When I say ‘last’ I mean my last press car of 2015 and it is great to end the year on a high note. Just lately I have been moaning about the lack of a fun factor in the motors I’ve been driving. They’re all very worthy and packed with connectivity and designed to run on green veg and seeds and the like, but where’s the driving pleasure? Fortunately today’s friendly French manufacturer has reached up to the top shelf at the back of the shed and taken down the dusty bottle marked ‘pizazz’ and spooned a big dollop of it into the mix that has become the Peugeot 308 GTi.
If I’m honest, I was a little disappointed when I saw the specification read 250hp (246bhp) rather than the more powerful 270hp (266bhp) version. I need not have concerned myself; the THP250 is plenty. Sure, the THP270 gets bigger wheels and a Torsen diff but I’m not sure how much real world difference it would make on our roads. I certainly didn’t feel the lack. I suspect the more powerful model would feel more focused as a driver’s car but it would lose some of that all-rounder ability that also makes the 308 a good small family motor. In fact, Peugeot reckon that 80% of sales will be for the THP250. This may well be so, but, surely if you’re in the market for a hot hatch, you want it hot and spicy?
The 308 GTi comes in regular paint but also in a two-tone whereby the back quarter is painted a contrasting colour to the rest of the car. ‘Coupe Franche’ I believe it’s called and you either like it or you don’t. I like. I apologise now for the photos but the weather has been awful. I drove the car to our usual location only to find it filled with plant and machinery laid up for the holiday. A compromise was chosen and the car was snapped in the pouring rain. Welcome to Winter.
On The Inside
I absolutely love the minimalist dashboard. Less is more. Virtually all the controls are managed by the well-sized touchscreen and crucially it is really well thought through. Want to switch from digital radio to Bluetooth streaming? Dab the screen. Want to check on fuel consumption? Dab. Want to find an eatery? Dab. And so on. There’s a selection of apps on offer although that sort of thing doesn’t bother me but it’s all just so easy to use, including navigation.
I quite like Peugeot’s small steering wheel with its red top-dead-centre band that also accommodates some controls. Some folk don’t, complaining that it can obscure the slim dash dials. I can see their point but I like the steering wheel set high and close and I like my seat high so it was not a problem for me to achieve an ideal driving position and still see the dials. The sports seats are comfortable and laterally supportive with red stitching coupled with a smart leather effect and Alcantara finish. The front seats also had lumbar adjustment, which was nice.
Shotgun is well catered for with plenty of legroom, some of which can be absorbed to give the rear near-side passenger some knee room. It’s less ideal on the other side when the driver is tall. It’s a bit cramped for a full sized adult. Sure, I could have shuffled forward a bit but, hey, drivers’ rules, right?
Fit and finish is generally excellent with some good storage space although the glove box is an awkward shape. There’s an optional full Cielo glass roof (must have) to lighten the interior and I should also mention that Peugeot’s Connect SOS & Assistance and Open & Go features are available as worthy options too.
On The Outside
The Peugeot 308 GTi is a quietly good looking yet discreet car, hiding its sporting credentials behind the guise of a regular family hatchback. The only hints at hotness are the modest body kit, the chunky wheels, the badges and the traditional Peugeot Sport red line on the face, grinning like a Glasgow smile. There is nothing that really makes it stand out as a Golf GTi rival; even the rear spoiler is underwhelming, but I guess that’s the trend these days and possibly why the Coupe Franche paint job is available for those who want to make more of a statement.
On The Road
Aha. You see, this is what makes the difference. This is a car that you want to drive; that you look forward to driving. For example, I was blackmailed into going to a classical music recital but secretly I didn’t mind because we travelled there and back by GTi with the music sandwiched in between like one of those odd continental middle dishes they insist on serving. On the way to the school pick-up you can give it the beans and on the return journey it becomes a useful hatchback with a decent sized and well shaped boot, Isofix and parking aids.
This car can really shift. Less expensive and fractionally quicker than arch-rival the Golf GTi (or at least it was until VW introduced the new ClubSport version) the 1.6L turbo motor is flexible making the car lively, responsive and properly quick, backed up by a sorted chassis and dependable brakes. There’s tons of grip from the fitted Michelins and minimal body roll thanks to the stiffer suspension which, on our test car, managed the clever trick of being both comfortable and eminently driveable at the same time.
The Peugeot 308 GTi comes with the Driver Sport Pack. This, Peugeot say, increases the responsiveness of the power steering – not that I noticed – and, crucially, sharpens up the throttle response – a lot. At first this made acceleration a bit jerky just because it is so sensitive to foot pressure but you get used to it and it does make a difference to the fun factor. Sport mode also ramps up the rorty noise. For me, I’m delighted to see a regular six-speed manual – there’s no paddle option. It’s a crisp-shifting box but the lever throw is too long meaning that gear changes are maybe not as efficient as they could be.
When this Sport mode is selected the dial readouts change from white to red and the central readout offers vehicle dynamic parameters for power delivery, acceleration and turbo boost along with the more usual info. I can understand that manufacturers want to give added appeal and I can see that maybe, just maybe, you might want this on the more powerful version if taking part in track day shenanigans and so on but otherwise I find it all a bit pointless, if I’m brutally frank. This is not F1. Still, it’s there if you want it. The promised 47mpg never materialised – as if – and 33mpg was nearer the mark, but that’s to be expected when exploiting the considerable potential of this car.
The Peugeot 308GTi is the real deal. It’s a safe (5* Ncap) family hatch when needed until you unleash the beast within when you’re on your own and when the road opens its arms to welcome you. The hot Pug is back where it belongs and for me it put the spirit back into Christmas. I had a great time with the car and it is definitely in my top five for the year.
Is it a Golf GTi beater? Well, it’s been some time since I drove the current German model but I looked back, back into the mists of time, and saw that the Golf was as good as you’d expect. So I’m not sure: It would need a proper back-to-back comparison to sort this one out – it’s that close. Well done Peugeot. Back in the game. Geoff Maxted