I was lucky enough to have grown up in the ’80’s, bang in the middle of the hot hatch era. We were flooded with them. 205gti’s, RS Turbo’s Renault 5 Turbo’s, XR3i’s, Golf gti’s, Astra GTe’s, Cosworth’s, and more. It was a glorious time. Tyre smoke filled the air and there wasn’t a speed camera in sight.
Sadly, it was a bubble that was bound to burst, and it did, in fine style. Every TV channel seemed to be showing some fly on the wall, joyriding documentary, there were daily news reports about the massive increase in car thefts, and then the soaring insurance premiums finally saw the end of our fun.
What followed were years of monotonous, bland eurobox with an ever increasing focus on practicality and economy……..thrilling.
Ever so slowly, the tide began to turn and manufactures started to make their cars faster and more fun again. It required some clever thinking and technology, but through the use of techniques such as engine downsizing and platform sharing, manufacturers have made fun, fast cars that are practical, safe and efficient. Job done.
Back in the day, Peugeot were at the top of the hot hatch game. They were serious contenders with 205GTi, 405Mi16, 306GTi6, Rally, XSi and many more. We were lucky to have got our hands on one of the best of the current crop of very hot hatches to use for a week, the Peugeot 308GTi.
The 308 packs 272hp and 330nm torque into a beautifully understated package.
It’s a true dark horse. At first I wasn’t sold on it. It’s quite subtle with no massive spoilers or bulging arches. Our first drive was a little underwhelming, the steering felt a bit light and the interior seems unusually devoid of the electronic trickery and paraphernalia most modern cars seem to be festooned with.
Peugeots hottest hatch comes with a close ratio 6 speed, manual gearbox, no flappy paddles or automatic option on the GTi, just a pleasantly analogue driving experience. Once you’ve settled into the supportive, alcantara and leather bucket seats, the Puegeot won’t take you 20 minutes to change settings and program in your preferences before you can start your journey, just jump in and go.
What a journey it will be too. This thing is wild. In normal mode it’s just your average, fast, elegant hot hatch. Press the sport button and the 308 goes into beast mode. The steering and throttle response sharpen, the engine noise it amplified in the cockpit and the dash glows red. All you need to do then is hang on because it’s about to get wild.
The clever part is that the well endowed, fireball, powerplant in this Peugeot is only 1.6L. Yep, that’s clever downsizing for you. The reduced size means better fuel economy when you’re not giving it a good hiding, and the addition of a turbo means the power is there when you need it. This means the 308GTi makes a staggering 170hp per litre. That’s superbike levels of engine performance. Outrageous.
Despite the smaller capacity and turbo power, lag is minimal. I don’t know how Peugeot have done it, but the lag is hardly noticeable, in fact in our opinion, there’s less lag in this Peugeot than in most modern turbo cars we’ve driven with a bigger capacity engine.
The 308GTi is fast, really fast. We found a long, clear private road where we could really let the GTi loose. It was damp, and accelerating hard, Peugeot’s wild child struggled for grip, spinning it’s huge 19” wheels through the first 3 gears, clawing at the tarmac, trying to find grip for the 235/35/19 tyres.
The close ratio, 6 speed, manual gearbox is strong with perfectly spaced gears. Clip the rev limiter, throw in another gear and you’re right on boost, accelerating hard again. We saw 150mph, still accelerating before we ran out of road. The brochure says 0-62mph in 6 seconds but I’ll eat my hat if it’s not faster than that.
Brakes are massive 380mm vented discs mounted on aluminium hubs to reduce unsprung weight. Huge 4 piston calipers bite hard and offer plenty of feel with ridiculous amounts stopping force. Braking hard in to a corner, the pedals are well placed for heal and toe and the responsive, fast revving engine allows for quick blips of the throttle to match the revs when down changing. This is a great drivers car.
The handling is another level. Those huge 235mm wide Michelin Pilot Sport tyres offer outrageous levels of grip. The steering is fast with just 2.9 turns lock to lock which makes the car feel alive and alert but not nervous.
Peugeot have fitted the GTi with a mechanical torsen limited slip diff. This is very effective and virtually eliminates wheelspin. Very impressive.
We did notice the diff working. As you accelerate in a corner, the torsen diff maintains traction by sensing a wheel losing grip, and transferring some power to the other wheel, this ensures maximum grip is held at all times.
Mid corner, on the throttle, you feel the car tighten it’s line as the diff does it’s thing. Eventually, if you continue to accelerate hard, you will inevitably run out of grip as you try to defy the laws of physics. Fortunately, the electronics stop you from throwing yourself off the road.
As you would expect from a modern car, there are a host of electronic safety aides to help you and keep you safe. Features include automatic emergency braking, blind spot detection, adaptive cruise control, speed limit recognition, smartbeam LED headlights, reversing camera, city park/self park, Lane keep technology, driver attention alert and loads more.
Despite these electronic aides, the 308GTi feels analogue, as much as any modern car can anyway. It’s easy to simply jump in and get straight on it.
The 308GTi is a real driver’s car. It’s fast, it’s sharp, it’s good looking and it’s stealthy. We found it didn’t attract too much attention either, which is a very good thing in something this fast. That’s why we named it the dark horse.