THE ‘SMALL CAR, BIG ENGINE’ PHILOSOPHY ONCE DEFINED THE HOT HATCH GENRE. But now, the 2016 Peugeot 308 GTi 250 is here to prove that 'small engine, big power' is the better way to go.
That’s because Peugeot’s newest hot hatch fires from just 1.6 litres, where most of its competitors are 2.0 litre cars.
On the open road you’d be hard-pressed to pick the missing displacement - this is an engine that roars, clearly announcing that after an extended absence, Peugeot means business with its latest hot-hatch.
Vehicle Style: Five-door hot hatch
Price: $44,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 184kW/330Nm 1.6 4cyl turbo petrol | 6sp manual
Fuel Economy Claimed: 6.0 l/100km | Tested: 8.0 l/100km
At the top end of the Peugeot 308 range are two new hot hatches: the 308 GTi 250 and 308 GTi 270. And each is shooting for glory.
The GTi 270 goes all-out with a higher engine output, beefier brakes, and a limited-slip differential perfect for race track forays. The GTi 250 we're testing here takes a sightly more sensible approach to 'hot hatchery', without dulling things down.
The engine is still spry, and the handling razor sharp, but smaller wheels make it easier to live with day-to-day, and the standard equipment list reads like a prestige car.
There’s a catch though, with a starting price of $44,990 before options and on-roads, the 308 GTi 250 is at the top of the hot hatch pricing tree, so it’s hardly a budget buy.
But nor does it present a budget look or feel.
- Standard equipment: Dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, sports seats, sports steering wheel, alloy pedals, cruise control with speed limiter, automatic lights and wipers, rear privacy glass, multi-function trip computer, cooled glovebox, 18-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 9.7-inch touch screen controlling all infotainment fucntions, 6.9GB music hard drive, 2x USB ports, CD Player, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, satellite navigation
- Cargo volume: 470 litres minimum, 1309 litres maximum
The entire 308 range enjoys an interior that oozes modern sophistication, thanks to its almost entirely buttonless interface, and minimalist design.
As with other 308s, the GTi 250 features Peugeot’s i-Cockpit layout, which places a wide and low instrument cluster over a small steering wheel, giving a go kart-like feel at the helm.
It’s an odd set up initially, but pretty soon it feels second nature. You learn to place the steering wheel low and set your legs to either side of it, and the visibility it opens up is fantastic, with a colour display between the two gauges giving plenty of vital info.
We could really do without the contra-rotating tachometer, which pushes the gimmick just a little too far. We’d like a few extra buttons in that centre stack too.
While the interior is slick to look at, even minor adjustments of the aircon or audio system mean choosing the relevant display screen, then making your adjustment. A couple of temp, fan, and audio-skip buttons surely wouldn’t ruin the aesthetics that much.
The touchscreen interface is easy to understand and use, but, for the moment, the 308 GTi misses out on the latest Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. Digital radio doesn’t make it to the spec list either.
Sport front seats also give the interior of the 250 model a more sporty feel, with bolstered seatbacks, and semi-integrated head restraints, finished in Alcantara and leather, with red accent stitching.
There’s also a few other GTi touches, like a flat-bottomed steering wheel, sports pedals, and a chunky leather and aluminium gear knob.
Both front and rear seat passengers are given a generous amount of space to stretch out in, and because there’s no swooping fastback roofline to contend with, rear seat passengers don’t come off second-best.
Interior storage is a bit of a mixed bag - there’s not much room in the glovebox, and only a small space under the centre armrest, but if you flip the single center cup-holder out of the way, it hides a huge storage bin that fills the space beneath the console. A great way to store things out of sight.
And the GTi is every bit as practical as the regular 308 hatch at the rear, with the same 470 litre cargo volume, and split-fold rear seats that open up to 1309 litre of space.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 184kW/330Nm 1.6 litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
- Transmission: Six-sped manual, front wheel drive
- Suspension: ‘Pseuedo’ MacPherson strut, hollow 21mm anti-roll bar front, torsion beam rear
- Brakes: 330 x 30mm ventilated front disc, 268 x 12mm rear rear disc
- Steering: (type, electrically assisted, variable-ratio rack, etc, turning circle)
- Towing capacity: Electric speed-sensitive power steering
With two ‘flavours’ of GTi available, buyers can select from the all-rounder GTi 250 or the more performance focussed GTi 270.
The GTi 250 tested here is powered by the lower output engine of the two variants, but it’s hardly short of oomph. The turbocharged 1.6 litre four-cylinder deals out 184kW of power at 6000rpm and 330Nm of torque at 1900rpm.
Certainly, among the hot hatch class, the GTi 250 is powered by the smallest engine, yet still provides some of the biggest output figures (before stepping up to all-wheel-drive hyper hatches).
But instead of big turbo lag and cumbersome driving characteristics, the GTi is exactly opposite. It's swift, tractable, and punchy from low down, meaning it's a sweet little motor for punting about town.
Change the circumstances though, wind it out and give it a wide horizon to bound towards, and the top-end urge of the race-prepped engine is really strong, building speed with an urgent rush when pedaled hard.
It sounds busy, with all manner of intake rush, turbo spooling and wastegate venting noises creeping into the cabin. Also adding to the theatre are the booming fuel-cut 'thumps' on upshifts when changing gears under load.
And all of that just sets the tone for a driving machine that offers fantastic cornering and on-road balance.
Unlike the more powerful GTi 270, the 250 does without a limited-slip diff. This takes an edge off things slightly, and you'll be looking for a little more front-axle grip should you really turn up the heat through a set of tight bends.
This isn’t some kind of torque-steering mongrel, but an unladen wheel can eat up a little of the mid-corner urge.
There’s no problem with the way the 308 GTi rides through those bends though, keeping all four corners of the car neatly planted on the tarmac.
The suspension, free from complex adaptive damping, is at all times firm but neither jittery nor sharp
Well, almost always - there’s still the traditional French fun-fest of lift-off oversteer, something Peugeot has supported for decades, and something that’s easy and fun to achieve in this newest GTi, all in a very controllable manner.
A user-friendly clutch is easy and breezy to use, with a communicative take up point, paired to a firm but precise gearshift with a meaty and well-weighted shift action. (And a gear knob that falls to hand perfectly.)
Tap the Sport button on the centre console and the gauges turn a menacing red colour, a performance display appears on the centre screen... and a backup engine track is played through the speakers. It truly doesn't need this faux touch; we could do without it.
That aside, the 308 GTi 250 embodies the hot hatch spirit brilliantly - sensible enough to commute to work daily, but with a wild streak for a weekend spear on the right roads.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - the Peugeot 308 range scored 35.82 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Six airbags (dual front, front seat thorax and full-length curtain airbags) as well as switchable stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD and brake assist. Front and rear park sensors, and a reversing camera are also standard.
Front seatbelts are fitted with load-limiting pretensioners, outboard rear seats carry load limiters and ISOFIX child seat anchorage points.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Ford Focus ST is a brilliant value-for-money proposition, with a starting price below $40k. Long-term class benchmark, the Volkswagen Golf GTI might also hit the spot with a similarly upmarket interior feel, and the availability of an automatic transmission.
If you don’t require five-door versatility then the Renault Megane RS is one of the most sublime front-wheel-drive cars available, but it is starting to show its age, and it can be pricey depending on the variant.
The underdog of the hot hatch class has to be the Holden Astra VXR, highly specced, low priced, and with the strongest engine in the segment, but all too often overlooked.
- Ford Focus ST
- Volkswagen Golf GTI
- Renault Megane RS
- Holden Astra VXR
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Peugeot has done a cracking job with the 308 GTi. It’s a wonderful car with engaging handling and a supremely enjoyable drivetrain.
Despite being always at the ready to attack a favourite winding road, the 308 GTi offers a touch more polish and maturity than Peugeot’s ankle-biting (but endlessly fun) 208 GTi.
It also happens to outclass the Ford Focus ST for interior presentation, and might even be good enough to steal the hot hatch crown from the Volkswagen Golf, in spite of the slightly more expensive starting price.
Perhaps there’s no way you can really put a price on a feel-good moment, but, rest assured, the Peugeot 308 GTi 250 promises plenty of those.