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First drive: 308 GTi headlines sporty Peugeot range

Bright future: The 308 GTi marks the start of an exciting new chapter for Peugeot in Australia.

First Peugeot 308 GTi arrivals preview greater focus on driver-focused models

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Peugeot logo16 Dec 2015

By DANIEL GARDNER

THE first few examples of Peugeot's fastest model have arrived in the form of the feisty 200kW 308 GTi, marking what the French car-maker says is the beginning of more dynamic and high-performance options for Australian customers.

The $49,990 (plus on-road costs) hot-hatch resurrects the iconic nameplate after a previous-generation hiatus, joining its smaller 208 GTi sibling on sales in February.

While no other full-fat GTi variants are planned at this stage, other GT and Peugeot Sport options are on the table.

Speaking at a Peugeot GTi drive day at Sydney Motorsport Park, Peugeot Automobiles Australia PR and communications manager Tyson Bowen said more “performance-oriented” offerings would soon be offered, one level below the top-performing variants.

“Beyond 208 and 308, nothing is confirmed yet, but obviously we can look at other things that are available to us,” he said. “There is a Touring version of 308 GT, which we currently don't take. It's something that we would consider, but it's all about making sure we have the right product for the market.”

In addition to extra standalone variants, Mr Bowen predicted more niche offerings such as more performance package options and mid-range variants that nod to the GTi halo cars without commanding the same price.

“208 for example, GT Line is about the look – having your cake and eating it too,” he said. “Then you can go to your GTi which is more driver engaging, and then there are other things we can look at in time.

“With the new 208 GTi line-up there is a Peugeot Sport performance pack that we could potentially look at bringing in, and that would entail pretty much what you see in the 30th Anniversary.

“With 308 we have the GT and GTi vehicles. We've got to do a better job of packaging up how those work.

“GT Line will be the look but maybe not the feel. Then there will be GT, which is powertrain upgrades and some handling upgrades but not the full red-hot GTi variants, then GTi, then you might have Peugeot Sport.”

According to Mr Bowen, the high-performance 308 had already attracted a number of customers who placed deposits before the price had been officially confirmed, and that 70 per cent of early adopters had opted for the most potent 270 version over the 250.

“We are not limited by production, but there's going to be a bit of work in managing demand for the 270, which clearly is the favourite,” he said.

Mr Bowen said he expected the whole 308 line to experience a boost now the flagship version had arrived.

“The sporty model is a halo, an aspirational target for you to get to, and it also gives you proof of the capabilities of the brand,” he said. “Not having that GTi in 308 for that decade before … might not have hurt sales but it certainly hurt perception, because Australia is a market that sporty models resonate with.”

The first consignment of 308 GTis was expected in the first quarter of next year but Peugeot Australia was given an early Christmas present, when a handful of GTi 270s arrived ahead of schedule, allowing Australian journalists a first sample on local blacktop.

We only had a chance to lap Sydney's Motorsport Park a few times in the new arrival, but a brief stint on the technical circuit was enough to discover that the 308 GTi will be a special little number when it is finally unleashed on public roads.

Under its bonnet is a diminutive 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine, but don't let that mislead you, because with the application of some serious components such as jet-cooled forged pistons by Mahle, 9.2:1 compression ratio and a Borg Warner turbo that blows up to 2.5 bar (absolute), the little four-pot puts out 200kw and 330Nm.

No mean feat when you compare it with some key rivals such as the Volkswagen Golf R, Holden Astra VXR and Renault Megane RS, which produce similar outputs from 2.0-litres.

Despite the high boost pressure, lag is pleasantly absent when up to speed and even with tardy gear changes the highly-strung engine has good power delivery across the rev range, accompanied by a satisfying exhaust and induction note.

The only transmission available is six-speed manual gearbox that is both fast and precise but also easy to acclimatise to, despite only a few kilometres at race pace.

The self-serve cog box sends power to the front wheels via a standard Torsen type limited-slip differential that works with the electric power steering to counter torque steer in a most effective manner.

Combined with the planted and stable body control, the 308 at times feels like an all-wheel drive as power is wound on through corners.

From a standstill, 100km/h comes up in 6.0-seconds, which is a hoot, but in-gear acceleration is just as enjoyable.

Traction, handling and grip are enhanced by 19-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres that are beautifully communicative, especially when warmed to high temperatures.

Typical hot hatch handling has not been numbed by electronics and excessive driver aids. The car has to be pushed unreasonably hard to get computers to take over. We particularly liked the way 308's rear went light when power is cut mid-corner.

Monstrous 380mm brakes with four-piston callipers are among the beefiest in the segment, scrubbing speed efficiently and with a reassuring pedal feel, even as track temperatures soared. We couldn't help noticing how deficient the rear brakes look when compared with the handsome front axle hardware.

Generous seats with good adjustment kept us pinned through high-G cornering and, even though we had precious few minutes behind the wheel, the hot Pug would have been a pleasure to pilot for an entire track day.

Quite how it fares on the rigours of public roads and the day-to-day grind will have to wait until next year when supply is up to full speed, but for now, the Peugeot 308 GTi promises to be a huge amount of fun wrapped up in likeable European charm.

There is no doubt the 308 GTi has enough performance, poise and panache to hold its own against some serious and established competitors and with a $49,990 price before on-road costs (GTi 250 comes in at $44,990), it competes on price too.

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