FOR those, like me, who are old enough to remember the halcyon days of the 205 GTi 1.9 and later on the 306 Mi16 it seems an age since Peugeot produced a hot hatch that is truly worthy of being called a “Golf GTi beater”
So, here we go with the new Peugeot 308 GTi: Only 1.6 litres but 270bhp and significantly lighter than both the Golf GTi and the Ford Focus ST. Should be fun. . .
Peugeot Sport have taken the classy looking 308 and slipped in the turbocharged 1.6 litre engine from the sporty RCZ-R and added a broader torque curve so the power comes in very smoothly and response to accelerator input is heightened.
Available in two incarnations; the 270bhp version – which I have on test – or a de-tuned 247bhp version which doesn’t have the benefit of a Limited Slip Differential or the body-hugging bucket seats and lightweight 19in wheels with special Michelin Pilot Super Sports tyres. The extra £1600 you’ll pay for the 270 version is worth the money purely for that LSD which gives amazing grip around bends and will instil a sense of confidence you’ll be hard pushed to find elsewhere.
Other tweaks include the suspension which, rather oddly, has involved softening the front anti-roll bar to aid traction and stiffening the rear by 25% to gain agility. Front dampers are stiffened by 60% and the rears by a whopping %100 and if you think this must lead to teeth-shattering progress on the road then you’d be wrong. The Standard 308 is better than average when it comes to ride comfort and the GTi actually feels better even though it is also lower to ground by 11mm.
Interior-wise you’ll find the GTi 270 has bucket seats upholstered in leather and alcantara which hold you very well indeed. The steering wheel is tiny and sits below the main instrument cluster so you aren’t looking through the wheel at your speedo and rev counter but rather looking above it. Now, this may seem a little strange at first and there are numerous accounts of people raising the steering wheel only to find that the instruments are obscured. Of course they are. It’s not how the boys and girls at Peugeot intended you to adjust the ergonomics. Just keep that button-sized steering wheel low enough to have an un-obscured view of the instruments and get used to it. It took me all of 5-minutes.
You’ll also soon appreciate the uncluttered dash. The 9.7 inch touch-screen takes care of everything from heating to sat nav to DAB radio and reversing camera. In fact the whole cabin feels uncluttered and all the better for it. The red stitching around the gearstick and door pull handles gives a sense of the GTi’s sporting credentials but if that’s not enough red for you then you only have to press the “Sport” button in the centre console and the main instruments turn a menacing shade of scarlet. This will also introduce some audio-trickery into the cabin as the engine will now howl and roar a little louder – all synthetic of course, fed through the audio system. It sounds very convincing and adds to your already heightened senses. And believe me, they’ll need to be heightened if you put your foot down hard in this thing as it is ferociously quick – 60mph come up in just 6.0 seconds.
Take the car cross-country and you’ll be amazed at just how well it handles. Always taught and pliant it’s only the larger pot-holes that may knock you off-line slightly and as each bend is disposed of you’re eagerly awaiting the next one. Turn-in is very good and the speed at which you can exit bends is amazing thanks to that Limited Slip Diff.
Around town the 308 GTi is suitably meek with progress through the gears a relaxed affair and while the 6-speed manual gearbox my not feel particularly sporting it is accurate and pleasant to use. The throw could be a little shorter.
So, Peugeot have managed to pull a true GTi out of the bag; whether or not it is a true Golf GTi beater – or a Focus ST alternative – may be purely down to style. The Peugeot 308 GTi is rather understated compared to the other two, only the bigger wheels and subtle, red GTi badges giving the game away, but thanks to the weight saving and use of a 1.6-litre engine instead of the competition’s 2.0-litres, you’ll get more miles to the gallon to enjoy the experience.
AT A GLANCE:
OTR Price: £28,155
Engine: 1.6 litre THP petrol
Power: 270 bhp
Transmission: 6-speed Manual
0-62mph: 6.0 secs
Top Speed: 155 mph
Combined Economy: 47.1 mpg
CO2: 139 g/km