Peugeot know a thing or two about building a performance car and their sporty hatchbacks have been getting petrolheads all in a lather for over 30 years. Cars like the Peugeot 205 GTi and 306 GTi-6 belong to the annals of greatest cars of all time, and these cars still have the capacity to strike up an emotional response in adults akin to those otherwise reserved for recollections of since departed dear friends and relatives. Great cars like great people leave lasting impressions.
So what of the new Peugeot 308 GTi? What to do with the weight of expectation on your broad shoulders?
Before meeting the Peugeot 308 GTi for the first time, it was reassuring to see that this car is now officially the “Peugeot 308 GTi by Peugeot Sport” because we know that Peugeot Sport has already done some great things, like smash the record for the Pikes Peak Hill Climb with a rally spec 208, and won the Dakar Rally in a monster spec 2008.
But could the brains behind these victories take a supermarket spec 308 and turn it into one of the best hot hatchbacks on the market right now?
Watch my video review or scroll down to read the rest of the review:
Step 1: Make it look the part. The 308 is one of the better looking hatchbacks out there so this would be easy. The new 308 GTi looks pleasingly beefy, especially from the back where two larger than life exhaust pipes declare this car’s intentions. Still there’s nothing brash here: a modest body kit, new upright grille with inset Peugeot lion, ultra-light 19” aluminium alloy wheels on the 270hp model (18” alloys on 250hp model), red Peugeot Sport-branded brake callipers, and of course the all-important GTi badging. It does look good and you can spec the 270hp model with a Coupe Franche red and black split paint job if you really want to make it shout a bit louder (but good luck trying to explain this choice to bewildered bystanders!).
Inside, the cabin feels cosy and driver focused. There’s more red detail and GTi badging, and look up, down, left, right, and you’re met with good design and quality that makes the nearly €40,000 price tag not seem like a rip-off. While you’re paying for the sophisticated engineering that goes into bringing a car like this to your driveway, there’s no reason why you should have to slum it and this car delivers. You’ll be pretty comfortable and secure too in your Alcantara trimmed seat with massage function.
But why you’ll need a massage function when I tell you the next bit, I don’t know. Power comes from a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine, and there are two variants – one with 250hp and the other with 270hp, with a six speed manual gearbox as standard. That’s 270hp from a 1.6-litre engine in a front wheel drive hatchback! There’s obviously no time for relaxing!
The Peugeot 308 GTi 270 feels very fast on the road. No kidding. 330Nm of torque will pull you to 100kmh from a standstill in just 6 seconds, and you can go all the way to a top speed of 249kmh. The 270 model is not just a power update, there are also bigger front brakes and the addition of a limited slip differential to improve cornering grip.
Find a series of corners and this car will show you what it’s made of. The Peugeot 308 GTi 270 is like an athlete in the way it moves and on the road when you’re pushing, it feels as if every inch of the car has been tuned for performance. That comes across to the driver as a firmness, a sort of muscularity that’s absent from your average daily runabout. But you need it because otherwise this car would be difficult to control, and frankly, dangerous. The big fat Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres and limited slip differential work to make this car really clinical and precise corner after corner.
If there is one area that could be better, it is the steering. It is much improved over the set-up in a standard 308, feeling meatier and more natural as you turn in for the corner but it’s still lacking that extra little bit of feedback of the very best set-ups. Not acute – it’s not like you’re going to be drifting around the place wondering if the front wheels are connected to the steering wheel at all. There’s loads of grip but the steering could just do a better job of communicating it through to the rim.
For bouts of spirited driving, there is a Sport mode that sharpens up the throttle response and feeds some augmented engine noise into the cabin, but this car is fast whatever you choose to do with it. So much so that there’s that little element of menace to it, like the lion could bite you if you didn’t respect it (if you were a Golf GTI fan for example). In Sport mode, it does seem to dump all its power to the front wheels very quickly with a scream from the engine, so the car demands all your concentration. But it is so enjoyable to drive this car fast through some corners and this is when you see the magic of what the engineers have done.
For all this car’s beastliness, it does that great hatchback thing of being a really easy car to live with – seating for five, a decent boot for everyday life, and reasonable running costs. Rear legroom is a bit tight by class standards but the boot is one of the best – 470 litres with a practical shape and low loading sill. Emissions of 139g CO2 put the car in tax band B and motor tax is €280 per year, while this model returns up to 47mpg (I averaged an acceptable 39mpg). The beauty of this car is that when you’re not pushing it, the 308 GTi is like any other normal, friendly hatchback. Okay, there’s a firmer edge to the ride so you feel the road underneath you more, but this car is excellent in terms of refinement when you just want to cruise, with road, wind and engine noise well suppressed.
The Peugeot 308 GTi starts at €36,990 with the 270hp model coming in at €39,990. Considering the power, the engineering and the level of equipment and quality of the cabin, that actually looks like good value. Standard equipment includes cruise control, dual zone climate control, four electric windows, electric handbrake, keyless start, auto lights and wipers, touchscreen infotainment with Bluetooth and navigation, parking sensors and rear view camera, and massage function on the front seats (though we’ve established that you probably won’t need that very much!).
Of course the Peugeot 308 GTi does not stand alone, with a number of equally well-qualified competitors vying for your attention. This can be a tough segment to make an impact in and for a lot of performance car buyers, it goes down to allegiance to a particular brand. And if your allegiance is not to Peugeot, that’s a pity because despite one or two little niggles, the 308 GTi is the real deal. It’s got the looks, the quality you expect from a €40,000 car, incredible power, agile handling, a little bit of menace to keep you senses sharp, and the GTi badge is legendary, and whether it’s fair or not, that sort of pedigree accounts for a lot in this market. If you’re the kind of driver who values the journey more than the destination, the 308 GTi is the car.
Model Tested: Peugeot 308 GTi 270
Price: €39,990 (Range starts €36,990)
Engine: 1.6-litre turbo petrol
0-100km/h: 6 seconds
CO2 Emissions: 139g/km
Motor Tax: €280 per year