Yes yes yes, oh YES: good looks, classy cabin, fabulous ride, great engine/gearbox
Oh dear me no: a bit expensive, no Apple Carplay, I-cockpit?
The French have made a decent fist of the hot hatch. The 80’s benchmark was Peugeot’s own 205 GTi which set the tone for decades of jaunty-capped, gold-chain-wearing chavs. They thrashed round back streets and proudly parked up at the local car park hang-out. Brighton-Le-Sands rang to the sounds of horns, hoons and hooters much to the chagrin of long-suffering locals.
We’ve moved on, and so have they. Hot hatches are so terribly last century, or are they?
The humble hatch is now commonplace to the point of ubiquity. Even the base model 308 beats the 77kw of the original 205 GTi. Previously, Peugeots were known for fabulously smooth ride, but the hotter hatches got, the more the ride was strangled, until finally it was on life support. For me, the 206 GTi 180 was the last straw. The 130kw super-mini knocked innocent kidneys against each other, and was responsible for many a chipped tooth and shattered backbone. It was like being thrown down a hill with bricks-on-strings tied to your head. The same was true of the recent RCZ-R which had a 200kw 1.6 fettled by Peugeot Sport. It was superb on the track no doubt, but the smallest imperfection on a normal road surface was torturous to the organs.
When the Peugeot people said they were having their “Sport” department give one of their 308 a once over, I despaired. “Sport” means racing, and racing means harsh and unforgiving ride. My fears were somewhat allayed when we were given a brief taste on a local race track (which I still felt sure was to disguise rock-like suspension). Peugeot said we’d get to drive it on a road later. Yeah right.
Monday this week, Peugeot was as good as it’s word. The 250 and 270 versions got a workout at Baskerville racetrack near Hobart, as well as a selection of Tasmanian roads not repaired since the Whitlam administration. The surfaces were so bad in parts that even Vile Kyle’s Roller would have recoiled in horror.
My co-driver and I relaxed into the morning and I quickly discovered that the suspension gave a ride that was almost catatonically smooth.
The real mark of a car is how quickly you find your happy place, and in the case of the 308 GTi, it was very fast indeed. This GTi business is a bit confusing because from the outside there is precious little difference between the 250 and 270. Apart from the engines which are 250bhp(184kw) and 270bhp (200kw), there is a bit of trim, and slightly bigger 19” wheels on the 270. They do this to let the punters know you’ve forked out more shekels for the posher version. There is also a Torsen Limited Slip diff which shuffles power (or something like that), which along with the stability control, means uber-cornering without slipping backwards into the kitty litter. You don’t have to know or care how it works, only that it does, and that it is worth the bucks if you enjoy a spot of spirited driving.
GTi has gone mainstream!
Anyone can drive this little peach as long as you like shift-em-yaself gears. The I-cockpit thingy takes a bit of getting used to. There is a tiny steering wheel, and a speedo/tacko binnacle sitting high on the dash board trying hard to be a Heads Up Display. The setup doesn’t always work for me and I’d rather the Heads Up Display Peugeot has in its fab 508. Actually, it would be more correct to say I have a love/hate relationship with the I-cockpit. For me, the 308 would be absolutely perfect with an Audi TT-style full-width LCD dash, a normal steering wheel, and a projected HUD onto the windscreen. It’s trying hard to stand out in the crowd and is using this cockpit as a point of difference. However, it may be alienating some who would otherwise love the car. Can I live with it? Yes, and in time I’d probably get to consider it second nature, but I doubt I’d ever love it.
I like the centre stack very much. It is OCD neat. The infotainment system is quick to respond and includes Satnav. We haven’t tried the Satnav as yet because there’s not a lot of call for it on a race track. There is no Apple CarPlay yet, which had me tsk-tsking like a demented metronome.
Everything feels classy and top draw. The surfacing and materials inside and out has finally been given the spit and polish the brand deserves. The standard inclusion of useful and thoughtful accessories, such as reversing camera, make the 308 better value than it otherwise would have been.
The GTi 270 has many Best-In-Class attributes such as big 380mm brakes, 125kw/Litre output and 6kg per KW power to weight, but these are all below the skin. Some of the Peugeot Sport changes included hand forged parts and special tuning, but most buyers will never know about them. Most just want “pretty and fast” and care little for structure and hand-crafting.
The 0-100kph of 6 seconds is impressive, but at nearly 50 grand, the GTi costs more than Golf GTI, Focus ST, and the AWD WRX. In fact, it’s only about 4 grand short Subaru’s WRX STI. To make matters worse, the 235KW AWD Focus RS arrives in a few months, and will be about $10,000 more than the 200kw FWD Peugeot. It’s all going to hinge on the ride VS performance. The competition will be fierce.
I love the look of the 308, but it’s the way it drives that is most special. The 6 speed manual is brilliant. I’m completely ok with that, but there will be those among us who want autos for city commutes, god forbid. An auto in a GTi is positively blasphemous but buyers want it. Peugeot says “Computa says nooooooo”.
Carmakers have a deep desire for what they call “halo” models. A halo model is one that is so spectacular that the rest of the fleet has kudos by association. It’s a gamble. Sometimes the roll of the dice doesn’t pay off and the model just doesn’t sell. The RCZ was meant to be a Halo-Model and those of us who loved it, really loved it. I suspect it was just too expensive.
The steering is super sharp, the brakes make you feel in total control, and the clutch/gearbox combo is light and easy to use. The cabin is classy with a real high-end feel and look. Except for the i-cockpit, the interior is streets ahead of the competition. The VW looks a bit old, even though it’s almost brand new. The Focus has a much neatened dash, but the cabin is looking older by the day, and the Subarus look great but not as modern as the Pug. The advantage is that 308 is recently released with. The 308 feels and looks fresh and new with a relatively short options list.
One option is the fancy new deep iridescent red paint colour costing about $1,700 extra. If you want to go the whole hog, the striking red and black scheme is another $3,000 again. The red/black scheme is particularly complex. It isn’t one colour painted over the other, it is both colours painted from scratch and takes 15 hours. Personally I’d go for the stunning blue, and spend the 5 grand savings on a cruise and drinks package. Peugeot say they’ll never be the cheapest, but price is a matter of perception. If a buyer thinks the value is there, price moves swiftly down the consideration ladder. The sports car market is absolutely crammed with hatches and coupes, and there are even big sedans sprinkled in for good measure. For this price you could get a V8 commodore SS. Decisions, decisions, decisions.
The package is a good one, but is it good enough. The 308 GTi is handsome and frisky with oodles of standard gear.
The racing and rally championship pedigree as another reason to fall for the GTi.
The figures say the Peugeot 308GTi 270 is “better” than a Golf GTi, but the proven Veedub is a hard one to knock off its pedestal on numbers alone. Peugeot’s product manager, Paval Meck, negotiated with PSA in France to bring the GTi here at $5,000 less than expected. The fuel consumption is excellent but she has expensive taste and drinks only a premium sip.
Finally, there is a 5 star safety rating and a 3 year/100,000 warranty. Would 5 years be more attractive?
Would I buy one? I’m an STI fanboy but you never know your lucky in a big city. I’d certainly drive both back to back while throwing in an 86 for good measure.
Price:- 250 $44,990 270 $49,990
Power:- 184kw/330Nm 200kw/330Nm
Engine:- Euro 6, 1.6L turbo petrol
Economy:- 6.0L/100k for both versions
Transmission:- 250kph limited
0-100:- 6.2 6.0
Suspension:- Front Pseudo-McPherson strut / coil springs / hydraulic dampers / anti-roll bar
Rear Twist beam / aluminium wishbones / coil springs / anti-roll bar