First Drive: Peugeot 308 GTi

16th July 2017
Andrew English

Since the launch of the 205 GTi in 1984, there have been some pretty cracking souped-up Peugeots (take the legendary 1999 306 Rallye for example), though not all of them could be so described. 


There was even one called the Goodwood, which was attempted in 1991 to curry sales for the tired-if-entertaining 309 GTi. It didn't amount to much more than a green paint job, a mahogany-wood steering wheel, a set of Speedline alloys and a few water transfers of the motor circuit on the side. With a price ticket a whisker under £14,000, less than 400 found homes; these days they're a perfect Q car.

So we answered the call to drive the Lion's latest hot hatch, the facelifted 308 GTi, with mixed feelings: was this going to be one of Peugeot's greats or an also-ran GTi?

In fact the changes for this mid-cycle uplift are few. There's a new front bumper and bonnet, with larger air intakes and grilles and a new light pack including LED rear lights. The cabin gets a bigger pinch-and-squeeze touch screen, with Tom Tom-based 3D sat nav, and there's the latest driver-assistance systems including driver-attention alert, speed-limit recognition, parking and lane-keeping assistance, and blind-spot monitoring, which when combined in two option packs, costs £900. Unlike the standard facelifted 308, however, the GTi version has massive Alcon disc brakes, which aren't compatible with the new emergency city braking, or the enhanced camera-based active blind-spot detection.

In a crowded market of go-faster family hatchbacks, the 308 is understated to the point of invisibility. Gilles Vidal, Peugeot's design chief, has carved a sophisticated and classy look, but it doesn't respond well to the optional garish paint highlights or the frankly weird two-tone paint split half way along the coachwork - save your money. In the cabin, there's previous models' smart one-piece dash moulding, which feels nice to the touch, and a pair of Alcantara sports seats that provide comfort and support - a combination not always achieved by these pseudo racing chairs. 


There's well-executed storage space up front and in the back, enough head and leg room for a couple of large adults, though the centre position is really only suitable for a child. The boot, at 470 litres is large, but shallow, with space for a spare wheel under the floor.

Unlike much of the opposition (Ford Focus RS, Honda Civic Type R, VW Golf GTI, Seat Leon Cupra), the Peugeot 308 hasn't got an independent rear suspension and instead uses a twist-beam arrangement, which is simple and light, but can result in some lively reactions to lifting off the throttle mid corner. The front end uses the ubiquitous McPherson struts, with tweaked geometry to give negative scrub radius to reduce the tugging effects of power at the steering wheel, though it often leaves the steering feeling slightly dead. Of the trick separation of the steering knuckle and suspension strut used by rivals such as the Honda, there is no sign, nor does the Peugeot sport advanced ground-hugging aerodynamic devices, or four-wheel drive, but it does have a Torsen geared limited-slip differential in the front axle to prevent runaway wheelspin. The engine is the much modified BMW/Peugeot 1.6-litre, four cylinder turbo petrol driving the front wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox. 

Fire it up and it idles with a purposeful growl that can be electronically enhanced by pushing the Sport button, which also sharpens the throttle response. While the raw data is credible, this 266bhp/243lb ft unit gives this 1.2-tonne car a top speed of 155mph and 0-62mph in 6.0 seconds, it's also in quite a peaky state of tune and isn't really pulling strongly until you are approaching 3,000rpm. That would be fine if the gearbox were as slick as the opposition, but it isn't, quite. The gate is rather vague and not strongly sprung, and you need to have a care not to catastrophically wrong-slot the lever, especially between second and third gears.

The ride feels firm without being as uncomfortable as some rivals (you know who you are, Honda). Michelin Super Sport tyres on 19-inch rims will let you know all about potholes, but they don't fire road vibrations through to the major controls and, my days they've got some grip! On the Ascari Race Resort track near Ronda in Southern Spain, they clung tenaciously to the track, resisting at least some of the tendency for the tail to fly out on a trailing throttle and for the nose to run wide. Yes, the front will wash out to the outside of corners if you aren't gentle with the steering, but the tyres and that remarkable Torsen differential will try to pull the nose through the turns. And while the tail will eventually slide out, it's reasonably benign and the stability controls resist the worse excess.


For all that, however, the more focused opposition feels more stable and secure at very high speeds, where the Peugeot's body movement and lack of steering feedback don't inspire the same level of confidence.

It's a strange mixture, this car. On the one hand, it's a refined and grown-up approach to the GTi canon, which costs a relatively reasonable £28,590, while a lot of rivals are well over £30,000. With a Combined fuel consumption of 47.1mpg and CO2 emissions of 139g/km, running costs should be reasonable, too, provided you don't use all the performance, all of the time. Yet that peaky engine, less-than accurate gear change quality and the twist-beam skittishness to the handling, are flaws that don't sit well in the combination. The 308 GTi falls short of greatness because of a failure to address obvious problems and to properly think through its purpose against rival manufacturers who offer their GTis in multi-model ranges. I liked it, but if it were my money, I'd dig a bit deeper for the Focus or the Golf.

The Numbers:

Engine: 1,598cc, four-cylinder turbo petrol

Transmission: 6-spd manual, front-wheel drive

Bhp/lb ft: 266/243

0-62mph: 6 seconds

Top speed: 155mph

Price as tested: £28,590 

  • Peugeot

  • Goodwood

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