The hot hatch market is a packed place at the moment with the likes of the Volkswagen Golf GTI, the Skoda Octavia RS and SEAT Leon Cupra, not mentioning the various performance enhancing versions of said models and many other variants from several famous manufacturers. But there are some hot hatches that you just can’t wait to get your hands on, and the new Peugeot 308 GTi is one.
The 308 GTi has been in development for quite some time. You could be forgiven for thinking it is a little late to the current hot hatch party, but with the frequency in which many manufacturers are unveiling faster and more focussed models, there seems to be a constant flow of new models, so you could say timing is perfect. The Peugeot 308 GTi enters the market with a choice of two power outputs from its 1.6 litre THP engine. These are 250bhp or 270bhp making it the most powerful production engine of its size. Our test was the latter with many other extras which I will come to later. Peugeot boasts a strong history in hot hatches so it would be fair to say that expectations are high.
Being realistic, our 270bhp 308 GTi test car really comes closer in power to the hyper hatches like the Golf R and Honda Civic Type R. On paper, the 308 sounds like a seriously focused machine with a twin scroll turbo charged engine developed by Peugeot Sport engineers, a Torsen limited slip differential fitted to the front axel, four piston brake calipers with 380 mm (front) ventilated discs mounted on aluminium hubs and a ‘Driver Sport Pack’ that can be engaged at the touch of a button to increase the engine, gearbox and accelerator pedal responsiveness. In the metal, it comes across as one of the more reserved looking hot hatches. There are no shouty rear wings or bonnet mounted vents. Besides the obvious 308 branding, larger wheels and twin exhausts, just modest enhancements give the 308’s elegant lines a more aggressive appeal and stance. It is all rather refined unless of course you opt for the two tone Ultimate Red and Nera Black metallic paint job, then it will stand out like a sore thumb.
On the road, the 308 GTi feels like a very accomplished hot hatch. It is as easy to drive at low speeds as it is to drive fast. During normal driving, it feels comfortable, well damped and it rides exceptionally well on Irish roads despite being 11mm lower than a standard 308 and riding on upgraded 19 inch alloy wheels. The 308 GTi is packed with the same 1.6 THP engine that is fitted to the mighty RCZ R so needless to say it packs quite a punch. Fitted to the 308 GTi hatch, it feels remarkably potent. While it tends to rev out quite rapidly in the first and second gear, it just covers ground so rapidly in a composed manner that it takes you to 100kmh in 6 seconds flat. It makes a decent raspy sound on the way too with the large twin chrome exhausts emitting a satisfying crack on the up change. For the purists, it comes with a nice feeling 6-speed manual transmission that helps make the driving experience that bit more engaging, although the throw between ratios could be shortened slightly. In the bends, the 308 GTi impresses too with the Torsen LSD really working its magic. The GTi feels agile and responsive and gets out of corners just as quick as it goes into them. It may not have the power of the above hyper hatches, but the 308 is 180kg lighter than the aforementioned making it feel light on its feet and grippy in the corners.
Behind the wheel is a very nice place to be too. Our test car was fitted with the upgraded leather and alcantara suede ‘Peugeot Sport’ bucket seats. The dash layout is almost identical to that of the Peugeot 308 Access or Allure and the familiar i-Cockpit layout. It is however unmistakably GTi with the interior featuring a flat bottomed GTi badged sports steering wheels, an aluminium gear knob and a defining contrast red stitch on the seats, door cards and steering wheel.
What we have with the new Peugeot 308 GTi then, is a very well rounded hot hatch, with all of the refinement and practicality of a family hatchback. It still packs a 470 litre boot and enough room for four adults, but rear legroom is a still a little bit of an issue. That aside, the Golf GTI was the only competitor that really met this ‘perfect balance’ criteria before. Rivals like the Ford Focus ST, while sporting four doors, just feel too eratic and hardcore. The 308 like the Golf is both refined and supple at low speeds and just as fast and engaging when pushed to its limits. It looks and feels well built and really is a lot of fun to drive, but you will pay the price for this 270bhp variant which starts at €39,990. (250bhp €36,990) After this initial outlay however, running costs for the privilege of ownership are not too bad with its powerful 1.6 THP engine sitting in Tax Band B2 at just €280 per annum, while claimed economy, in a perfect world is respectful 6.0l/100km or 47mpg.