Saturday 10 December 2016

Peugeot's hot hatch strikes balance with cool comfort

The 308 GTi is easy to live with day to day in the way it blends practicality and performance

Published 13/11/2016 | 02:30

Distinctive: Geraldine Herbert with the 308 GTi Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Distinctive: Geraldine Herbert with the 308 GTi Photo: Kyran O'Brien

When it comes to a hot hatch, there are key requirements - it needs to be balanced, responsive and fast but also should be reasonably composed, calm and comfortable enough to live with day to day.

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Sitting 11mm lower to the ground than the regular 308, the Peugeot 308 GTi is the latest hot hatch to be unleashed by the French marque.

Developed by Peugeot Sport, the brand's in-house team of motor-sport engineers, the 308 GTi is its fourth road car project in three years following the RCZ R, 208 GTi 30th Anniversary and 208 GTi.

All the visual GTi cues are evident from every angle, including red Peugeot lettering on the grille, sports side skirts, GTi badging, full LED headlamps and 19in alloy wheels. Our test car came in a dark blue but tick the box for 'Coupe Franche', the two-tone design in red and black, to really stand out.

A very able 270 horsepower engine with torque of up to 330NM belies the car's sporty heritage and a pair of chromed pipes are tuned to deliver an exhaust note that pairs beautifully with the car's performance.

High quality materials are used throughout and while you are in no doubt that this is a hot hatch, it's all very grown up and sophisticated with sculpted race-inspired seats in leather and Alcantara. The dash is clean and streamlined and there's a large touch screen that controls all the main functions, but it's fiddly to use and quite unintuitive.

The foot pedals, foot rest and gear knob are finished in aluminium and add a classy feel overall. Plenty of adjustment options and lots of space make life comfortable for those up front, although the large 470-litre boot does compromise legroom for rear-seat passengers.

Features include cruise control with speed limiter, electric handbrake, auto headlamps and wipers, electro-chrome rear view mirror, front and rear parking sensors with rear parking camera, electric folding door mirrors, satellite navigation, Bluetooth and USB input and driver and passenger lumbar adjustment.

There are two versions of the GTi to choose from; a 250bhp or a 270bhp and both are powered by the same turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol engine. Our test car, the more powerful of the two, goes from standstill to 100kmh in six seconds with a top speed of 249km/h.

The GTi 270 version also gets larger but lighter wheels, sportier bucket seats, bigger brakes and a limited-slip differential which improves the grip when cornering so it can accelerate faster as it exits a bend. However, you will experience wheel spin from the Michelin Super Sport tyres on wet conditions if you put your foot down hard.

The ride is firm but not harsh, and out on the open road it delivers first-class grip and control without any unwelcome road noise. You also get a reasonably smooth six-speed manual gearbox but there were times I longed for something a little slicker.

Press the Sport button on the centre console and the display colour changes from white to red and it sharpens throttle response, stiffens up the steering and enhances the engine grumble.

The main criticism with this car is the steering, there is a dullness and lifelessness to it, so while the car ticks those crucial hot-hatch boxes and feels very fast, it's not quite as engaging as you would expect.

The 308 GTi balances plenty of power with reasonable fuel economy and CO2 emissions of 139g/km means annual Motor Tax is €280 plus Peugeot reckons it will return about six litres/100km or 47mpg.

Prices for the 250bhp version start at €37,175 and our test car with 270bhp at €40,175.

Rivals include the SEAT Leon Cupra with 290bhp which starts at €36,560, the Ford Focus ST with 182bhp at €39,400 or Volkswagen's Golf GTi with 220bhp at €36,595.

Down the years, Peugeot has produced some iconic cars. The 205 GTi was one of the best hot hatches of the 1980s and early 1990s. With so much racing DNA, it should come as no surprise that it can still deliver a seriously good hot hatch.

But hot hatches are a delicate balance between comfort and performance, so while rivals may be more engaging to drive, there are not many that would be as easy to live with on a day-to-day basis as the comfortable, spacious and practical five-door Peugeot 308 GTi.

Sunday Independent

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