Warmer re­la­tions

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive - CRAIG DUFF craig.duff@news.com.au

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.

VALUE

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.

DRIV­ING

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.

VER­DICT

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.

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