This is actually the second time that I’ve driven the 308 GTI, but this is the first time I’ve let one loose on public roads. I liked the 308 GTI last time, and I felt Peugeot had made a better car than that of the smaller 208 GTI. The 208 GTI just felt a bit light and it didn’t feel edgy enough as you felt your nan could get in it and half a hoon with little problems. How does the 308 variant compare though?
A Pleasant Cabin
One thing I did love about the 208 GTI was it’s cabin, which was minimalistic and stylish, but still obviously sporty at the same time. The balance is lovely, and thankfully its bigger brother gets the same treatment. Plonking my derrière in to the sports seat is a pleasurable experience, and quite quickly you get a sense that this hot hatch is more about refinement and stye, than lap times at Silverstone. With it being a Peugeot hot hatch, you’ll get the almost laughably small steering wheel.
Ever since the French brand installed this dinner plate-sized wheel in to its hatchbacks, there has been a divide in opinion over the driving position. I quite like the steering wheel as it kind of feels like you’re driving a go-kart, but I will say that I struggled to get my normal driving position. In my ‘normal’ setting, the top of the wheel obstructs my view of the dials somewhat. A simple height adjustment fixes this, but with it being a hot hatch, I’d like to sit down as low as possible.
There is a good amount of space inside and it’s very minimal as the dash barely has any buttons because all the controls are on the classy touchscreen. This is a good thing if you ask me, but it does have its downside and the touch-sensitive buttons are fiddly to operate on the move. Space in the back is not too bad and the boot is able to offer an impressive 470 litres.
What kit does it have?
The 308 GTI is priced from £28,590, so it’s not the cheapest hot hatch, nor is it the most expensive either. You get a fair amount of kit for your hard earned cash though – features such as 9.7″ touchscreen with smartphone connectivity and navigation, plus sport seats trimmed with alcantara and leather, which feature massage function come as standard. That’s on top of a plethora of other features including, GTI styling, 3.5″ GTI instrument panel, full LED headlights, tinted windows, reversing camera, plus front and rear parking sensors to name a few.
The model tested did have a few options though, including the striking Coupe Franche paintwork which gives the car a two-tone blue and black look. Or is it black and blue? Decide that amongst yourselves. What is more straightforward though is the price, a rather expensive £1,300 to be exact. Other options include the City Park pack with blind spot monitoring, which is priced at £400 and the Denon 500W hi-fi, which will set you back £460.
Enough of that – how does it drive?
Start the 1.6 litre turbocharged petrol and you’ll get a sense you’ve turned over the wrong engine. This is because there is little drama, little fuss and if I’m honest, it doesn’t feel like a great start to a sporty experience. The sport mode changes this though, but I’ll get on to that in a bit. Moving out the car park, the car feels solid and composed, but you’ll soon find that the gear change is most definitely light, a complaint I had with the 208 GTI.
The change itself is pleasurable although the throws are on the long side, and it’s quite a far cry from the short throw in the Civic Type R. Then again, the Type R and the 308 GTI come from two different worlds and both have two different aims. The Type R shouts at you whereas the 308 GTI feels more like a well-spoken whisper. That’s not to say the 308 GTI is boring though.
In fact, the 308 GTI is able to muster up a fair amount of speed, speed that is picks up pretty effortlessly. 266bhp with 330Nm of torque is offered from that 1.6 litre engine, meaning 62mph is dealt with in six seconds flat, and the top speed is a respectable 155mph. This matches the top speed of its german counterpart, the Golf GTI, but it will hit 62mph .2 of a second faster that the Golf in its GTI ‘Performance’ specification. If you also bear in mind that the French GTI is around £3,000 cheaper than the equivalent German GTI, it looks to make a compelling case.
The power delivery is smooth and linear, so it should make for some lovely cruising, but that’s not to say it’s dull. It picks up pace faster than the subtle styling would lead you to believe, but it does so in a way that feels composed and stable. It’s fast, but in a grown up way, so if you’re looking for the madness of the Civic Type R or the lunacy of the Focus RS, you’ll need to look elsewhere. Turbo lag? None, that I could detect from my short drive, and the same goes for torque steer.
But this car doesn’t gun for cars such as that, after all, this is aiming straight for the aforementioned Golf GTI.In that respect, the 308 does a good job as it’s comfortable enough in its normal mode to be used everyday with no complaints. Yes, the suspension is still firm of course, but it won’t cause your teeth to fall out every time you happen to hit a manhole cover. So it’s got the everyday-hot hatch thing nailed down, but it still needs to be dynamic.
What about handling?
Speaking of which, let me go over the handling. In its normal mode, the cornering doesn’t feel like the flattest going, but at the same time it is nowhere near from leaning on to its door handles. It’s just not as sharp as I was hoping for. The sport mode does change this of course – the suspension becomes firmer, as does the steering, plus the gauges glow red, which for a hot hatch simpleton like me, is rather satisfying. Even better though, that 1.6 litre engine really comes to life, and it starts to offer the growl I was missing upon the initial start up.
I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how much of that is down to a clever sound symposer, but if it is fake then Peugeot has done a job of making it sound real. Anyway, I was on to the handling before I got distracted by the sport mode. The steering feels direct through the pint-sized wheel, but I was hoping for a bit more grip coming from the rubber wrapped those stylish 19″ alloys. The brakes are sharp although the feel through the brake pedal was lacking somewhat.
So then, is it as good to drive as a Golf GTI? In my opinion no, but I would definitely say it’s competent. It’s not a car I’d be desperate to take on track either, as I got a sense that the car wouldn’t really fancy it. True, the 308 GTI has a Torsen limited slip diff and ventilated front brake discs, which look good on paper, but you get a sense that the 308 GTI is just a bit too stylish and refined to do some serious track work. You just imagine that it would find it all a bit vulgar and uncouth.
So where does that leave the 308 GTI?
Well the 308 GTI is in a bit of precarious position. It’s not a bare-knuckled hot hatch, but in my eyes the Golf GTI simply does the well-rounded hot hatch thing better. The 308 GTI is a faster car though, plus it’s cheaper if you compare it to a Golf GTI Performance model. The 308 also have a lovely cabin and it makes an addictive noise once you slip it in to sport mode. Is it a hot hatch I would buy? Honestly, no, but I can definitely see some appeal in the 308 GTI.
So then, the 308 GTI. The car for those who want a car like the Golf GTI, but want to be different, want to think outside the box somewhat. And I tell you what, that is by no means a bad thing. The hot hatch is diverse at the moment, and what has Peugeot has done is to give a worthy alternative to the car that kicked the whole genre off in the first place.