IN THE RED COR­NER . . .

Peu­geot un­veils a con­tender for that other hot hatch, writes JOHN CAREY

Geelong Advertiser - Motoring - - USED CARS -

THIS French hot hatch has the grunt and good looks to take on Golf ’s GTI but does it have ap­peal?

GTi or GTI? It’s a ques­tion hothatch buy­ers will be ask­ing from early next year. That’s when fast and feisty version of Peu­geot’s best new car in years, the 308 hatch­back, will join line-up Aus­tralia.

The French com­pany ad­mits that its tar­gets a great Ger­man, Golf GTI.

As with Volk­swa­gen, Peu­geot has aimed for bal­anced blend of power and prac­ti­cal­ity. 308 GTi comes only as five-door car. There are few vis­ual hints that it packs some­thing hy­per­ac­tive in its en­gine bay. It sits a lit­tle lower to the road (11mm), has big wheels tyres (18 or 19-inch), wears dif­fer­ent front and rear bumpers and has a pair of big ex­haust pipes. It’s low-key ap­proach high per­for­mance, which is also the Golf GTI way.

But un­like VW, Peu­geot has a so­lu­tion for any­one who wants their GTi to scream its sta­tus on streets. The op­tional two-colour paint job Peu­geot will of­fer is eye-catching. The coupe franche treat­ment — French for “fresh cut” leaves the front two- thirds of the car red, but with a black back end. It will only be avail­able on

high-power version, and won’t cheap.

While 308 GTi comes a 1.6-litre tur­bocharged four, Peu­geot will pro­duce the en­gine with 184kW and 200kW out­puts. Metal parts are iden­ti­cal, in­clud­ing forged pis­tons from Ger­man spe­cial­ist Mahle, heat­treated alu­minium block and Borg Warner twin-scroll turbo. En­gine man­age­ment soft­ware alone is re­spon­si­ble for the power dif­fer­ence.

De­vel­oped by Peu­geot Sport, which con­structs com­pany’s race rally cars, en­gine of 308 GTi a lit­tle beauty. Though smaller than the 2.0-litre turbo four in Golf GTI, French is more pow­er­ful the Ger­man. De­pend­ing on pre­cisely which ver­sions are com­pared, gives its driver 15kW to 38kW power than a GTI.

Peu­geot pre­sented the 308 GTi to in­ter­na­tional me­dia in Por­tu­gal, with driv­ing time on both road and race­track, but only 200kW version.

As well as ex­tra power, this version is equipped stan­dard larger 19-inch Miche­lin tyres, a Torsen lim­ited-slip dif­fer­en­tial and big­ger front brakes from English com­pany Al­con. The en­gine de­liv­ers great shove on a cir­cuit, feels ef­fort­less when cruis­ing at the speed limit. It has real mus­cle, yet is smooth and quiet, too.

tyres are su­perb, making the steer­ing feel sharply re­spon­sive, brakes pow­er­ful. But Peu­geot pairs this great turbo four only with a six-speed man­ual gear­box.

Its in­nards are tough­ened to han­dle the en­gine’s high torque, but it’s not the kind of slick shifter some­thing like 308 GTi de­serves. A big­ger prob­lem is most Aus­tralians pre­fer au­tos, even in hot hatches, and Peu­geot has no plans to of­fer one in the GTi. The 308 GTi has a sim­ple tor­sion-beam axle the rear, which the­ory is in­fe­rior to Golf ’s multi-link sus­pen­sion. But Peu­geot Sport’s en­gi­neers have done a good job dis­guis­ing dis­ad­van­tage with the stiffer springs and shock ab­sorbers they chose.

The 308 GTi turns into cor­ners with real ea­ger­ness barely any body roll. And rear end faith­fully fol­lows the front. While the han­dling is out­stand­ing, ride com­fort good for such a sporty car. sus­pen­sion firm, but it takes edge off road im­pacts.

The in­te­rior of 308 GTi as un­der­stated as its ex­te­rior, and equipped with pair ex­cel­lent leather and Al­can­tara-trimmed sports seats. steer­ing wheel in­stru­ment lay­out the shares with other 308s are less easy to like. The

is small low-set, while main in­stru­ments are mounted high. Look­ing at speedo and di­als over top of wheel, as you must, can feel weird. The sim­ple, good look­ing dash­board also pushes many com­monly used func­tions to the touch screen in its cen­tre. Those who pre­fer to ad­just ven­ti­la­tion with real but­tons, levers and ro­tary con­trols won’t like this.

The 308’s in­te­rior is fine; nicely made from qual­ity ma­te­ri­als, and prac­ti­cal. rear seat isn’t quite as spa­cious as Golf ’s, but the 400 litre­plus boot is a good size. While 308 GTi can match

GTI in some key ar­eas, like per­for­mance and han­dling, its lack of auto, in­te­rior lay­out slightly more squeezy rear seat will prove a show­room chal­lenge when it ar­rives next year. But price be the big­gest

for GTi. Th­ese are not yet fixed, but of­fi­cial line from the im­porter is ba­sic and high-power ver­sions will some­where $45,000 to $55,000. In other words, more ex­pen­sive than Golf GTI.

Even with its power edge, it’s hard to see the GTi do­ing any­thing but eat the GTI’s dust.

While the 308 GTi comes only with a 1.6-litre tur­bocharged four, Peu­geot will pro­duce the en­gine with 184kW and 200kW out­puts

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