Ben Griffin reviews the Peugeot 308 GTi by Peugeot Sport, the Frenchie’s latest hot-hatchback that offers serious horsepower in a five-door package.
Once upon a time Peugeot was the king of hot-hatches and a brand associated with cars that got the heart racing and demolished rally courses for a pasttime. Then it became as boring as Mark Zuckerberg’s wardrobe and started churning out four-wheeled beige.
Presumably someone at Peugeot noticed the brand was being muddied so it brought us the RCZ R. Then people complained it was lacking in power – and so a more powerful version was created. It was a riot – a French hooligan with a sophisticated edge.
Then Peugeot gave us the speedy 208 GTi (originally called the 208 GTi 30th, which cares very little about your comfort, and then the 308 GTi, which is yet another high-power hatchback that has the potential to change Peugeot’s fortunes. But is it any good?
Peugeot 308 GTi review: The design
There is no three-door 308 GTi on offer, as both of Peugeot Sport’s creations are five-door. This will upset purists, but then most fans of Peugeot have aged a bit since the 205 GTi and there’s no denying the added convenience.
In terms of looks, the 308 GTi strikes a great balance between the level of sporty exuded by the Honda Civic Type R and maturity exuded by the play-it-safe Golf R. It’s meaty and has character but is less inclined to advertise the fact it’s rather speedy.
This particular car is in the fetching Nera black paintjob and is differentiated from the non-GTi models by larger alloys, 11mm lower ride height, a twin-exit exhaust and red around the front grille. Nothing outlandish.
There are, however, various interior touches that make the 308 GTi feel special. Press the Sport mode button and all the dials go from white to red, indicating danger. Then there’s the rev counter, which sweeps backwards like in an Aston Martin, and the engine start button, which is always fun to press.
As for the rest of the interior, plasticy and uninspiring springs to mind although the build quality is suffers from a less severe case of plastic-itus than some of its rivals.
To Peugeot’s credit, the lack of buttons and reliance on a simple touchscreen infotainment interface makes it easy to use, which is more than can be said of the awful in-built satnav. You have to add in a space for a postcode as it is not clever enough to assume you want one, while its directional ability leaves a lot to be desired.
Peugeot 308 GTi review: The practicality
As previously said, the five doors of the 308 GTi make it great for ferrying people around, while the rear legroom is reasonable enough for the six-foot club, but the VW Golf GTi is better in this respect.
Meanwhile the glove box is so small you can’t even fit the log book in so your sweets will need to go elsewhere. The 308 GTi could be better when it comes to cubby holes and storage spaces.
With that said, boot space is an impressive 470 litres, putting it way above the 343 litres of the VW Golf R but behind the class-leading, Van-esque Civic Type R and its 497 litres.
Peugeot 308 GTi review: The performance & handling
It would be all-too easy to write the Peugeot 308 GTi off before even driving it, as even the range-topping 270 version lacks the same punch as the VW Golf R, Honda Civic Type R and Ford Focus RS. But let’s not be hasty – this is a car that shows Peugeot Sport is back to former glory.
Peugeot has used the 1.6-litre THP petrol found in the 208 GTi and RCZ R. The range-topping 270 version makes 266bhp (making it the most powerful engine for its size).
Peugeot engineers have modified the engine for the 308 GTi. Unlike the RCZ R, it gets a higher pressure direct fuel injection system, which improves high-end power delivery and gives you torque across a broader spectrum.
As you can imagine, it is hard miss 248bhp-plus in a front-wheel drive car that weighs just 1,205kg. First and second gear have the wheels screaming for traction, while 0-62mph takes six seconds. Like most modern-day hot-hatches, you can easily find yourself breaking the limit.
Not that you can tell exactly how fast you are going because, like in the 208 GTi, the miniature steering wheel obscures the speedometer and other dials. Exactly how much depends on what you find comfortable, but a smaller wheel is more of an obstruction than a big one. At least it feels nice to use.
Firm is a fair description for the ride but it is no way near as bad as the 208 GTi. Bumps are tackled in a softer, less rigid fashion, making it much more livable. In fact, it is one of the best cars in its class for taming terrible British roads, which enables you to drive it faster and enjoy it more.
The steering feel is numb, admittedly, but the little wheel offers precise and nimble reactions to the smallest inputs. With plenty of grip on offer and very little weight to drag you into a hedge – the Focus and Civic Type R are 230kg and 180kg heavier, respectively – it’s easy to carve up bendy roads at speed whether wet or dry.
Turn on Sport mode and the normal engine noise is supplemented by a synthetic noise through the speakers. Normally this is anything but music to our ears, but the 308 GTi becomes noisier and less refined. It makes it feel more like a rally car, which can only be a good thing.
Admittedly, the sporty Renault Megane sounds better but hold down the Sport and everything becomes more exciting. It is like you fitted that ridiculous large bore exhaust as a teenager, except without having to do any of the work.
Sport mode does more than just make noise – it also heightens the throttle drastically to the point where having your foot gently on the accelerator with it off becomes fairly savage acceleration with it on.
Flappy paddles are nowhere to be seen. Instead, Peugeot has opted for a six-speed manual that feels a tad dull to use, with a lack of feel and needlessly long throw between gears. It does let you shift quickly, mind you, so it’s no deal-breaker.
Peugeot 308 GTi review: The fuel economy
Another benefit of having the lightest car in its classis fuel economy. Peugeot claims 47.1mpg and we saw impressive figures in the mid to late thirties. CO2 emissions, meanwhile, come in at 139g/km.
By comparison, a BMW M140i is said to hit 39.8mpg and 163g/km of CO2, but in reality it will be so much fun to drive you rarely make it out of the twenties. The Civic Type R is marginally better, at 38.7mpg, but loses out to the Seat Leon Cupra 280 (44.1mpg) and the VW Golf R (40.9mpg).
Peugeot 308 GTi review: Equipment & value
Go for the GTi 270 and you can expect a lengthy list of luxuries and extras, including a Torsen limited-slip differential, Peugeot Sport brake calipers with 380mm front discs, dual-zone climate control and sports side skirts.
Peugeot GTi bucket seats also come part of the package and feature Alcantara and leather-effect materials. Pleather is also used on the steering wheel, with red stitching giving it a sportier look.
Standard equipment on the 308 GTi includes LED headlights, LED dayime running lights, front sequential LED indicators, SatNav, Driver Sport pack, GTi leather steering wheel, reversing camera that uses the infotainment system as a display and Peugeot’s Open & Go keyless entry system.
With the 308 GTi 270 priced from £29,335 and the cheaper 250 version now absent, it is a direct competitor to the VW Golf R, Civic Type R and Ford Focus RS, all of which sit below £30,000 before you slap on extras.
Peugeot 308 GTi review: The safety rating
Independent safety testing body Euro NCAP gave the 308 a five-star rating and the GTi is virtually identical, except for the fact it is faster and therefore more able to do you harm. But it does have impressively powerful brakes and a low kerb weight so it can stop extremely quickly, while Hill start assist and the rear view camera add to its safety credentials.
Peugeot 308 GTI review: The conclusion
Somehow everything Peugeot was going for in the 208 GTi just fits better here. The ride is forgiving yet the handling is just as potent, you get more room for passengers and the performance will make you want to thrash it around at every opportunity.
Not only that, it offers a good-sized boot and a well-thought out list of standard extras. You could go elsewhere for something faster, something more attractive or something more practical, admittedly, but not all three in one go.
As it is, the 308 GTi offers enough driver satisfaction and sporty touches to make it competitive in the hot-hatch market, especially if you can manage to knock some money off the list price. Given it has been around a while, there are probably some good deals to be had.
You could, of course, get yourself the VW Golf R for not that much more money, which is considerably faster and has all-wheel drive, or go for sheer driving pleasure in the form of a sporty Meganes. Or get in line for a Focus RS. All are considerably more potent.
But if you did go with the Frenchie, there is no need to feel like you have missed out because this is the best Pug in a long time and one that is as exciting to drive as its competitors, even if it lacks the same punch.