To quote Celine Dion, “This is getting serious.” Not too long ago, if someone told you about a car with a turbocharged engine running 2.5 bar (or more than 36 psi) of boost pressure, that also featured forged aluminium pistons, strengthened connecting rods, a heat-treated aluminium block, a reinforced and shot-blasted gearbox and a limited-slip differential, you would’ve – rightfully so – assumed the car in question was an out-and-out race car.
Well, brace yourself, hot-hatch fans, because the five-door, five-seatPeugeot 308 GTi has arrived, and it’ll make you think twice.
Admittedly, the Peugeot 308 GTi might not be the first to come to mind, especially up against rivals such as Volkswagen’s Golf GTI andFord’s Focus ST, which often set a benchmark in this sector. Still, this stratum has many more in its grip these days; think Seat Leon Cupraand Renault Mégane RS 275, to name a couple.
When the standard 308 arrived, it was a massive improvement over its predecessor, the mediocre 307. Hell, the 308 even won European Car of the Year 2014, beating the BMW i3 and Tesla Model S, both brilliant and innovative models in their own right.
Not that the basic Peugeot 308 is in any way exciting. It’s a conventional hatchback that’s sold in Europe (and some other non-U.S. markets) as a slightly dull rival to the Ford Focus and the VW Golf. Prior to the arrival of the GTi, the most interesting thing about the 308 was the fact its tachometer needle goes backward, tracing a counterclockwise arc in Gallic defiance of pretty much every other car in the world.
The GTi 270, on the other hand, is definitely interesting. Its official name is Peugeot 308 GTi by Peugeot Sport, a clunky indication that the company’s motorsports division has been charged with delivering something more thrilling than the legions of lackluster GTis that followed the classic ’80s and ’90s versions. This might trigger expectations that it will be a turned-up-to-11 rally replica, but it’s not that.
If you dare jump into the comfortable and supportive yet well bucketed red-stitched leather and Alcantara Peugeot Sport driver’s seat, be sure before you close that door, because while the new Pug may look a little tame to the uninitiated, it’s anything but.
Set to take the fight to the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Ford Focus ST, andRenault Megane RS265, on paper, the front-wheel-drive, six-speed MCM R manual-only 308 GTi has the goods.
And while the aforementioned turbocharged four-cylinder trio all lay claim to between 162kW and 195kW of power from 2.0 litres of capacity, the French GTi comes to the party with a turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder producing up to 200kW – 184kW in 250 guise.
A reworked version of the same Euro 6-compliant 1.6 THP engine (with stop-start) found in the RCZ R and 208 GTi, the engine spits out 330Nm between 1900-5000rpm and, with assistance from a Torsen limited-slip differential, helps the new GTi hit 100km/h in a claimed 6.0 seconds. Without the trick diff, the 250 climbs to 6.2sec.
Plenty brisk for a ‘family hatch’, the 308 270’s sprint time matches that of the two-door-only Megane RS265 and betters that of the Golf GTI (6.5sec), six-speed DSG-only Golf GTI Performance (6.4) and Ford Focus ST (6.5sec). The GTi’s impressive 6.0 litres per 100km combined cycle fuel consumption claim is also top of the pile.
Dynamically, the 308 GTi 270 has the sort of split personality that would make Robert Louis Stephenson consider writing a Gothic horror story. The first surprise is the driving position, an apparent confirmation that the ape that used to define the cramped ergonomics of Italian cars has crossed the Alps. The instruments are small and installed to be partially obscured where most drivers position the steering wheel, the footwell is cramped, and average-size legs are pressed uncomfortably against the center console.
Drive the 308 gently and it feels as you imagine a French car should. The engine has noticeable lag down low —you’re never in any doubt that the four-banger is small and highly boosted. But the ride is impressively pliant over broken surfaces. The gearshift has a long throw, and the brakes have very generous boost. It’s a nice, well-insulated companion at urban speeds, but unlike hard-edged rivals like the Civic Type R and the Renault Mégane R.S. 275, there’s no sense of a lurking beast; it feels like a fractionally firmer version of the standard rental-spec 308.
Using stop-start technology, which no doubt helps with CO2 emissions (139g/km) and economy (47.1mpg combined), the GTi has a six-speed manual gearbox. There’s no automatic option, which is no problem considering how good the manual shift is, but the popularity of VW’s DSG gearbox suggests Peugeot could be missing a trick here.
Other than the slight tweak in power, one of the most notable distinctions between the two outputs is that our model receives a limited-slip differential — often the key difference between a good hot hatch and a great one.
Also distinguishing it from standard 308s is the Driver Sport Pack, which Peugeot says increases the responsiveness of the engine and gearbox to the accelerator pedal, changes the instrument panel colour to red (from white), displays certain parameters such as acceleration, power delivery and turbo, and amplifies the engine sound in the cabin.
As you’d expect of a top-of-the-range model, the GTi is garnished with plenty of extra design details and equipment. Alongside its exterior distinctions — which include tinted rear windows, an 11mm lower ride height, GTi grille with chequered flag design and side and front sports skirts — the car also gets GTi bucket seats trimmed in leather effect and Alcantara.
And then there are the mod cons. This generation introduces a 9.7in touchscreen that controls nearly all functions in the car, making most buttons defunct, and through this you can control the sat-nav, DAB digital radio and Bluetooth, to name a few.
Other day-to-day perks include dual-zone climate control, cruise control, automatic headlights and windscreen wipers, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, power folding door mirrors and keyless entry.
One other feature absolutely worth mentioning is boot space, which smashes all of its competitors out of the park. It has 470 litres of space, versus 380 in the Golf GTI. I promise you a comical demonstration of what can fit in there, in a future report.
So how much does it cost? The GTI is £28,455, and the only option we have is Peugeot Connect SOS and Assistance (£240), keeping things simple.
It’s a promising start with the 308 GTI. Still, we’ve had little opportunity to employ it in its best (fast) guise yet, including the all-too-tempting Sport button, so we’ll be racking up the miles over the coming weeks to see how it fares for performance, while also maintaining its practicality and economy as a five-seat hatchback.
Price £28,455; Price as tested £28,695; Options Peugeot Connect SOS and Assistance £240; Economy 34.8mpg; FaultsNone; Expenses None.