Evo - - CONTENTS - Will Beau­mont (@Will­beau­mont)

What we drive: Peu­geot 308 GTI 270, Lam­borgh­ini Mur­ciélago, Audi R8 Spy­der V10, Mazda MX-5 RF, Mini JCW Chal­lenge

Our hot Pug’s quirky er­gonomics didn’t de­tract from its zinger of an en­gine and sub­lime chas­sis, but should you ac­tu­ally buy one?

WWHEN THIS FRENCH HOT hatch ar­rived on Fast Fleet last sum­mer, we weren’t sure how it was go­ing to fare. For £28,695, the Peu­geot 308 GTI 270 by Peu­geot Sport gave us a tur­bocharged 1.6-litre in-line four pro­duc­ing 266bhp (20bhp more than the en­try-level ‘250’ model), a Torsen lim­ited-slip dif­fer­en­tial, Miche­lin Pi­lot Su­per Sport tyres, 19-inch wheels, Al­con brakes, bucket seats, plenty of leather and Al­can­tara, a panoramic roof, a 9.7-inch touch­screen in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem and quite a few more good­ies to boot. In fact, the only op­tional ex­tra we went for was SOS as­sis­tance, which cost £240.

Im­pres­sive value for money, then. Our car also looked re­splen­dent in its lus­cious, deep Mag­netic Blue paint, but the spec­tre of the mainly very av­er­age Peu­geot hot hatches of the past decade or so still loomed large. Would the 270 live up to the leg­end of the firm’s ear­lier of­fer­ings?

Its en­gine cer­tainly got things off to a good start. It could act re­laxed at low revs when you wanted it to be dis­creet, yet it was still re­mark­ably po­tent, and when you wanted to un­leash your in­ner Ari Vata­nen it re­vealed a wild side at the top of its rev range. This was a highly strung pow­er­plant that put out a mighty 166bhp per litre with the help of forged pis­tons and stronger con­rods. It was a won­der­ful heart for a hot hatch, but it wasn’t a high main­te­nance one, need­ing only one ser­vice while the car was in our pos­ses­sion. That came at 12,000 miles and cost £189.99.

The chas­sis, mean­while, ex­hib­ited su­perb body con­trol on very de­mand­ing roads and was also pointy and ag­gres­sive, just as you’d hope for in a hot hatch at this level. It al­lowed for real throt­tle-ad­justa­bil­ity and re­warded com­mit­ment, es­pe­cially on cor­ner en­try. Then, as soon as you got on the power mid-cor­ner, the LSD would jump to at­ten­tion to haul you around and add to the speed. It en­abled me to un­pick roads at a fan­tas­tic rate and the car never felt re­mote or dis­tant: just like other re­cent Peu­geot Sport mod­els, such as the 208 GTI, the 308 GTI was in­cred­i­bly ca­pa­ble and in­volv­ing.

It wasn’t per­fect, though. With­out doubt the most talked­about as­pect of the car dur­ing its nine months with us was its tiny steer­ing wheel and how, for some, it ob­scured the di­als that were sup­posed to be viewed over the top of it. For half the evo team it was a prob­lem, among them con­tribut­ing pho­tog­ra­pher Dean Smith, who ran the 308 for the first few months of its time with us. He couldn’t (and wouldn’t) stop com­plain­ing about it. How­ever, oth­ers found they could see the di­als just fine.

Me? I was in the mid­dle. The top of the wheel blocked my view of the lower sec­tion of the in­stru­ment clus­ter, mean­ing cer­tain speeds and revs were never vis­i­ble. Not be­ing able to see when I was trav­el­ling below 20mph or when the revs were be­neath 1500rpm never par­tic­u­larly both­ered me, but I still felt a slight sense of relief when get­ting into a dif­fer­ent car with an undis­turbed view of the di­als.

But the foibles of the wheel-and­di­als setup paled into in­signif­i­cance in com­par­i­son with the frus­tra­tion of not hav­ing phys­i­cal con­trols for the ra­dio and air con­di­tion­ing. In the 308 GTI you’re forced to in­ter­act with the slow-re­act­ing cen­tral touch­screen, and it proved to be a long, at­ten­tion-sap­ping or­deal.

I know you should just trust the cli­mate con­trol’s Auto func­tion to quickly ad­just the tem­per­a­ture in the cabin on a chilly morn­ing. In­vari­ably, though – and it isn’t just the 308 that does this – the fan would blast out cold air be­fore the en­gine had warmed up, adding a wind-chill fac­tor to an al­ready cold

‘Just like other re­cent Peu­geot Sport cars, such as the 208 GTI, the 308 was in­cred­i­bly ca­pa­ble and in­volv­ing’

in­te­rior. And be­cause the 308’s air-con con­trols were so te­dious to ac­cess and use, I of­ten found my­self re­ly­ing on the phys­i­cal vent con­trols to di­vert the air away from me. That was hardly a chore, ad­mit­tedly, but I didn’t feel I was re­ally get­ting the ben­e­fit of the Peu­geot’s dual-zone cli­mate con­trol.

The one ad­van­tage of these con­trols ex­ist­ing within the in­fo­tain­ment screen was that the rest of the in­te­rior was clean and very at­trac­tive. The stylish de­sign was backed up by a qual­ity feel, too, ex­cept for the way the gear­knob was mounted. It felt as though there was a rub­ber ball joint be­tween the lever and the grip, al­low­ing enough move­ment for you to roll your wrist.

When Dan Prosser tested our 308 GTI against a Mk7 VW Golf GTI in evo 229, he con­cluded that the Peu­geot was the more en­gag­ing car but that its Ger­man ri­val would be the one he’d want to live with. Now, I’m not say­ing he was wrong, but I think the 308 is that much more ex­cit­ing that I’d be will­ing to put up with its var­i­ous idio­syn­cra­sies. It feels the more gen­uine hot hatch.

How­ever, the real prob­lem the 308 GTI has is that if ‘ex­cit­ing’ is what you want from a hatch and you don’t need the space of a car as big as the 308, the smaller, cheaper 208 GTI by Peu­geot Sport is more fun, more of the time. And it has but­tons for the heater.

Top left: touch­screen was the source of much frus­tra­tion. Above: di­als were de­signed to be read over the top of the titchy steer­ing wheel, though some driv­ers found this im­pos­si­ble

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