Sunny weekends with the Peugeot 308 GTi

First glances. Spring seems to have arrived. Albeit tentatively, there is definitely a warmth in the air now that wasn’t there a couple of weeks ago and two ridiculously sunny weekends in a row have more than set the ball rolling when it comes to getting away and weekend adventures. I had a Peugeot 308 GTi for a week to review, and while I had it, it seemed a great shame not to take it to where I thought it would feel quite at home – the B-roads of the English coastline.

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First Impressions

First impressions of the car aren’t as dramatic and you might expect. There isn’t a great deal of shouting going on here, and for its performance promises I thought I’d see some overt detailing where there was none. What you do get though is a significantly lowered suspension, huge alloys that are very much as aggressive as they need to be, and some lovely little logos that in Peugeot’s typography actually look rather good. So far so good – the 308 GTi in red is still a standout car even though it might not be able to match the Cupra for cuteness, the VW Golf R for showmanship or the Megane Renaultsport 275 Cup S for curves and French swagger.

 

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Although the car doesn’t shout about its performance credentials from the outside, Peugeot make it slightly more apparent from the inside. Compulsory red stitching is, of course, adorning the seats and the steering wheel, and a firmly minimal appearance with plethora of touchscreen options available is easy to use and surprisingly good. It also allows there to be very little clutter inside, something which sets it apart from its German rivals and was very welcome indeed.

Minimal rules inside and that’s so far so good. I haven’t been a huge fan of Peugeot’s insistence on their cabin layout but in the 308 GTi is does begin to make sense. I could definitely do with a different, more rounded gearstick however (maybe more akin to the Honda Civic Type R).

A SPORT button next to the Start Stop masks some clever tricks, but aside from a pumped engine sound and brighter gauges it doesn’t add much to how to car makes you feel. It did tighten everything up though, and gave an impression of confidence that was maybe lacking before.

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Performance and Handling

This car doesn’t hang about, that’s for sure. 266bhp may seem like an indecent amount in a Peugeot 308, but the car is still surprisingly composed and you’ll find 60 on the clock easily this side of seven seconds. The chassis doesn’t have the same lithe, squirming feel as say the equivalent Renault, Honda or even the Golf R , but that doesn’t matter for most people. It’s still in essence quite a sensible car, but it still goads your right foot, and that’s almost a necessity for a GTi of this nature.

The gearbox suffers from the same issue I seem to find across Peugeot’s range, in that the throw is far too long for a car of this type. On the road trip down to Woolacombe, this didn’t matter at all as it was mostly cruising, but if chucking it between the corners it’s clear that the gearshifts could be reduced in time if it felt less limp and was as decisive as the excellent Honda Type R’s shift.

In fact, stamp on your right foot and you’ll find yourself propelled quickly with a force you don’t quite expect. It wriggles around, still forcing itself to find grip in the front tyres well into third gear. Mid-corner grip is impressive though: press on and lean into the car in the corners and you’ll be greatly rewarded despite initial misgivings of actually how far you can push this thing. Having been chewed up and spat out the other end of the apex by the diff though, the answer is quite far. The 270 is the only version (out of this tested car and the slightly cheaper 250) that has this limited slip diff, but if you are a true GTi head, it’s worth going for.

 

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Inside

The bucket seats on the trip down to Woolacombe were a tad uncomfortable for my liking, and the ride firmer and stiffer than it really needs to be – I think I’d still choose a VW Golf R in this department. Also, for a brand that takes itself so seriously otherwise, why do away with cup holders? Minor maybe, but just because I want to drive fast doesn’t mean I don’t want to stop for a coffee.

However, Peugeot’s familiar driving position, small steering wheel and ‘eyes over’ approach starts to make sense in the GTi where maybe it doesn’t in the more conventional examples. Aside from the at times uncomfortable sports seats and limited rear legroom, the interior is a lovely place to be and the atmosphere is sporty and confident. More quality here than you’d expect.

Summary

Overall I see this car as a good middle ground between the Golf GTi and the likes of the VW Golf R and the Renaultsport Megane. Peugeot know where they’re pitching this car and they’ve not been afraid to stick their noses out a bit. The drive is engaging, the levels of grip are impressive with the diff on the 270 version, and you’ll be impressed at the amount you can throw at it. It possibly lacks the edge of the 208 equivalent, but that hardly matters because the 308 GTi is like its older big brother – it does a mighty fine job on its own but could do with roughening up a bit – not to say that it’s boring, at all.

Give it a better gearbox and some livelier, more dynamic handling characteristics and you’d have a GTi here that’s up with the very best from any manufacturer. I think that’s a credit, and Peugeot should be proud of themselves with this car, it’s far more than I expected and was a car I wanted to find any excuse to drive, and when I did I didn’t really want to get out of it. If you’re looking for something performance and price wise that sits just under the Golf R, Civic Type-R, Renaultsport Megane and the like, then I would very highly recommend the 308 GTi. Great fun.

 

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