Let me tell you about a short fling I had with a French model. I should’ve known it was going to be a rocky relationship from the beginning. It took us a while to get together, I had tried to arrange a date since last year but our schedules never matched.
Eventually the dates were set and I picked her up, ready for a few days to see what she’s like to live with in the real world. I was curious to see how she coped day to day life and I had planned on taking her to one of my favourite roads in Japan.
The 308 GTi is available in two guises; the more attractive of the pair is the GTi 270 as tested here. As the name suggests it comes packed with 200kW/270hp and 330NM. The GTi 270 also comes with a Torsen LSD, larger brakes, larger gripper tyres, and lower sports suspension. It also comes with a few other extras we’ll talk about later.
The smaller twin is the standard 308 GTi that has to make do with 183kW/250hp. New Zealand doesn’t get the lesser GTi so there’s no need to bother talking about that. However, that does mean the 308 GTi does have a higher starting price because only the top-end 270 is available.
It wasn’t love at first sight. She wasn’t offensive to look at but didn’t really get my heart racing either. From the off I knew she’d be more of a mature and sophisticated hot hatch like a Golf GTI than a silly and immature one like the Focus RS. Her optional two-tone dress did make her stand out though. However, I couldn’t help but imagine what she’d look like in a more subtle colour scheme.
The standard 308 is quite a handsome looking hatchback, certainly one of the more chic designs in this segment. The GTi version adds to that with sporty touches such as the larger alloys and dual exhausts. It doesn’t shout it’s a hot hatch. There are subtle reminders here and there but there’s a very French elegance about it all.
It’s what’s on the inside that matters right? That’s particularly the case with a hot hatch. These types of cars should give you the best of both worlds; a sporty and exciting cabin that can be used daily for school runs and trips to the supermarket.
The boot was big enough to eat up a most family’s weekly shop or dog. There was good visibility all around too, usually cars these days have a few blind spots but are usually negated with driving aids. The GTi makes do without these because of the emphasis as a driver’s car. I respect that.
As a driver’s car it comes with a small and sporty steering wheel. That’s all well and fine but for some reason I could never find a comfortable position to put it in. It’d either be so high I couldn’t see the instrument dials, or far too low that my arms get twisted with my legs.
Speaking of the instrument dials, over rough surfaces the whole thing would rattle. The slot for the CD player wasn’t fitted correctly, I didn’t understand why the armrest had to have three different height settings, and there was only one cupholder for the front.
Yet you could forgive it for those shortcomings because the bucket seats were amazing, both in design and comfort. They held you tight around corners as if the car never wanted to let you go. The leather was one of the nicest and softest of any mainstream car, it had the feel of a high-end Parisian handbag.
But then there was the space for the rear passengers. Behind my own driving position, my knees were touching the front seats. It’s fine back there for children and short people but it might be a bit tight for larger adults. A car not destined for the American market, then.
Rear space aside, the materials used throughout the interior were rather nice. The bits you touched and saw most of the time felt solid and posh, while the bits down below were where you’d find the cheaper plastics.
The 1.6-litre engine is a gem. How Peugeot managed to get 200kW/270hp and 330NM from such a small engine, I’ll never know. But the results are easy to understand. 0-100 km/h in 6.2 seconds, top speed is 250 km/h. Put all of that together in a car weighing 1.2 tonnes and you’ve got a recipe for an absolute hoot.
I’d imagine that 0-100 km/h would be quicker still with a dual-clutch gearbox. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it), you can only have the 308 GTi with a manual. I do love a manual car, and it’s been awhile since I’ve driven one. Actually very nearly two years since my last three-pedal car.
Luckily the manual in the 308 is very easy to use. The clutch is light and easy to get used to, the gear changes are slick too. They’re not quite as short and tight as I’d want from a hot hatch, but it does mean it’s quite easy to go through gears in town.
The problem was, she was a lefty in a place where they’re mostly righties. So I was on the wrong side of the car, changing gears myself, in one of the busiest and densest cities in the world. That wasn’t her fault but I could see how it could be annoying to do everyday.
I’ve been with left-hand drive cars before, both the Alpina D3 and Mercedes-AMG C63 were wrong-hand drive but because they were automatics it was a lot easier. You really do need a co-pilot to help you navigate through blind bends, to help with overtaking manoeuvres, and not kill yourselves when turning right at intersections.
But then the 308 is so light and fun and responsive you forget all that. The controls were direct and she was quick on her feet. What grippy feet there were too. The GTi 270 comes with a limited slip diff and I swear, a front wheel drive car should not go around corners so brilliantly as this car.
Even with some encouragement the front never feels like it was to break free and push out. The front wheels turn and grip. That’s all they do. It gives you the confidence to learn more about the car’s driving dynamics and blend with it easier.
I loved how she was clean too, with no sign of driving aids. No blind spot assist, no lane departure warning, no radar-guided cruise control. She was an old-fashioned type of hot hatch that wanted to be driven with your full attention.
Now, some of those might be nice to have but I respect and admire Peugeot’s decision to make the 308 strictly something to drive and not be driven in. Hell, it has cruise control but for some reason it wouldn’t work. It simply would not turn on no matter what buttons I pressed on the stalk.
But then the ride was a bit too firm for the city and on motorway journeys road noise was quite intrusive in the cabin. On rougher road surfaces you could feel the shape of the stones you’re driving on.
However, take her out on some country roads and she really comes to life. You can tell while she’s doesn’t mind city life, she longs to be taken out to the countryside. Maybe that’s her rural roots talking. In typical French fashion, she did drink a lot. Despite the relatively small engine size, I was averaging around 8L/100km. Not too far from the claimed 6L/100km but still quite a lot for a 1600cc engine.
Unfortunately my time with her was cut short as she did the most cliched French thing ever; she just gave up. According to Peugeot Japan’s mechanics, the car reported “several errors”. Perhaps this was an isolated case but it did leave me with a memory I’ll never forget – being stranded in the middle of nowhere under Mount Fuji.
|Brand/Model||Engine||Power (kW)/Torque (NM)||Fuel L/100km||CO2 g/km||Price – High to Low|
|Mercedes Benz A250 Sport||2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo petrol||160kW/350NM||6.7L/100km||156g/km||$68,800|
|Audi A3 TFSI Sport||2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo petrol||140kW/320NM||5.9L/100km||133g/km||$61,500
|Volvo V40 T5||2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo petrol||180kW/350NM||5.9L/100km||137g/km||$59,900|
|Peugeot 308 GTI||1.6-litre, four-cylinder turbo petrol||200kW/330NM||6.0L/100km||139g/km||$58,990|
|BMW 125i||2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo petrol||160kW/310NM||6.5L/100km||151g/km||$58,600|
|Mini Cooper JCW||2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo petrol||170kW/320NM||6.7L/100km||194g/km||$54,500|
|Volkswagen Golf GTI||2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo petrol||162kW/350NM||6.4L/100km||139g/km||$54,490|
|Ford Focus ST||2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo petrol||184kW/360NM||7.2L/100km||169g/km||$52,840|
|Skoda Octavia vRS||2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo petrol||162kW/350NM||6.4L/100km||149g/km||$49,990|
|Subaru WRX||2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo petrol||197kW/350NM||9.2L/100km||213g/km||$49,990|
Pros and Cons
What We Think
I really enjoyed driving the 308 GTi, especially with that manual box. For the most part it’s a great alternative to the usual suspects of hot hatches in the form of the Golf GTI, Focus RS, and Civic Type-R.
The powertrain is an absolute gem and with the LSD it’s a serious mountain road killer too. The way it corners without wanting to push its nose out is a feat that needs to be seen to be believed. It’s fine for all the normal practical everyday stuff too with a very usable sized boot, space for four, and all that jazz.
It did have its quirks, like the placement of the instrument cluster, the cruise control buttons that didn’t work, the rattly CD player, the toy-like feeling of the doors, and the horrendous warning noise it made when you open the door without applying the parking brake. These are all forgivable flaws because it’s a very charming, easy to like, and most importantly fun car.
It’s not perfect but that’s what made it so enjoyable. I learned to live with these quirks and the GTi’s personality grew on me more and more. For all its flaws it was still a very good car and one that made every journey feel special. That is, until it broke down.
|Vehicle Type||Hot Hatch|
Options: Two-tone paint – $4,500
|Engine||1598cc four-cylinder turbo|
|0-100 kph||6.0 seconds|
|Length x Width x Height||4253mm x 2043mm x 1447mm|
|ANCAP Safety Ratings||5 Stars|