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

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FIRST DRIVE - JOSHUA DOWL­ING NA­TIONAL MO­TOR­ING EDITOR joshua.dowl­ing@news.com.au

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?

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