The figures are impressive. A 1.6L turbo petrol 4 cylinder develops either 184kw/300Nm or 200kw/330Nm depending on tuning. One might argue why go all the way and not buy the 200kw? But, it isn’t just about the figures. Peugeot scored an early 308GTi 270 and invited us to take it for a thrash around the Eastern Creek circuit. To make sure we got the most out of our experience, Peugeot had some (quite cute) professional drivers sit in with us for a spot of light instruction. A few pointers here and there truly transforms a track day and brings gets most out of an already fabulous experience. I believe it should be mandatory for all drivers to spend at least a little time on a track. It quickly shows where the gaps in ability lay, and those gaps are usually huge. You need to put the ego to one side to really get into the part.
We started with a delicious and very comfy 208GTi, then the even sexier two-tone 208GTi 30th, then the sparkling new 308GTi, stepping up the range each time. The 308GTi has been fettled by Peugeot Racing with various parts of the engine/suspension hardened and otherwise toughened. The weight has been kept to a modest 1206kg (kerb weight) so the 200kw will propel you to 100 in 6 seconds. The 184kw model is a fraction slower at 6.2 seconds. My man from Peugeot says it is among the best power to weight ratios you can get.
We drove the RCZ-R recently and loved the engine but thought the R Spec suspension far too hard and jarring. I also had a gentle dig at the seats being too firm for a gent of slightly advancing years. The 270 gets similar seats but because there is a little extra room in the cabin, it doesn’t feel quite as bijou. For that reason, the hip-hugging bolsters don’t feel like they’re strangling you.
The 308GTi has a subtler, softer setup, and the twin scroll Borg Warner turbo pumps at 2.5bar, making the driving experience feel rounded and easy. There is little turbo lag and the power is smooth while keeping the fuel consumption down to 6.0L/100k. Of course taking your 308GTi to a track won’t give you that fuel figure, but most of the time you won’t be on the track. It takes “hard core” and gives it an air of genteel elegance. The handsome 308GTiis perfectly matches the equally beguiling performance. One has to remember “European” cars have a reputation which is well deserved.
Added to the smoothness of the engine and sophistication of the suspension are 5 doors and 5 comfy(ish) seats. The front seats aren’t as comfortable as the 208GTi, but then the 308GTi is slightly more hard core. It appeals to the boy-racer which lurks just beneath the skin of most of us. I’ve seen people who say “I’m not competitive”, but get into a 308GTi and turn into Nico Rosberg (with slightly less talent). I wouldn’t mind turning into Nico Rosberg but that’s another story.
There is nothing to denote the 250 from the 270 variant inside or out, so you could save yourself a few shekels by buying the 250.Unless your mentally acuity is that of Stephen Fry, you won’t notice the 0.2 of a second slower time to 100kph. The trim differences are noticeable to a very few, and the slightly slower time almost imperceptible.
The real proof is in the drive, and on a track the 308GTi feels more than merely competent, it feels alive and adroit. The LSD and shorted drive shafts make the handling pin sharp. The brakes and steering are scalpel-like. The torque steer you get from most front drive cars is almost undetectable even under hard acceleration. Even more impressive is the lack of under-steer. The 208 has noticeable under-steer during corning. It is controllable on the throttle, but a race driver I am not, so keeping the speed down to a dull roar means there is still plenty in reserve. The 308GTi can be handled with the confidence of of a diva because it is more poised then Dame Shirley Bassey. It isn’t just that it corners flatter, but that it forgives your little driving foibles making you feel like Mark Webber and look like Jensen Button. Every car should be about the way it feels, but more importantly it should be about the way it makes you feel.
The 6 speed manual and super easy clutch have the right amount of feel to make gear changes faultless. The intuitive shift means you don’t select the wrong gear by accident. It is notchy but light enough to be effortless. It is a delight even under the stress of swift changes and tight bends that track work brings.
The website will have the full range changes made by the Peugeot Racing techs but the feeling is that it is worth every penny.
Apart from the good looks and excellent road manners the GTi brings, there is the kudos which comes from having been fettled by people who live and breathe racing-track. My previous favourite was a toss-up between the Focus ST and VW’s Golf GTI, with only a hare’s whisker between them. The 308GTi may well put a cat among the pigeons once people hear about it. 40% have been presold and Peugeot Australia treads a fine line between supply and demand. Too much, and the importer has to throw money at the model to get rid of it, but too long a waiting list and impatient buyers will flock off.
I’ve previously mentioned the improved reliability of all PSA vehicles. There was a time when French cars were a trifle moody. It has been a very long time since I drove a Citroen or Peugeot that came over all French at the least opportune time and now there is extended warranty to back that claim. PSA has worked hard to make the ownership less stressful. Perhaps we are looking back to the halcyon days of the 205GTi without being merely an unflattering pastiche of it. If the track day is any indication, VW and Ford should be worried.
On a related note: Keep an eye out for our upcoming 205GTi review. Rather cleverly, Peugeot Australia has been giving an ’89 example a good spit and polish. It looks fabulous in French Racing Red and is almost ready for a track day. It should have been ready but came over all Gaelic. I can’t wait to take it, lovingly of course, into those tight track corners.
Price: $44,990 GTi250 and $49,990 GTi270
Engine: 184kw/330Nm or 200kw/330Nm
Econ: 6.0L/100k, 6.2L/100k
Trans: 6 sp manual