Supermini, another lightweight / delicate body shelled car . How did the 106 fare in real world or Ncap crashes?

  61. standhill, I’m not sure the Nova GTE was better than the XR2.
    Certainly the early incarnations, with the spindly 5J alloys and oodles of plastic fascia weren’t sooo appealing. The later ones, before the Corsa, was launched were much better, but the early cars did not have the kudos of the XR or 205.
    The Nova’s engine was more refined than uncle Henry’s CVH, but it was the fairly pedestrian lump from mk2 Cavalier/mk1 Astra, but far from 20XE 😉 of the Cavalier/Astra GSi.

    • Hmm, obviously we’ll have to agree to differ. You call the GTE unappealing. I’d call it more subtle/restrained than the somewhat Carlos Fandango XR2. True, the dash was plastic fantastic, but well laid out and stocked with a full complement of instruments. I was young and drove mine hard for 8 years and 90,000 miles. It stranded me once when the relay for the electric fuel pump failed. There was barely a speck of rust on it when I sold it though the red paint was faded the roof and bonnet. I remember it fondly.

      • Novas were preferred by the hot hatch brigade over the Fiesta and Metro. My Aunts boyfriend at the time had an XR2 and I remember the comments down Southend seafront. You were cool if you had the pug, a 5 or a Nova! Still I wouldn’t say no to an XR2, though I could have any fast fiesta it would still be an RS Turbo

        • @Daveh, go back 25 years and early Novas, mostly of the standard 1.2 variety, were the car of choice for a certain type of driver who wore a baseball cap to front, played mindless rave music at full volume( when everyone else was moving on to Britpop) and drove their cars like they were in a rally. Sad to say, this car developed a terrible image and when the Novas died out, their next victim was the Corsa.

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