GRR

Dan Trent: Is Peugeot's 308 GTi the ultimate value old school hot hatch?

02nd October 2017
dan_trent_headshot.jpg Dan Trent

What price brand snobbery? About six grand, if you want to put a number on it. That’s the difference in value between two comparable nearly-new hot hatches,  one from VW and one from Peugeot. Why shine the spotlight on these two cars though? In an age where hot hatches have gained drift modes, 300bhp-plus power outputs and chase supercar lap times around the Nurburgring I reckon the real battle for the heart and soul of the genre remains between the brands that invented it. And the one that perfected it. 

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I’ll confess I enjoy the lairiness of the extreme hot hatches like the Focus RS, Civic Type R and A45 AMG. But to my mind they fill the space left by the rally reps like the Impreza turbos and Mitsubishi Evos. They’re good fun. But cars for enthusiasts and extroverts who like wearing their fast-beating performance hearts on their sleeves.

For me, a true hot hatch has to have a broader range of talents. Volkswagen set the mould just over 40 years ago with the original Golf GTI, the looks and performance exciting enough to make it desirable but without any compromise in practicality. Day in day out it was just a normal Golf with a few extra trimmings. But when the opportunity came you had a car capable of running rings round the more extrovert vinyl-roofed performance models of the day, as characterised by Ian Dury in Blockheads. I’ll spare you his description of the driving style adopted by their owners but, if you know the song, you’ll know he hit the nail on the head with that one. Suffice to say, a Golf GTI was a fast car you could be seen in without any social stigma about your motivations, maturity or… staying power. Qualities found to this day in the seventh-generation model.

Peugeot’s cars of the same name took the concept forward in the 80s and 90s, a red pinstripe and C-pillar badge setting them apart but still subtle relative to the way they actually went. Fast and thrilling, they were also suitably supple and sensibly sized for making exciting progress along tight, twisty and bumpy back roads. 

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A Golf GTI remains a desirable car for all these reasons. But I think a Peugeot 308 GTI is even more so, based on more than just being much better value-for-money. Having been out of the hot hatch market for so long when it returned Peugeot just picked up where it left off, seemingly ignoring what had happened in the market over the intervening decades. Bravo, I say. 

The resulting 308 GTI is exactly what a hot hatch should be. It’s got big wheels and a stance that subtly informs you about its intent but, at the same time, won’t mark you out as a try-hard on the school run or in the office car park. It’s got comfy suspension that both swallows up potholes and speed bumps but also gives it flow and composure when the speeds increase along twisty roads. The boosty turbocharged engine is unobtrusive and frugal when pottering about but reveals a much more exciting character when opened up.  And the fitment of a proper limited-slip differential and fancy Alcon brakes speak volumes about the priorities of the motorsport department behind its development. It’s a properly quick hot hatch but about as far away from the reversed baseball cap image as you can get. 

Like the Golf GTI it’s a true original with an enviable tradition. But six grand cheaper and cooler for the fact it’ll slip so far under most folks’ radar as to be almost invisible.   

  • Volkswagen

  • 308 gti

  • golf gti

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