PEUGEOT HAS A LONG HISTORY OF BUILDING FAST FRONT-DRIVERS THAT CORNER LIKE A CUT CAT, YET IT'S BEEN WITHOUT A GTI-BADGED SMALL HATCH SINCE THE TURN OF THE CENTURY.
That changes soon, with the Australian arrival of the Peugeot 308 GTi now just two months away. For years, the only Peugeot Sport option was the 208 GTi, but from February you'll be able to slide into something bigger, more powerful and much, much quicker.
Vehicle Style: Performance five-door small hatch
Price: $44,990 (308 GTi 250), $49,990 (308 GTi 270
Engine/trans: 184kW/330Nm (308 GTi 250), 200kW/330Nm (308 GTi 270) | 6sp manual
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.0 l/100km
Peugeot’s foray into the increasingly-crowded realm of five-door hot hatches is set to begin in February next year, and if you’re a freak for on-paper statistics you’ll likely be impressed.
The 308 GTi has got the right set of numbers. Two versions will be offered - a 184kW "GTi 250" entrypoint and a 200kW "GTi 270" flagship - with a six-speed manual the sole transmission and a 0-100km/h time of 6.0 seconds for the 200kW kerjigger.
How does that compare to the Volkswagen Golf GTI, the car widely regarded as the gold standard in five-door hot-hatchery?
Very well, even considering the Pug is the pricier machine. The base 250 comes in at $44,990 before on-roads, while the 270 retails for $49,990.
The standard Golf GTI manual has “just” 162kW of power and will hit 100km/h in 6.5 seconds, while the Golf GTI Performance has a modest hike in power to 169kW, gains a proper mechanical limited-slip differential, but shaves just 0.1 seconds off its sprint time - and that’s with a slick-shifting twin-clutch auto.
Impressively, the Pug competes this well despite being down 400cc in engine displacement compared to its German rival. That’s right, there’s just a 1.6 litre underneath its bonnet - a very highly configured one borrowed from the Peugeot RCZ-R
But numbers only tell part of the story. How does it actually perform when rubber meets asphalt and sneaker meets accelerator?
Peugeot Australia was keen to help us find the answer, and thanks to some logistical luck (a handful of cars managed to sneak aboard a freighter ahead of the main shipment of 308 GTis) they held a small gathering at Sydney Motor Sport Park (nee Eastern Creek) for the motoring media.
Our stint behind the wheel was brief - just two laps in all - but it was enough to tell us that the new 308 flagship does justice to the storied GTi badge.
On The Track
Only one car was available for us to drive, a burgundy 200kW 308 GTi 270 model with an optional panoramic glass sunroof.
Inside, it’s mostly similar to the 308 GT. There’s a few splashes of red here and there, a set of well-bolstered front seats and a GTi badge or two, but it’s familiar territory.
Not necessarily a bad thing. We’re fond of the 308’s clean, well-built and fuss-free cabin, even more so small-diameter steering wheel. Extra embellishments would just go against the theme of “restrained aggression” that has guided the rest of the GTi’s design.
But while the design may be restrained, the performance isn’t. It may only have a tiddly 1.6, but thanks to big gobs of boost (36psi of it), the 308 GTi rockets away with a mere flex of an ankle.
It’s not a great handicap on a track like Eastern Creek though. The onset of boost isn’t sudden either, and the great swell of torque produced by the GTi’s 1.6 gives it impressive tractability out of corners, even at low revs.
As low as 1900rpm, in fact. That’s when peak torque becomes available, and it doesn’t quit until 4000rpm. With such a broad torque band, the GTi’s powertrain has immense flexibility despite its size.
And on a circuit, that means you don’t need to shift as often. Generous low-end torque coupled with a 6000rpm peak power point and a 6800rpm redline means you can drive it hard through almost the entirety of its rev range.
In the GTi 270 a Torsen limited-slip differential helps with traction, eliminating inside wheel spin when punching the throttle on corner exit and helping divide power evenly between the front wheels.
It’ll push wide if you jump on the power too early in a corner, but there’s never a sense than the front wheels are at risk of breaking loose and turning into a flailing, axle-tramping mess. For a front-driver with 200kW and 330Nm, that’s impressive.
Torque steer is minimised thanks to a few tricks employed by Peugeot Sport.
Though it does without any fancy front suspension (the GTi only has a basic MacPherson strut front setup), the six-speed manual transaxle has short, equal-length driveshafts going to the front wheels.
The front track width has also been widened by 22mm at the front (16mm at the rear), but it’s balanced out by suspension geometry that minimises its effect on torque steer.
Between the clever differential and these changes, the Peugeot 308 GTi handles high-speed corners with a minimum of fuss.
It handles stopping just as easily too. The 308 GTi 270 comes standard with a hefty set of brakes, with the front axle equipped with 380mm two-piece front rotors and four-piston calipers supplied by Alcon.
Brake feel is solid and, and the car feels balanced under hard braking. Two laps wasn’t enough to test out its resistance to fade, but these brakes certainly feel confidence-inspiring.
Credit must also go to the Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres. Extremely difficult to unstick, they handle hard acceleration, cornering and braking forces with aplomb, and didn’t suffer a meltdown even after sustained abuse from a bunch of journos.
However take note if you go for the less powerful GTi 250 - the front brake package is downsized to 330mm rotors, you miss out on the Torsen differential and sports front seats, and the grippy Michelin Pilot Super Sports are swapped out for less aggressive Pilot Sport 3s.
We’ll find out just how much of an affect those absences have on performance in due course.
What’s our verdict? Well, it’d be unfair to deliver a definitive conclusion based on just a couple of hard laps around a circuit, but we can confidently state the 308 GTi behaves like a proper hot hatch should.
Don’t worry about its relatively modest exterior. If you’re an extrovert and you want your car to reflect that, there are showier hot hatches that will better cater to you.
But if you’re after a purposeful fast five-door that’s a solid alternative to the other “gentlemen’s hot hatch”, the Golf GTI, then the Peugeot 308 GTi warrants your attention.
We'll have a more thorough spin in February, when the new 308 GTi officially launches.