Car reviews - Peugeot - 308 - GTi
Design, performance, handling, grip, relative ride comfort, cabin, refinement, control
Room for improvement
Long-throw gear shift, anti-clockwise tachometer, no auto option, high entry price compared with Golf GTI
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16 Feb 2016
TO GTi and not to GTI? With apologies to Shakespeare, the butchered analogy above actually quite plainly sums up where Peugeot’s first C-segment hot-hatch since the demise of the 306 GTi-6 in 2001 is, when compared with the car that everybody will invariably compare it to, the Volkswagen Golf GTI.
France or Germany?The answer, and this may come as a surprise, is way too close for the talented Wolfsburg mob who have been plugging away continuously for decades now, unlike their flaky western European neighbours.
Or anybody else for that matter. France’s ability to turn an everyday runabout small car into a real driver’s machine is now the stuff of automotive legend, and the Renault Megane RS has consistently been at the pointy end of the segment over the past decade.
But, after the dull 307 and the dowdy original T7 308, it’s in the way that the T9 308 cossets as well as thrills that – to this particularly driver at least – sets it apart from the rest of the hot-hatch clan. Sophistication with speed and control can be an intoxicating thing.
The little-i GTi starts behind the eight ball – it costs 10 per cent more than the Golf big-i GTI, has a 400cc smaller engine, offers no automatic option, and does not even come with adaptive dampers.
But even a brief drive will reveal that the 184kW 250 (for brake horsepower) version has more than adequate power, with a rapid off-the-line response, and a dizzying desire to rev all the way to the 7000rpm red line. That it does so with an unrelenting shove of acceleration in Sport mode will soon have size queens forgetting about those extra cubic inches they thought they couldn’t possibly be happy without.
In the same vein, it’s how the Pug puts that power down to the front wheels that will equally have keen drivers squealing in ecstasy, because – limited slip diff in the 270 or not – the clean and consistent way that the 308 tracks along the road, filtering out the bad stuff while connecting your palms to the action – is exhilarating.
Over some quite astonishingly craggy and rough rural roads of Tasmania, this adrenalin-inducing intimacy was further enhanced by perfectly weighted and tuned steering, that provided scalpel-sharp handling, without the ragged torque tug that blights so many rival hot hatches with between 184kW and 200kW coursing through the helm. And the weather was not always dry, being the Apple Isle, further boosting our appreciation for what the Sochaux engineers have achieved.
So, you may be thinking, all that strong oomph and playful cornering would surely come at the cost of ride comfort, seeing as those adaptive dampers are nowhere to be specified? The truth is, while the ride on the 270’s Michelin Pilot Supersport 235/35R19s is firm, it is never harsh nor jarring, and always has a supple edge to soften things up. Meanwhile, the 250’s standard 18-inch set-up is downright comfy. The lesson here? Less tech complication also means less mass, and that’s one of the reasons why the 1205kg 308 is about 130kg lighter than the Golf equivalent.
It’s also quicker to 100 clicks – you need to go up to the Golf R to outfox the French in a sprint run.
That all said, the $49,990 270 is worth the extra $5K because it has usefully stronger performance in the mid-range, bigger brakes, and a mechanical (not electronic like most others’) LSD that gives the Pug an on-rails roadholding capability.
About the only driving/dynamic fly in the ointment is the long-throw gearshift, which requires too much movement and is nowhere near as precise as the rest of this dynamically razor-like driving machine deserves. It’s not a mess, mind you, just not crisp or fun.
What else? No automatic will bar many from buying one in the first place, which is criminally unfair for such an appealing hot hatch the 270’s high-back seats spoon you too tightly and the tachometer’s anti-clockwise operation is anti-intuitive and, really, totally unnecessary. Something with a GTi badge ought to have this particular dial at the forefront of operational perfection.
Even the plainest 308’s interior and dash architecture is at the top of its class (for quality, design, and ergonomics once you’ve got your head around that high-instrument/low-wheel position) the sport seats are fabulous the refinement can teach premium Germans a thing or two and the build quality seems up to Japanese standards.
Two days behind the wheel of a 308 GTi is enough to have you believing that Peugeot’s genius engineers didn’t all die out with the New Millennium. Yes, the lack of an auto combined with that gear lever shifter may put people off it initially, but soon the sheer towering goodness of the rest of the package should be enough for hot-hatch buyers to be won over by this stylish, sophisticated, and extremely speedy pocket rocket.
So, to finish off murdering Shakespeare once more, what's in a hot-hatch name? That which we call a GTi by any other name would drive as sweet – maybe even better – than the traditional German GTI yardstick? Quite very possibly so.
Peugeot’s back in the game, and how!
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