Turn up the heat
Peugeot returns to the ranks of the spicier hatches with five-doors that adhere to a pioneering recipe. They steer sharply, simmer — and sizzle
ONE of the original hot hatches is back. French maker Peugeot has returned to the world’s biggest performance-car class with the 308 GTi.
The company has had “warm” hatches for the past decade or so but by its own admission this is its first authentic hot hatch in 15 years.
It joins a vastly different market than the one it helped pioneer with the Peugeot 205 GTi in the 1980s.
Today, the category is dominated by vehicles such as the Volkswagen Golf GTI ($40,990), Ford Focus ST ($38,990), Renault Megane RS ($43,990) and Subaru WRX ($38,990) — the latter is not a hatch, but attracts the same kind of buyer.
That’s why the $44,990 starting price of the Peugeot 308 GTi 250 raises eyebrows.
The uprated 308 GTi 270 (with more power, bigger wheels and brakes, a mechanical limited-slip differential and sports seats) is $49,990 plus on-roads.
Add a panorama sunroof ($1200), “ultimate” red paint ($1700) and two-tone treatment ($3000) and the price climbs to $55,890 plus on-roads.
This puts the Peugeot in another league among the flagship all-wheel-drive hot hatches such as the VW Golf R ($52,740) and the coming Ford Focus RS ($50,990).
Nevertheless, Peugeot says it has a healthy list of forward orders, even before the car arrives in showrooms.
So what’s the fuss all about? The engine might be relatively small (it’s a 1.6-litre turbo among a field of 2.0-litre turbo power) but the French have done wonders with it.
The internals have been strengthened and the turbocharger boosted to create impressive outputs.
The numbers are 184kW of power for the 250 model and 200kW for the 270 (the badges refer to horsepower), making them competitive with the Focus ST (186kW), Golf GTI (169kW), Megane RS (201kW) and WRX (197kW).
Torque is the same in each GTi — 330Nm from such a small engine is impressive but not quite as much as its peers.
The ace up the Peugeot’s sleeve, however, is its light body. At just 1205kg, it undercuts rivals by at least 100kg and it’s impressively quick.
Claimed 0-100km/h times of 6.2 seconds for the 250 and 6.0 seconds for the top-line 270 are at the head of the class. Most rivals listed here fall in the 6.0 to 6.5-second bracket.
The 308 GTi’s engine is responsive and powerful and there is no delay in power delivery at low engine revs, customarily a turbo trait. It revs smoothly and eagerly all the way to the red-line.
What’s missing from the hot hatch equation is the sound. In normal drive mode, the GTi is almost mute. In sport mode, which improves throttle response but doesn’t increase power, a synthesised engine note is pumped into the cabin — unfortunately, it sounds as authentic as the siren on a Fisher Price toy fire truck.
The grip from the 19-inch wheels shod with Michelin tyres (standard on the 270 and a $1600 option on the 250) is astounding.
Armed with its mechanical limited-slip diff, the GTi 270 bursts out of corners with incredible grip and accuracy. The 250 can struggle for traction exiting tight bends.
In both models, there is the occasional tug at the wheel as the front tyres try to find traction.
My favourite parts of the 270 are the massive front brakes. They are almost the same size as the supercharged Holden Special Vehicles GTS, which weighs half a tonne more. The 250’s standard brakes are on par with other hot hatches.
So, what’s not to like? The steering is super sharp and accurate but the wheel obscures the view of the digital speed display.
The rev counter runs anticlockwise for some inexplicable reason, the road roar from the tyres is loud, even by performance car standards, and on the roads we sampled the ride over bumps was firm but not bone jarring. Will buyers care? Not a jot. The only dilemma is choosing which one to buy. I couldn’t detect any performance difference between the 250 and 270 but the upgrade to the 270’s larger brakes, limited-slip diff and sportier seats would be worth the $5000 leap if you’re a diehard Peugeot fan.
If you’re not a diehard, the Ford Focus ST has more character and is still the best bang for your bucks. VERDICT Welcome back, Peugeot, to the hot-hatch club. What took you so long?