Think of the Peugeot 308 GT as the warm-up act for the 308 R, a car that should finally see the RCZ R’s bonkers drivetrain transplanted into a more practical bodystyle whenever the powers that be finally deign to release it. And if the 308 R carries on in the same vein, a warm-up is the least you’ll be needing – for the 308 GT doesn’t half spring the occasional surprise.
Looks sharp, but what kind of car is the Peugeot 308 GT?
Spec-wise, it’s pretty much you’d expect of a mildly sportified family car range-topper at the start of 2015. Whether you pick the five-door hatch or the SW estate, the 308’s neatly tailored styling gracefully adapts to the new ‘fluted’ 18-inch wheels, hunkering down over suspension that’s 10mm lower at the front, 7mm lower at the rear and 10-20% stiffer, depending on engine and bodystyle.
Shifting the badge into the new egg-crate style grille adds a dash of extra assertiveness, and there’s further visual jewellery in the guise of all-LED headlights and front indicators that scroll sequentially instead of merely blinking. Failpipes – fake tailpipes – sit snugly beside the lacquered black rear bumper insert that’s stylistically/optimistically labelled a diffuser.
If anything, the 202bhp petrol engine is a little short on headline power by contemporary standards, though it’s swiftly clear this isn’t the Golf GTI or Focus ST rival you might have been hoping for anyway. 178bhp from the diesel alternative looks much more competitive, but this engine only comes attached to a six-speed automatic gearbox, and together they add a mighty 120kg to the weight of the car.
Sounds like the 308 GT diesel might be a touch nose-heavy, then?
No kidding. However, 300lb ft at 2000rpm means the SW version sampled proves anything but sluggish. Hilariously, the artificial noise enhancement that’s activated by the Sport button makes the diesel sound like a highly tuned American V8, which subconsciously seems to prepare you for the slightly barge-like handling; it’s entirely manageable, but you will have to manage it.
Sport also switches the instrument illumination from white to red – matching the red stitching throughout the GT interior – increases the steering weight, to no apparent purpose, and sharpens the mapping for the accelerator and gearbox. Better to manually override the ’box via the paddles or shifter, though, as the Sport auto mode tends to abruptly downshift exiting corners, dumping a load of torque into the drivetrain and provoking additional understeer. At which point you’ll be wishing you’d bought the far cheaper 181bhp TDI Leon FR, the Peugeot’s closest ideological rival.
Is the 308 GT petrol a better bet?
The petrol is more convincing. Up to a point. The newly Euro 6-ed 1.6-litre turbo, complete with revised injection system, remains a lively plaything and makes the front of the 308 feel much lighter. But while the noise engineers haven’t gone quite so far off the reservation in terms of enhancement, for some reason if you’re sat on the right of the car it sounds like this 308 has been upgraded with a side-exit exhaust. Weird, but not necessarily unpleasant. And certainly not what you should be worried about.
Instead, you should concern yourself with the chassis. As the percentages suggest, Peugeot hasn’t made the GT madly stiff, which hints that it should cope rather well with the UK’s nefarious surfaces. The trouble is, it also hasn’t done very much to augment the body control, so you find yourself propelled by a willing engine that’s just a tad too much for this particular flavour of 308 to handle.
There’s always been a sense that in order to make it feel agile, Peugeot was happy to have the 308 lean rather heavily on the stability control systems; drive the GT hard and you’ll find you might just have to actively intervene before the electronics.
Again, this is manageable – once you’re aware you have to watch out for it. But for a modern front-wheel drive hatchback to veer from understeer to snap lift-off oversteer to such an extent is something of a surprise. Actual corrective lock is very much required if you’re to avoid ending up on the wrong side of the road, even with all systems on.
Amusing though this is to try and provoke, the trouble is the first time will probably happen by accident, and an unexpected mid-corner bump at speed won’t always give you much choice in the matter. As a combination, this, greasy Portuguese roads, numb steering and the softness of the suspension certainly keeps you awake.
So the petrol-powered 308 GT is a bit of a dog then?
Not exactly – it just requires a lot more of your attention to drive quickly than we’ve become accustomed to from a car of this type in recent years. Dial it back a bit and the GT becomes acceptably pleasant, even if the lack of feedback and strangely cammy way the steering darts suddenly into corners means you never feel entirely engaged. Or at ease.
Still, so long as you don’t mind using the touchscreen for everything including the air conditioning, the 308’s cabin is a reasonably classy affair, with metallic accents adding contrast to the racy black and red applied throughout the GT. The small steering wheel and that high-set gauge cluster continue to divide opinion, but once set we barely notice the negatives any more. It’s different, but it works.
The petrol and diesel versions of the 308 GT feel like remarkably different cars, and neither quite hits the spot from a performance perspective. They also face tough competition from aggressively priced rivals – think of the newly revised Focus ST, example, let alone the Leon FR.
So it’s better to consider the 308 GT a sharply dressed amateur, rather than a truly honed athlete. Which would be fine, if Peugeot wasn’t also now selling cheaper ‘GT Line’ 308s with near identical looks, less powerful but even more efficient engines and regular chassis settings. Making the GT proper a tough car to love.