A step in the right direction, but no more than that
Not before time, Peugeot is throwing everything it has at the business of making its fast hatchbacks decent to drive once more, and there is no better evidence of this than the 308GTI.
The headline output is fairly attention-grabbing: 266bhp from a little 1.6-litre turbo four-cylinder motor, but in fact turning up the wick on such an engine is one of the easier tasks presenting itself to engineers charged with recovering a manufacturer’s once great reputation in this field. Far more significant are all the other modifications Peugeot has included to ensure the 308GTI is not merely very fast, but good to drive as well.
You’d expect firmer springs, a lowered ride height and fresh dampers compared to a standard 308, but a wider track, stiffer bushing, radically different geometry and a Torsen limited-slip differential too? And what about front brakes the same diameter as those at the rear of a McLaren P1? You can’t accuse these guys of not trying.
Succeeding is a different matter. The car is sensationally fast for its type, the 0-62mph time of 6.0sec a remarkable feat for a machine transmitting power through its front wheels alone. If you press the sport button it even makes a reasonable noise, albeit in an entirely synthesised, played through the speakers kind of way.
More significantly still the chassis even has some balance. It doesn’t want to swivel around its mid-point like a Golf R or let its tail run free and far as does a Focus ST, but you can now at least not merely mitigate its inherent desire to understeer, you can eliminate it completely.
Add to this the real-world appeal of its remarkably spacious cabin, its startlingly clean and simple interior design and a reasonable list price given the generous level of standard equipment and you’ll soon see the 308GTI makes a better case for itself than any fast Peugeot of at least the past 15 years.
The problem is that while Peugeot is undoubtedly moving in the right direction, so too are its rivals and the gap between them remains. Two significant problems prevent it attaining the levels of excellence its specification might otherwise suggest.
Firstly, that 266bhp is simply too much power for the front-drive chassis, especially as Peugeot throws all the torque at you as early as possible. Torque steer in lower gears is evident when you try to drive it properly, even when it’s dry. Secondly, the steering is overly assisted and devoid of any feel: it spoils to a considerable extent all the fine work done elsewhere on the chassis.
What we have here, then, are all the raw ingredients needed to make a world-class car of this type. But as with any recipe, they still need to be expertly blended. More work is required before the result can be declared a triumph.
Engine 2.0 litres, 4 cylinders, turbocharged
Power [email protected] rpm
Torque 243lb [email protected] rpm
Transmission six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power to Weight 242bhp per tonne
Top speed 155mph