► Peugeot Sport’s latest, and largest, hot hatch
► Two versions: 308 GTI 250 and GTI 270
► 270 gets extra power and kit. Both versions reviewed here
In recent years, it’s seemed almost compulsory for a review of a new Peugeot hot hatch to conclude with a ‘not as good as they used to be’ comparison with Pug’s back catalogue. In fact, so long are the shadows (and clichés) cast by 205 GTI, 306 GTi-6, 106 Rallye et al that the last time Peugeot made a 308 GTI, it deleted the ‘I’ when it went on sale in the UK just to spare it the ordeal.
No need to be so bashful this time. Peugeot Sport’s rediscovered its mojo of late; the RCZ R and 208 GTI 30th (now called the GTI by Peugeot Sport) are absolute crackers, and now Peugeot’s crack team of chassis engineers have turned their attention to the polished, refined but not hugely exciting-to-drive 308. And they must be feeling confident, because there’s an ‘I’ on the bootlid.
New 2016 Peugeot 308 GTI: what’s the story?
First off, it’s available in two versions: the GTI 250 and GTI 270, both powered by the same turbocharged 1.6-litre four-pot. They’re named for their metric horsepower output, so that means 248bhp and 266bhp respectively, with an identical 243lb ft torque output.
Both get extensively revamped suspension (more on which shortly) and recalibrated steering, 19in wheels and a few refreshingly subtle styling tweaks, although you can pick a crazy dip-died ‘Coupe Franche’ paintjob to liven things up if you really want to.
As with the rest of the 308 hatchback range, it’s five-door only – the three-door mid-sized hatch is becoming a rare species these days.
Peugeot 308 GTI 250
We drove both the 250 and 270 back to back. Both lose 11mm from the regular 308’s ride height, gain retuned dampers, more aggressive camber, resized anti-roll bars and swap the springs for dramatically stiffer ones – by 60% at the front, 100% at the rear compared with a 308 GT.
On the road that translates to a soft-ish at the front, stiff at the rear feel that works very nicely. The front Michelins bite into the tarmac keenly on turn-in, there’s enormous lateral grip mid-corner (yet plenty of off-throttle adjustability), and while it will spin its wheels if you’re heavy-footed, the 308 GTI finds decent traction on exit too.
And although it can lift-off oversteer as enthusiastically as a self-respecting hot Peugeot should, it’ll do so only if provoked. Driven neatly and tidily, it’s balanced, planted – and very fast. The 250’s 1.6 can punch every bit as hard (harder on paper, in fact) than the Golf GTI’s 2.0-litre, although it admittedly doesn’t feel or sound quite as charismatic.
A minor downside (and probably one worth paying) for the stiffer springs is a slightly bouncy feel to the car’s body movement on rebound at speed, but for the most part the 308 GTI’s blessed with a relatively supple ride, far softer and comfier than the track-focused RCZ R, for example.
Peugeot 308 GTI 270
Apart from its extra helping of horsepower, the 270 gets a Torsen mechanical limited-slip diff, bigger front brakes with four-pot calipers and deeper bucket seats to help the driver cope with it all.
The relatively aggressive diff means it torque-steers a little more than the 250, the 308’s weeny steering wheel writhing even well into fourth gear, but it’s never unmanageable, and in fast corners the diff does its spooky tractor beam thing, locking the car into the apex as you apply the power.
And, quick as the 250 is, you do notice the 270's extra helping of horsepower. It's not slow.
What about the bad bits?
Happily few and far between, but a few there are.
The brakes, while devastatingly effective, can be a bit too devastating on initial acquaintance because the pedal’s so over-sensitive, and some might find the gearchange throw a tad on the long side. Likewise, while I quite like the miniaturised steering wheel and raised instruments, not everyone’s a fan, and depending on your driving position you might find the top of the wheel obscures the base of the instrument panel.
As ever in the 308, you’ll find yourself torn between hatred for the awkward, laggy, downright distracting touchscreen (and its near-useless sat-nav system) and the chic modern, minimal interior styling it makes possible.
There’s also a Sport button that, wierdly, makes the car feel worse to drive. Although it perks up the throttle response (something the GTI doesn’t particularly need anyway), it also turns the dials bright red, so when you’re most in the mood to take the rev counter needle to the redline you can’t see it anymore, and it pipes an angrier-sounding, synthesized engine note into the cabin. Sport mode in a diesel 308 SW estate we tried recently made it sound like a rumbling V8 stock car, yet it made the GTI sound more like a grumbling diesel. Bizarre.
Understated, comfy and easy to live with, but genuinely thrilling when you’re in the right mood, the 308 GTI’s a car with broad, and very real, appeal. Both 250 and 270 have merit; the former’s less wearying, without that diff twerking away at the steering, but still eye-openingly fast. But for many the 270’s extra power and focus will make it worth the extra cash.
Not just good enough to live up to Peugeot’s GTI back catalogue, the new 308’s good enough to worry any other car with a GTI badge you care to mention. Happy days are here again.
Read Ben Barry’s thoughts on the Peugeot 308 GTI 270 on CAR+ (he likes it too.)