The magic’s back / Souped-up 308 is way better than it looks – a potential future classic hot hatch, it seems / Words John Simister / #Peugeot-308GTi-MkII
We all know how good Peugeot’s hot hatchbacks used to be, and we’ll revisit its best in the next issue. We reported on the 208GTi 30th a few months ago, the hard-edged special edition created by Peugeot Sport to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the 205GTI’s launch, and now a range regular under the guise of 208GTi By Peugeot Sport. A highly entertaining machine it is, too. Next in the renaissance comes the car you see here, the 308GTi. It’s another Peugeot Sport development, but this time all the specially engineered parts are sent to the main 308 factory instead of being assembled in Peugeot Sport’s workshop. That’s because the new car is a head-on rival for a Golf GTI or Seat Leon Cupra, and Peugeot hopes to sell quite a lot of them.
You can have it in this two-tone red and black if you must, the colours divided by a diagonal slash and reversed relative to the 208GTi’s version of this coupe franche (‘straight cut’) design. It’s a motif taken from some of Peugeot’s recent concept cars, and very striking. More important, though, is that the 308GTi has fully 272 turbocharged bhp at its disposal, which is a great deal for a 1.6-litre engine and right up with the efforts of the best 2.0-litre opposition. And being a small engine, it’s lighter than these rival units and more economical should you find yourself driving it gently. Cake simultaneously possessed and eaten, it seems. I might as well tell you now. This car is terrific. Hefty 19in wheels fill their arches and are attached to slightly lower, firmer suspension given a stiffer rear anti-roll bar and a softer front one. There’s a touch more negative camber, and much aluminium in the front suspension components. The engine’s efforts reach the road via a Torsen limited-slip differential. And pressing a Sport button does not alter damping rates or steering effort. Peugeot Sport’s engineers have decided on the calibration and that’s how it stays, showing the same purity of purpose and interaction that also gives the GTi a proper manual gearbox.
The cabin is all-black apart from the ample red stitching, a hue matched by the instruments when that rather unnecessary Sport button is pressed. Two other things happen: the throttle response becomes even crisper, and the engine’s note is augmented by a digitally created version via the loudspeakers. And, thankfully, that’s it for 2015-style gimmickry.
Accelerating from a standstill to 62mph takes six seconds, but far more exciting is the offbeat tickover burble that rises to a breathy roar as the pace shoots up. A near-flat torque curves gives instant overtaking ability and the hefty Alcon brakes are tireless.
Best, though, is what happens as a bend approaches. Despite the tiny steering wheel the GTi’s helm is progressive and naturally weighted, allowing perfect placing. The Torsen diff then allows remarkable traction and a total understeer absence as you rocket out of the corner, feeling every nuance of feedback through various parts of your body. No current rival draws you into the drive as much as this one does (RIP, Renault Mégane Trophy), only the Golf R from the price category above. Yet, for all that, the 308GTi rides compliantly and you could happily live with it everyday. Price is £28,155. Will we read about it in these pages again in #2045
? My bet says we will.
Above / Striking paintjob is known as a coupe franche, or straight cut. Love it or loathe it, there’s no doubt that Peugeot Sport has worked wonders on the 308’s engine and chassis.