Car reviews - Peugeot - 308 - GT
Design, seats, extra performance, high spec levels, diesel torque, planted chassis feel, compliant suspension
Room for improvement
High prices, notchy manual gearshift, GT’s soft chassis tune, heavier front-end feel compared to sprightly base 96kW e-THP 308s, tight rear-seat legroom
24 Feb 2015
IN VIRTUALLY no time at all the Peugeot 308 has become one of the star small-car buys in Australia – an incredible feat after the disappointment of the preceding version launched in 2008.
From the dynamic alacrity and ride pliancy of the all-new lightweight EMP2 chassis to the sheer sparkle and thriftiness of the giant-slaying 96kW e-THP three-cylinder turbo-petrol powerplants, the base Access and mid-range Active hatchbacks are taking the fight up to the reigning Volkswagen Golf.
It isn’t just the pretty hatchbacks either, as the longer, roomier and refined Touring wagon is also chasing the German-branded equivalent, and that’s backed up by a punchy yet refined 110kW 2.0-litre four-cylinder BlueHDi turbo-diesel.
Clearly, with its back to the wall and facing bankruptcy, Peugeot has created something special, and in the nick of time too. Please, do check out any one of the aforementioned 308s before buying Golf, Mazda3, Ford Focus, or any other of the top C-segment small car offerings. It is simply a superb effort.
So that’s the bottom and mid-range versions sorted – what of the new higher-end 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol Allure and Allure Premium, as well as the long-awaited GTs? Is Peugeot’s small-car renaissance in the $33,000 to $43,000 end of the market just as formidable?Let’s begin with what could become the best-selling 308, the 110kW 1.6-litre four-pot petrol Allure – driven in $40K-plus Premium Hatch spec with optional low-profile 225/40R18 tyres and a massive glass ‘sun’ roof.
Allied to a sweet six-speed auto, this makes for an appealing and extremely well-equipped alternative to the popular Golf Highline 103TSI DSG, offering similarly high refinement and spec levels, in a handsomely designed body with a beautifully executed and spacious interior to boot. Gorgeous instruments, a brilliant driving position and excellent front seats with legroom to spare are among the chief attractions here.
While not as quick off the line as its smaller 96kW e-THP three-pot auto sibling, what the Peugeot/BMW co-developed 110kW 1.6 THP turbo provides is a higher dose of mid-range pulling power doused in extra smoothness. It feels less susceptible to the weight of extra passengers, moves along more effortlessly at speed, and is in keeping with the upmarket feel of the Allure Premium package.
On the flip side, the cheaper 308 variants’ stunning suspension suppleness has been eroded somewhat by the extra weight of the four-pot engine and Allure Premium gear, underlined by the lower-profile rubber. Don’t get us wrong – compared to most rivals the Pug is still a comfortable riding car, but the magic carpet cushiness has gone.
Furthermore, the front end doesn’t quite have the featherweight agility of its three-cylinder sister, resulting in a more nose-heavy feeling from behind the wheel. Again, it’s not bad at all against most rivals, just not as accomplished as the sparkling base 308.
In summary, then, the Allure Premium remains a convincing and likeable alternative to up-spec Golf and co., but it isn’t quite the superstar machine of the Access and Active openers.
Our relationship with the GT, on the other hand, is – in Facebook parlance – complicated. Peugeot refers to it as a “warm” rather than hot hatch, but we’re not so sure that is even accurate. Positives first: we love the styling, from the handsome crosshatch grille and associated detailing to the gorgeous alloys and rear-end treatment, while the cabin changes, from the upgraded trim to the more comprehensive instrumentation presentation, are all first class.
The 151kW 1.6 turbo petrol powerplant, too, brings stirring performance to the fore, building on the lively acceleration of the 110kW version with appreciably more overtaking oomph, with no loss of refinement. Pressing the Sport button ups the exhaust bark (artificially) and throttle responses accordingly, further adding to the sporty veneer of the GT’s character.
Great brakes, impressive road holding (also on 225/40R18 tyres) and a not-too-uncomfy ride (despite a drop in chassis height combined with firmer springs and different dampers) are more plus points that the speediest 308 earns.
But here’s the rub. With a honed suspension, quicker steering software, more reactive stoppers and – of course – sizeable power and torque hikes at hand, why does the GT not feel as hunkered down and controlled as its name and styling suggest? Yes, we understand that this is no GTI or Focus ST alternative, but the GT’s sum total just does not equal more fun. Maybe expectations were too high after the acrobatic base models, and perhaps we approached the corners at normal hot-hatch speeds, but we’d hoped that the GT would at least respond with more tautness and sharpness than the cheapest 308.
As it stands, however, we feel not enough has been done for this car to even deserve the badge. Think Hyundai i30 SR rather than Megane RS 220. Proficient, involving, fast? Sure. Invigorating? Muscular? Hungry? No.
Part of the problem with the 151kW THP 1.6 is the notchy long-throw six-speed manual gearbox that kept snagging between fifth and six, raining on potential good times completely.
The 133kW/400Nm six-speed auto GT BlueHDi diesel alternative does behave far more GT-like in the Grand Tourer sense of horizon-reeling comfort and performance, thanks to the abundance of effortless torque on offer combined with the quick-thinking transmission. It is the more enjoyable drive of the flagship twosome.
That Peugeot has thrown in pretty much the kitchen sink in terms of standard features (at a hefty price, mind you) does much to lift the GT (and Allure Plus), particularly if safe, compliant and predictable dynamics combined in a polished and powerful package are your main priorities.
The GT BlueHDi, especially, makes for a fine alternative to the discontinued Golf GTD or beguiling Skoda Octavia RS 135 TDI, even if the latter is ultimately the sharper driving machine that’s also closer to the warm-hatch ideal.
Roll on the proper GTi or R models, then, Peugeot. The middleweight models are a bit too middle-of-the-road after the leftfield base versions. The 96kW e-THP three-cylinder Active and Allure remain the standout 308s
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