► We drive the new Peugeot 308 GTI 270
► Packs a hefty power punch
► Disguised in tame looks, great all-rounder
In a market obsessed with lap times, spoilers and high-performance bragging rights, the Peugeot 308 GTI’s subtle, less-is-more approach could prove a tricky sell. This would be a great shame – the GTI is a good car and deserves to succeed. I realised this as I chased Peugeot’s test driver down Tour de France routes as fast as we could pedal, throwing the car at each corner, feeling the soft front end take a moment to settle, then sensing the reassurance through the steering as the front Michelins refused to understeer. Allow the stiffer rear to slide slightly, scrubbing off speed and tucking the nose into the apex, and the 308 delivers the kind of adjustability we remember from the Great Peugeot Hot Hatch Days. At the end of the road I couldn’t stop smiling and the PR man in another car simply stuck his head out of the window and vomited. The 308 GTI really is that good.
You can choose your GTI in two flavours: the 250 and 270, which translates to just a little less in horsepower, and a one-size-fits-all 243lb ft. In either guise you get a chassis lowered by 11mm, uprated dampers, and springs stiffened by 60% at the front and 100% at the rear compared with the 308 GT; there’s also more camber, bespoke steering calibration, 19-inch alloys and some very discreet styling.
To this, the 270 adds a Torsen limited-slip diff, Alcon four-piston calipers with 380mm front brake discs, bucket seats and the option to compensate for the GTI’s discretion with a daft ‘Coupe Franche’ two-tone paintjob. The 270 retails at £28,155, the 250 at £26,555, but Peugeot expects 80% of customers to opt for the 250. Surely the 270 will out-sell the 250?
The 270’s bucket seats grip well, with a hip point noticeably dipped to the ground for a sporty feeling, but you’re still perched too high. Other interior flaws include a steering wheel that obscures the speedo and rev counter, pedals that could be more sweetly aligned and a centre console that’s harder and more pared back than Amish furniture. But gloss-black trim, perforated leather, red stitching and alcantara do create a premium ambience.
Peugeot says the 308 GTI – five-door only, as are all 308s – has been designed to be suitable for family duties, and is less hardcore than the 208 GTI 30th. It feels supple, albeit with an underlying firmness to the damping, while the light steering delivers a tease of feel and a slightly over-eager self-centering action. But this is a nice car to mooch about in – there’s even plenty of space in the back.
But it’s when you wind it up that the 308 shines. That downsized engine is flexible, pulling with real muscularity from 2400rpm. It might be smaller than the Golf GTI’s 2.0-litre, but it punches 50bhp harder, gets to 62mph half-a-second quicker, and delivers the same 47mpg and 139g/km Co2. Press the Sport button and the engine note gets rortier and the throttle sharpens up – the steering or suspension doesn’t adjust, which is pleasing – but the extra zing seems to make progress jerkier and clumsier. It also turns the dials red, so you can no longer see the redline.
The brakes are strong and refuse to wilt under heavy pressure. There is some scrabble and understeer through tighter turns – Peugeot has shied away from the trick front suspension favoured by the Megane RS and Civic Type R – but the GTI puts its power down pretty well, its diff proactively sucking you into the apex on the open corners you’ll take at full noise. Really, though, it’s the corners somewhere in-between – not flat-out fast, not too tight – that bring out the best in the 308. It feels agile, adjustable and, at a claimed 1205kg, it’s certainly light, although that figure relates to a version not sold in the UK.
When Peugeot asked the UK to sell the last-generation 308 GTI, the UK baulked, dropped the ‘I’ and gave us a 308 GT. This time that ‘I’ remains appended because Peugeot UK believes it’s got a successor to the excellent 306 GTi-6. I can understand the confidence.
The specs: Peugeot 308 GTI 270
Engine: 1598cc 16v 4-cylinder turbocharged, 266bhp @ 6000rpm, 243lb ft @ 1900rpm
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance: 6.0sec 0-62mph, 155mph (limited), 47mpg, 139g/km CO2
On sale: Now
Love: Agile chassis, under-the-radar looks
Hate: Looooong gear change
Verdict: Credible alternative to a Golf GTI