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