JOHN Startari wants people to have an affair. The local boss of the French car importer, rather than spruiking a dating service, is talking about Peugeot’s need to have customers get up close and personal with its latest model — even if it is only for a cheeky run around the block.
The car he’s touting is the Peugeot 308 compact hatch and wagon, a line-up bolstered by this week’s arrival of GT variants.
Unlike the GTi badge stuck on outright performance Pugs, the GT is a grand tourer, merging a luxurious interior with a respectable turn of pace when required.
The Peugeot 308 is the incumbent European Car of the Year and the GT is for now the best packaged proposition. Those wanting outright performance will need to hang on for the unconvincingly unconfirmed 308 R.
Peugeot’s pricing isn’t wide of the mark with the GT range. The absence of an automatic transmission for the petrol variant is. Autos, even on semi‒hot hatches, are the norm these days and the absence will cost Peugeot sales.
The 1.6-litre turbo petrol with a six-speed manual costs $41,990, or the same coin as a VW Golf GTI. Other rivals include the Renault GT220 Premium at $39,490 and the Mazda3 SP25 Astina at $35,290.
The 2.0-litre turbo diesel is the GT with automatic transmission. In this case it is a six-speed Aisin job that lifts the cost to $42,990. The departure of the Golf GTD from Australian dealerships leaves the $39,890 Mazda Astina XD as the only obvious rival with a similar mix of blinged-up features and bring-it-on attitude.
Standard gear on the Peugeot shames most rivals, from a 9.7-inch touchscreen with satnav and reversing camera to the alcantara and leather trimmed seats with massage function, LED headlamps and a Driver Assist pack with blind-spot monitoring, park assist with auto-exiting function, semiadaptive cruise control and emergency collision alert with auto braking — it will slow the car by up to 20km/h if the driver fails to intervene.
Metallic paint is a $990 option — and only one of the six Peugeot GT colours isn’t premium paint. Full leather upholstery with heated front seats adds $2500.
The difference between warm and hot comes down to excitement. In the GT’s case, the agitation is enough to stir the blood without boiling it.
Peugeot reiterates this is not a GTi, so direct comparisons to the speed and cornering prowess of hot-hatch rivals isn’t valid.
For the record, the petrolpowered car hits 100km/h in a sprightly 7.5 seconds; the diesel takes almost a second longer but compensates with better mid-range acceleration.
The driving position is set well inboard and a tilt and reach-adjustable steering wheel makes it easy to find a natural stance, though newcomers will need a few minutes to adjust to the small steering wheel.
The electric power steering — needed to sharpen the rack when the Sport button is depressed — likewise takes some adapting. The weighting changes as lock and pace increases though there is always plenty of feel from the front wheels.
Lowering the ride height and stiffening the springs over a regular 308 hasn’t had any impact on passenger comfort and the composure on secondary roads is one of the GT’s highlights.
Grip from the Michelin rubber is prodigious and it takes a concerted effort to push hard enough to induce understeer. Things aren’t quite as composed at the other end of the car, with the torsion beam rear suspension briefly stepping out (the stability control quickly catches it) if drivers abruptly lift off the accelerator entering a turn.
The high-mounted instrument cluster — Peugeot’s take on an alternative heads-up display — can cut the time spent checking the speed, though having the tacho spin up counterclockwise is an affectation the French can keep.
Drivers may also need to adapt their posture to clearly see the digital speedo in the centre of the screen.
The absence of buttons on the centre console — almost everything is operated via the touchscreen — gives the interior a clean, classy look reinforced by high quality plastics and faux metal highlights.
Fit and finish look and feel more Germanic than French. Combine that with a decent 435L boot and the GT fulfils its brief as a comfortable daily commuter that doubles as a de facto hot hatch on the weekends.
The 308GT is more business regalia than boy racer. That’s a relatively rare mix in the small car field and should reignite the latent passion for Peugeots.